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Hammock_Thomas_Purdue_2011.jpgRunning backs coach Thomas Hammock, for one, is no stranger to offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who coached him at Northern Illinois.

"The greatest compliment a player can give to a coach is to recommend him,'' said Hammock, a former 1,000-yard rusher who had to give up football because of a heart conditioning.

"There were times when I was a player where I didn't understand why we were doing things or why I had to run 50 yards and everyone else ran 20.

"But as you get older those things that he (Canada) taught me at a young age carried over as far as the type of person and coach that I am now.''

By the sounds of it, Hammock is already on the same wavelength with offensive line coach Mike Markuson. That is critical since Hammock is responsible for coaching Wisconsin's running backs.

"He loves to run the ball which I'm sure my guys are going to be happy about,'' Hammock said. "I'm anxious to get started on putting together a playbook and building our offense for next season.''

Having Montee Ball return for his senior year is a tremendous starting point, of course.

"My philosophy is not going to change and I explained that to Montee,'' Hammock said. "You have to go back out there and earn it - it's the 'What have you done for me lately?' approach.
    
"I know Montee is going to take the challenge, along with some of other guys. You've got James White, who wants a bigger piece of the pie and Melvin Gordon and Jeff Lewis competing on a daily basis.

"You definitely have to have a plan of attack and I expressed that to the whole group. I talked to them about everyone starting from ground zero, which is no different from a year ago at this time.''

How much, if at all, will the Badgers expose Ball to contact during spring practice?

"We practice so hard and with so much intensity,'' Hammock said, "to me that can override a lot of things to where maybe Montee doesn't have to get tackled in the spring.''

The Badgers have been known for a high practice tempo that precludes scrimmaging.

"I told Montee, 'You're going to get a lot of reps this spring because you came back (to Wisconsin) to get better; you didn't come back to just stay the same,''' Hammock related.

"The only way to do that is go out there every day and do the work to improve.''

What about working Ball and White into the same formation?

What about maximizing the depth at the tailback position?

"We lost a lot of key pieces from last season (Russell Wilson, Nick Toon, Bradie Ewing) so you try to find ways to fill that production,'' Hammock said.

"I thought the way we (the running backs) were used in the passing game was really, really good. We went from 30 catches to 60 and we can go from 60 to 90. That's an area we can help the team.

"Maybe in different ways that involves using guys out of the backfield or lining up at wide receiver. All that stuff is down the line as we continue to develop and mold the playbook.''
 
Traevon Jackson agreed to page through his photo album; committed to memory or otherwise.

In one snapshot, he's pictured with his fourth- and fifth-grade teammates: Trey Burke, now a freshman point guard at Michigan, and Jared Sullinger, now a sophomore All-American at Ohio State. (That's Jackson at far left in the front row and Sullinger at far right in the back row).

120204_MBB_Jackson_Traevon_AAU.jpg"We were all on the same team along with Adam Griffin (one of Archie's kid),'' said Jackson, a UW freshman. "He (Sullinger) used to eat at McDonald's every day and come out and shoot 3s.

"He was in fifth grade and only about 5-9; but he was big and chubby. Now, he's in great shape (6-9, 280). He's obviously improved his body a lot. He's a great player. He was still good then.''

There's a second snapshot of Jackson; a more recent one from last February.

Picture him in Wisconsin colors working the cash register and bagging groceries.  During his senior year at Westerville (Ohio) South High School, he held a part-time job at a grocery store.

On this particular day -- Feb 12, 2011 -- the store employees were encouraged to honor their favorite college team. Since Jackson was committed to being a Badger, he represented accordingly.

Everybody else was in Ohio State colors.

"Everybody else in the store was sad,'' Jackson said, "except me.''

That was the day that the Badgers beat the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes at the Kohl Center. Jackson listened to the game on the radio and then raced home after work and watched the TV highlights.

"That was big,'' he said with a big grin.

Jackson will have a front row seat -- on the UW bench -- for Saturday's matchup against No. 3 Ohio State. Although his playing time has been limited, he will continue to prepare like he's a starter.

"That's the toughest thing going into games knowing that you may not step on the court,'' Jackson said, "but knowing in the back of your head that you've got to be ready.''

Jackson last played on Jan. 18 against Northwestern.

Overall, he's seen action in only 12 of 23 games.

"I honestly thought I'd be playing a little more,'' said Jackson. "But that's not the case. We've got guys ahead of me: Rob (Wilson) who's a senior and Ben (Brust) who has put in his time as well.

"You've got to respect that and just be ready whenever your time comes.''

A year ago, Brust went through the same freshman transition that Jackson is going through now. Brust played in just 15 of 34 games. He got fewer minutes (45) than Jackson already has seen (89).

This season, Brust has become a key contributor in the "sixth man'' role.

"He has obviously been a huge part of our success,'' Jackson said.  "He stretches the defense. We need that. He's a guy who can come off the bench and create and knock down shots.

"Ben put in his work and his time came to perform (this year).

"That's what I've got to do (perform) when my time comes.''

During Thursday's practice, Jackson was wearing a white jersey -- which is worn by the starters and the top reserves. Wilson had a class and, in his absence, Jackson took his place in the rotation.

At one point, UW coach Bo Ryan teased Jackson about socializing with the scout team.

"Tomorrow, I will be back to the scout team,'' Jackson said afterward. "But it was nice today to see where you want to be in the future. You can show off your skill set while you're with the first team.''

Gearing up physically and mentally for every practice has been a part of Jackson's adjustment.

"It's a grind and you definitely have to be committed to it 100 percent,'' he said. "You have to have your focus every day. That's the biggest thing -- being consistent and giving that effort every day.''

Realistically, he conceded, it's just human nature to slough off sometimes. "But you have to push through things that you're not used to doing,'' he said.

That's part of the maturing process, Jackson added.

"The biggest key is mental toughness,'' he said. "To me, it means fighting through adversity when things aren't going right. You have to find a way to make it right -- regardless.

"If you're not hitting shots some days, you have to find other ways to get involved in the game. You have to find ways to stay active and not get down on yourself.

"You might not be playing some games. But you still have to find that desire and toughness to come back every day and get better by staying in the gym.''

Jackson feels like his game has definitely gotten better this season.

"I'm working daily on my ball-handling, working on my shooting, working on things that I feel  I can bring to the team,'' he said. "As long as I'm doing these things when my time comes I'll be fine.''

The older, more experienced players have been supportive while reminding Jackson that "It's just a process -- some of them went through it -- and they just tell you to keep working'' in practice.

"That all goes back to being ready,'' Jackson said. "God forbid, if Rob or Ben got hurt, I'd have to be ready. Or, if they get in foul trouble, I'd have to be ready. That's the way I've prepared.''

Nobody is better prepared to simulate Ohio State on the scout team than Jackson, who has played with or against Sullinger, Jordan Sibert, J.D. Weatherspoon and LaQuinton Ross.

On the AAU circuit, he's also crossed paths with Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas and Sam Thompson.

"I pretty much know all of their games,'' Jackson said.

By his own admission, he will likely get more emotional in late February when Wisconsin and Ohio State play in Columbus because there will be a lot of family and friends in attendance.

Picture this: Traevon Jackson playing in the same arena where his dad's jersey is one of the retired numbers hanging from the rafters. Jim Jackson was a two-time All-American at Ohio State.

For now, though, his only focus is Saturday's game against the Buckeyes at the Kohl Center.

"I'm a Badger,'' he said. "We've got to beat them regardless of where my hometown is.''
As the lone holdover on the offensive coaching staff, Thomas Hammock felt an obvious urgency to hold recruiting together with defensive assistants Charlie Partridge and Chris Ash.

More to the point, Hammock said, "We were just trying to do the best we could to hold on and keep this thing moving forward for our kids in the program and the kids we were trying to get.''
    
That entailed, he said, "Mapping out a plan and seeing the kids we needed to see'' from the standpoint of "making sure we allocated our time and resources appropriately'' on home visits.

As the interim recruiting coordinator, Partridge suggested, "I won't say it was survival mode, but it was right on the edge of it - you're making sure you're hitting and covering all of your bases.''

Partridge was invaluable in this capacity.

"Charlie is great at organizational skills,'' said UW head coach Bret Bielema.

Partridge's resume includes a two-year stint as the director of football operations at Iowa State.

"My mind is very grid-oriented,'' he said. "I'm a mathematical-type guy.''

That led to making sure there was a list and everything was prioritized.

"We really got into that mode where every important kid in this class was getting hit and getting hit by the right person,'' he said. "Thomas and Chris did a great job.''

There were also significant contributions from the staff underlings:  graduate assistants Ben Strickland and Luke Swan and quality control coordinators Bart Miller and Terrance Jamison.

Strickland has since been promoted to a full-time position.

"Putting those four guys on the road was a great opportunity for them and they came through in flying colors,'' Partridge said. "The in-state (prep) coaches talked about how great of a job they did.

"I'm so proud of them for that.''

Besides laying the groundwork for this season's preferred walk-ons, Partridge noted, "Every staff in the country is getting ahead on junior recruiting and we didn't want to lose ground there.''

The Badgers signed 12 players on Wednesday.

"I think it was a blessing in disguise that it was a small class,'' Bielema admitted. "If you were dealing with a class of 22 or 23, it would have been, I think, a real challenge (to hold the class together).''

Ash had experienced similar circumstances at previous coaching stops.

"Been there before, done it before, so it wasn't anything that was really unexpected for me,'' he said. "You've got to be on the same page, you've got to be organized and you can't waste time.

"There's no down time at all. You're on the go all the time. It's pretty much non-stop. But that's why we're each in this profession. I love meeting people, I love to travel, and I love the university here.

"January is always hectic and crazy as you're coming down to the wire with recruiting. When you're shorthanded with staff, it just means you have to get to a few more places in a few less days.''

With the signing of safety D.J. Singleton, the Badgers were able to reopen the door to New Jersey, which has historically been a very fertile recruiting area for the UW program. QB Joe Brennan and TE/FB Sherard Cadogan will both be redshirt sophomores next year.

"This was my first year recruiting there (New Jersey),'' Hammock acknowledged. "But one thing I've always believed is that if you can recruit, you can recruit anywhere.

"Wisconsin is a great brand to a lot of people out East. We had a small class overall this year and the number of kids we offered was smaller but we're certainly making progress (in that region).''

Throughout the recruiting period, Hammock reassured high school prospects and coaches that "Wisconsin is a program that has been doing well for a long time and that's not going to change.''

In the end, Hammock stressed, the objective was to send the message to each recruit that "You're going to be a key piece to the puzzle as we try to win another Big Ten championship.''

That recruiting pitch never gets old.

Lucas at Large: Bruesewitz comfortable being put on ice

Bruesewitz on 'The Journey' Photo Gallery

MBB_120128_Bruesewitz_Mike.jpgThe standard practice of "icing" the free throw shooter takes on a whole different context with Mike Bruesewitz, who may be the only player in college basketball with ice skates in his locker.

So it evolved on Thursday night with Bruesewitz converting free throws around a timeout in the final 15 seconds to help No. 25 Wisconsin "ice" a 57-50 victory over 16th-ranked Indiana at the Kohl Center.

As a team, the Badgers went 12-of-12 from the line in the second half after knocking down only 3-of-7 free throws in the first half thereby extending a curious trend.

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Watch Bruesewitz on "The Journey 2012"
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There was also a tale of two halves from the free throw line in UW's win at Illinois last Sunday: 2-of-8 in the first and 8-of-10 in the second; all of which suggests the obvious "ice water in the veins" cliche.

Bruesewitz would qualify as one of those players by birth. After all, he was born in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 outdoor hockey rinks, i.e. lakes i.e. the skates in his Kohl Center locker.

Big Ten Network was intrigued enough to film a segment on Bruesewitz for its "The Journey 2012" series, which has been chronicling many of the more unique basketball storylines in the league.

In the episode scheduled to air Sunday night at 7 p.m. (CT), Bruesewitz will be featured on the ice with a couple of UW hockey players in All-American defenseman Justin Schultz and forward Derek Lee.

Bruesewitz, Schultz and Lee have been friends since their freshman year together in the dorms.

"They were great sports to do it," Bruesewitz said.

The filming took place at Vilas Park. At one point, Lee manned the camera at ice level while Schultz and Bruesewitz skated to the net, passing the puck back and forth between them.

"I hadn't skated outdoors in a long time," Bruesewitz said.

The last time he played competitive hockey was in the seventh grade.

"My dangling (juking) skills are sub-par now," he said. "But I used to dangle back in the day."

Bruesewitz was a center iceman in youth hockey.

"When the Kohl Center ice is down, I'll probably skate six or seven times a year," he said. "It's a little different activity for me and it gets me away from everything."

"My claim to fame is that I scored on a couple of college-age goalies."

Laughing, he added, "But I won't mention any names."

However, he did drop Jordan Taylor's name in the conversation since Taylor also hails from Minnesota. The natural assumption, of course, is that everyone who grew up in the state can skate.

"Jordan tries," Bruesewitz said of UW's All-American point guard. "But he's like Louis Mendoza from (the movie) 'The Mighty Ducks.' He can skate pretty fast, but he can't stop."

Over the last 13 minutes and 24 seconds of Thursday's game, Taylor's offense was "on ice" but, despite not scoring, he did all the other critical little things to ensure success against the Hoosiers.

More telling in the long run may have been the fact that his teammates picked him up. Ben Brust and Ryan Evans each scored 10 points in the second half. Evans also finished with nine rebounds.

"We didn't have a great shooting night as a team but finding other ways to win is real encouraging," said Evans, who was only 2-of-8 from the field but 8-of-8 from the free throw line.

"My rebounding got me to the line."

Evans acknowledged that he has struggled in the first half in each of the last two home games.

"But I'm fortunate that Coach (Bo Ryan) is not giving up on me," he said. "It's very important knowing that I'm going to get a chance in the second half to turn things around, which I felt I did."

Throughout the season, Indiana's Christian Watford has hit clutch shots, including the game-winner over No. 1 ranked Kentucky. But Evans limited Watford to just six points in the second half.

"I consider myself a defensive player," Evans said, "and I kind of learn about a player throughout the game. I knew that he (Watford) was going to be aggressive at the end, so I wanted to contain him.

"I knew that he was strong to the right hand so I wanted to force him left a little bit more."

The scouting report also factored into Bruesewitz's defense on Cody Zeller. "He's one of the best freshman not only in the Big Ten but the country; one of the best big men regardless of class," he said.

For long stretches -- however long he was on the floor due to foul trouble -- Wisconsin center Jared Berggren did a terrific defensive job on Zeller and ended up with a career- high five blocked shots.

But it was the 6-foot-6 Bruesewitz who checked the 6-11 Zeller down the stretch.

"I just wanted to make sure he had to work as hard as possible to get the ball," Bruesewitz said. "That's always been my M.O., especially in post-defense being a little undersized.

"Sometimes it helps that I can duck under those bigger guys and get in front of them and work a little harder than them. My whole thought process was to make him work.

"I wanted to make him do something he wasn't comfortable doing. We had watched a lot of film on Zeller. Watching him go against Jared, he did a lot of countering, especially on the baseline."

One of the key possessions of the game revolved around Bruesewitz' post defense on Zeller. With the Badgers protecting a 53-50 lead, Zeller missed a short jump hook and Taylor rebounded.

"I thought he might go baseline," Bruesewitz said. "I told everybody afterward if he would have continued to the middle, he probably would have had a dunk or a layup. But he countered."

Thanks to that aforementioned scouting report -- "Our coaches do a great job letting us know all that stuff" -- Bruesewitz was ready for Zeller's counter move. Standing tall, he forced a difficult shot.

At the opposite end, Bruesewitz then pulled down an offensive rebound. Although he was all alone under the basket -- Zeller had fallen down -- he took the ball back outside and got fouled.

"I'm not quite sure how he ended up on his butt," said Bruesewitz, clearing his throat. Wink, wink. "But Watford was behind me and there was a lot of traffic. I didn't know where everybody was.

"My whole through process there was to get it out and try to run some clock. I almost turned the ball over. But luckily I got it back as soon as I lost it and I got to the free throw line."

That would not be a cause for celebration this season, since Bruesewitz was shooting 53 percent from the line in Big Ten games. But he claimed that was an aberration, not a sign of things to come.

Validating that thinking, he went 4-of-4 against the Hoosiers.

"The free throw line is all about mental toughness and confidence," said Bruesewitz. "It's just repetition. I know that I'm a good free throw shooter. It just hasn't shown."

To get back on track, he has been staying after practice to shoot 50 to 100 free throws. Before Thursday morning's shoot-around, he also got on the floor early to work on his stroke and rhythm.

In the second half, Bruesewitz and his teammates drew nothing but net, and cheers.

"Personally I feed off the crowd," Evans said. "That was huge for me and the team."

"The crowd was amped and got here early," Bruesewitz said. "I don't think a lot of people around here like Indiana too much.

"I know it was really fun to have a rocking Kohl Center."

Lucas at Large: Turnaround has turned Badgers into contender

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MBB_120124_Bruesewitz_Mike.jpgGrowth is not only a function of player development but team building.

January is usually a good starting point to take stock of any growing pains, too.

"Anytime you're into a season, especially conference play,'' said Indiana's Tom Crean, "and you can feel like you're getting better and improving, then, things are moving forward.

"Getting better is physical ... it's mental ... it's every aspect of it.''

Nobody has gotten better in January than Wisconsin, a winner of four straight games. That's the longest active winning streak in the conference. Minnesota has won three in a row.

Also consider that the Badgers started off the month mired in a three-game losing streak.

On Monday's Big Ten coaches' teleconference, Bruce Weber noted that his Illini had the misfortune "to play a Wisconsin team that had struggled and now is playing about as well as anybody.''

After Sunday's loss to the Badgers at Assembly Hall in Champaign -- where Illinois had won 14 in a row -- Weber confessed, "They made the plays ... they out-toughed us and out-hustled us.''

That was personified by one possession in the second half -- what UW's Mike Bruesewitz labeled "a mad scramble" -- during which Bruesewitz and Josh Gasser both hit the floor.

"Josh made a heckuva dive,'' Bruesewitz said. "He dove probably about eight feet for the ball and gave us a shot. Then I got on top of it.

"I looked back and I was going to throw it to Jared (Berggren) and then I looked up the floor and I saw Ben (Brust), Jordan (Taylor) and (Illinois' D.J.) Richardson.

"I thought, 'All right, I'll get it to Ben.' I tried to throw it as hard as I could but I was on my butt. So I did the best that I could to get it to him and he ended up finishing (with a lay-up at the other end).

"It was a good series of events and that kind of changed the game for us.''

Purdue's Matt Painter saw a change in the Badgers coming long before that.

"I thought they had some breakdowns offensively in a couple of their (Big Ten) losses but a lot of what they did was they just missed some shots,'' Painter said before facing Wisconsin on Jan. 12.

"They had some guys shooting low percentages that are capable of shooting high percentages. We gave them respect. We talked about not giving them rhythm shots.

"But they got too many early and got their heads up and that ended up being the difference.''

In winning for only the third time in the 45-year history of Mackey Arena, the Badgers snapped their losing streak and generated much-needed momentum and confidence for their turnaround.

Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team with a winning record (3-1) in league road games.

"Knock on wood, we've just got to keep it going,'' said senior point guard Jordan Taylor. "I can't put my finger on it. But we just have to keep trying to find ways to win on the road.''

Do the Badgers get more energized when they play in hostile environments like they have at Purdue and Illinois? Do they play with the proverbial chip on their shoulder on the road?

Taylor nodded and said, "I think a lot of the guys on our team weren't high-profile recruits or touted for their basketball ability. I think we just like proving people wrong.''

Part of the mission statement is outhustling or out-toughing opponents.

"Generally our motto has been, 'Find a way,''' Taylor related. "It's coach (Bo) Ryan's motto: scrap, fight, and claw. Do what you've got to do -- home or away -- and just try to find a way to win.''

Taylor has his own motto.

"Always work hard and never let anyone tell you that you can't do something,'' he said. "If you have a goal or dream set your sights on it and work your butt off to try and get it.

"Even if it doesn't work out, at least you gave it your best effort.''

Taylor relishes such gung-ho, one-for-all, all-for-one commitments.

"I just love being around the college atmosphere,'' he said. "High school doesn't compare to college in that you're around the guys here so much -- like 45 weeks of the year.

"You see these guys every day and they become like brothers.''

Ryan has admired Taylor's perseverance while transitioning with new starters this season.

"Point guard play is affected tremendously -- or more so than people realize -- by the other players around them,'' said Ryan, who played the position himself in high school and college.

"In all fairness, Jordan is playing with guys on the front line (Berggren, Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans) who logged less minutes (last season) than probably any front line in the Big Ten.

"You have to give Jordan credit for helping to bring these guys along and to include them in the mix -- for him to get comfortable with them and for them to get comfortable with him.

"You're into January now, so hopefully all those parts are meshing ... What I'm hoping is that we're maturing as a team and we can continue to move in that direction.

"It's a different team (this year) and we've had to find different ways to get things done.''

One constant has been defense. Opponents have struggled to score against the Badgers.

"Defensively our guys have bought in all year, which gives us a chance,'' Ryan said. "But if we're not shooting the ball well, we're like every other team in the country.

"If we can get consistent scoring from other positions (other than Taylor) then obviously we're a much better team. We're going to need that if we want to make things happen the rest of the season.

"Three-point shooting can be fickle. Sometimes the rim looks huge and other times it looks pretty small. Mentally you have to have players who believe the next shot is going in.

"If we keep doing that we have a chance to get some things done.''

You don't have to sell Crean on what the Badgers have been doing well lately.

"They know how to play and they've got a great guard certainly in Jordan Taylor,'' he said. "But they've got numerous guys who can play at a high level.

"When they've been at their best, they've had very good balance. That's what stands out to me. They just keep moving forward and that's a tribute to Bo and his staff and the continuity in the program.

"From what I've seen, there's no question they get great dribble penetration (from Taylor) and they're going to put five guys out on the court, as usual, that can score with range.

"Their system is very solid and strong.''

So is the Big Ten -- from top to bottom. There doesn't appear to be any easy out.

"If you don't have you're 'A' game every night, you're going to get beat,'' said Iowa's Fran McCaffrey.

Added Weber, "I'm not sure what's an upset, if there are upsets. Your main guys have got to play and be consistent if you're going to have success in the league.

"You can't have any off days.''

Lucas at Large: Tolzien's improbable journey continues

FB_120119_Tolzien_Scott.jpgScott Tolzien has derived a synergy from the symmetry in his full-circle journey.

That has encompassed his ride from scout team quarterback to Rose Bowl quarterback for the Badgers -- to free agent quarterback to scout team quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.

Tolzien is still the sum of his parts -- he is who we think he is -- except on those weeks when he has been role-playing and been assigned to be somebody else for the benefit of the No. 1 defense.

Last week, he was New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

This week, he has been New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

Truth is, he was hoping for a "discount double-check" and a chance to be Aaron Rodgers.

"At one point, I was thinking, 'Holy smokes, we might be playing at Lambeau Field,''' Tolzien said. "I grew up a Packer fan and as a little kid I dreamed about playing at Lambeau.

"But all you have to do is be the better team on that given day in the playoffs, and the Giants played a cleaner game than the Packers last Sunday.''

What are the odds that Tolzien would get this shot -- a shot to be himself, Scott Tolzien, the undrafted, free agent quarterback out of Wisconsin -- with the 49ers in the NFC championship game?

"It has been a roller coaster,'' he said. "But let me put it this way, if I were to sit here today and tell you I would have known it was going to turn out like this, I would have thought, 'Hogwash.'''

That's how improbable his journey has been dating all the way back to the NFL scouting combine in February, when he was invited to be one of the "throwing quarterbacks.''

In addition to taking part in his own workouts over the three days, he stayed in Indianapolis for the entire week and threw for the other position groups: wide receivers, running backs, etc.

The other "throwing QBs" were Fresno State's Ryan Colburn and North Carolina's T.J. Yates.

Yes, that T.J. Yates, a fifth-round draft pick, who wound up taking the Houston Texans to the playoffs because of injuries to starting quarterback Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart.

"We got real tight throughout that week (in Indy),'' Tolzien said of his friendship with Yates. "We were kind of in each other's shadow even sitting on the bench together. He's a great guy.''

Tolzien and Yates have stayed in touch throughout the season. In fact, before Schaub and Leinart were sidelined, Yates was serving as a scout team receiver because the Texans were short bodies.

Tolzien has had plenty to text about from his end, too. When the free agency period opened, he was contacted by eight teams. His final two choices were San Francisco and San Diego.

Since the 49ers drafted a quarterback in the second round -- Nevada's Colin Kaepernick -- Tolizen ended up "signing in the final hour'' with the Chargers, who did not select a quarterback in the draft.

"I remember going from sitting in my house (in Rolling Meadows, Ill.),'' Tolzien said, "to being on the practice field in the Chargers' huddle the next day. It was just me and Philip (Rivers).''

That's because San Diego's backup quarterback, Billy Volek, wasn't in training camp yet. That afforded Tolzien a tremendous learning opportunity under Rivers and head coach Norv Turner.

"I got to play a lot in the preseason because they knew what they were getting from Philip and Billy was also a veteran,'' Tolzien said. "It was really a fascinating and awesome experience.''

Tolzien saved his best for last -- the last preseason game -- completing 16-of-23 passes for 226 yards and one touchdown. "We were throwing it all over the place, it was a blast,'' he said.

The next day, he was summoned to Turner's office. "He told me, 'I thought I knew what I was getting from you based on your senior tape, but you blew away my expectations,''' Tolzien related.

Then he cut to the chase.

Because of some grave concerns over special teams, and the time-honored "numbers'' game, Turner said, "We have to take a chance and put you on waivers and hope that nobody picks you up.''

Tolzien was released on a Saturday and claimed on a Sunday by the team that he had faced in the final preseason game -- and his second choice from the very beginning -- the San Francisco 49ers.

Tolzien had a lot of people in the 49ers organization on his side, including San Francisco quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst, the brother of Wisconsin's then-offensive coordinator, Paul Chryst.

As the No. 3 quarterback, Tolzien has split the snaps on the scout team with Kaepernick while continuing his pro education under the wing of Alex Smith, the former No. 1 pick overall.

"On game days, you basically try to live vicariously through the starter,'' Tolzien said. "We have a wristband system, so I have a headset on and an earpiece so I can hear the play call.

"Our whole system is based on checks, especially the run game. So we're looking at the pictures together on the sidelines (all three quarterbacks) and trying to figure the whole thing out.''

Tolzien has always been a player who "gets it.'' Nothing has changed in that respect.

"You just try to have big ears every day,'' he said. "You don't have to say much. You just take it all in.''

Right now, he's savoring the moment; savoring being Scott Tolzien, not someone else.

That's not hogwash, either.

Lucas at Large: Badgers take best shot at Purdue demons

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Beauty is surely in the shooting eye of the beholder.

Especially if he bescoring the basketball he beholding.

"That's a simple way to put it," conceded UW guard Josh Gasser.

"Every time the ball goes in the hoop it makes you look a little better."

A little better?

"When the ball is going in the hoop," Jordan Taylor said, "everything looks A LOT better."

Bruiser.JPGDuring the recent three-game losing streak, the Badgers couldn't get anything in the hoop.

They shot .333 from the field (58-of-174) and .214 from beyond the 3-point arc (15-of-70).

At Purdue, the Badgers hit 19-of-40 shots (.475), including 9-of-20 (.450) from 3-point distance.

"We got some good looks and we knocked them down," Gasser explained. "The last couple of games we struggled up to the first media timeout. A fast start was a priority for us.

"Jared (Berggren) and Mike (Bruesewitz) hit one early," Ben Brust added. "And that helped us gain some confidence; especially on the road at Purdue, a tough place to play."

Taylor echoed, "This is a tough place to play for anybody."

The Boilermakers had won 26 straight games in Mackey Arena before the Badgers snapped that streak with a 67-62 victory Thursday night. It had been the fifth-longest active streak in the nation.

Kentucky and Duke have each won 44 straight games on their home floor. Ohio State has won 32 in a row. Notre Dame just had its 29-game home winning streak snapped by UConn.

Good things tend to comes in "3s" for the Badgers - offense and wins at Mackey.

Since the arena opened in 1967, the UW has now won three times in 40 games.

Bo Ryan has two of those victories.

On Jan. 5, 2005, Zach Morley scored 22 points in Wisconsin's 77-68 win at Purdue.

That snapped the UW's 29-game losing streak in West Lafayette.

As a team, the Badgers were 14-of-22 (.636) from beyond the arc that night. Morley was 6-of-8.

Sharif Chambliss, who is now the video coordinator, had 16 points and six assists.

Morley, Chambliss, Alando Tucker, Mike Wilkinson and Clayton Hanson were the starters.

Those Badgers made a deep run in the NCAA tournament - all the way to the Elite Eight.

Brust shrugged when asked if he was aware of Wisconsin's history in Mackey Arena.

"The rims are 10 feet," he said. "The court is the same length.

"All you've got to do is just play basketball."

Playing with high energy and intensity from the start of each half was an emphasis, though.

"I don't think it should take a three-game losing streak to get that kind of energy from all of us," Taylor allowed. "But we played the way coach has preached. It shows that he knows what he's doing."

Most of Ryan's sermons are about fundamental basketball skills and principles.

"We moved pretty well without the ball," Gasser said. "We made hard cuts to the rim and it opened up other players. It makes shooting a little easier when you have that extra space."

The Badgers finished with five players in double-figures.

They also had three players with five rebounds each and two with four each.

Everybody who played in the game found a way to make a meaningful contribution.

"That's one of the best team wins I've ever been part of here," said Taylor, a UW senior.

Brust was asked Thursday if the Badgers can sustain their momentum against Nebraska.

He looked puzzled.

"I don't know who we have next (on the schedule)," he said, sounding like his head coach. "But I look forward to getting ready for them because the next one is the most important one."

One last note: if you're waiting for Bruesewitz to grow out his hair, forget about it.

"My hair is staying short this year," he stressed.

"Plus, I'm not a Chia Pet. I can't just put water on it and it grows within a week.

"It was a fun thing last year and I might bring it back next year. We'll see."

Bruesewitz was sporting some stubble at Purdue.

"I'm trying the chin thing out," he said.

After going 4-of-4 from beyond the arc, his chin was up, too.

Lucas at Large: Bruesewitz, Badgers work from within to end skid

MBB_120113_Bruesewitz_Mike.jpg

Energy was the topic.

Mike Bruesewitz was the subject.

Greg Gard was the narrator.

"The one thing that we've noticed over the last two or three games is that Mike is starting to get back to being that Energizer Bunny,'' said Gard, Wisconsin's associate head coach.

"That's what made him who he was last season and what fans loved about him. If he's flying around and bringing energy and making things happen then the offense will flow from it.

"That was the whole point when we were recruiting him -- that's what we saw. He was everywhere on the court. He made things happen. He was skilled, rebounded and scored.

"He played with a lot of heart and energy. That has to be his game.''

Bruesewitz was on top of his game Thursday night at Purdue, helping trigger a 22-4 opening run against the Boilermakers by knocking down a couple of 3-pointers.

"We came out with a lot of energy,'' Jordan Taylor said.

"Mike hit some big shots,'' Ben Brust said.

In this context, Bruesewitz deserves some of the credit for setting the tempo in Wisconsin's 67-62 victory, which snapped Purdue's 26-game home winning streak, the sixth longest in the nation.

In his own mind, he was ready to pull the trigger.

"That was my mindset,'' said Bruesewitz after scoring 12 points on 4-of-4 shooting from the beyond the 3-point arc. "If I got an open shot, I was going to shoot it with confidence and knock it down."

To such an extent that he even banked his second triple off the glass.

"I called it, too, look at the tape,'' said Bruesewitz, who had been shooting 33 percent from distance. "I didn't smirk or anything. As soon as it left my hand I knew it was going in.''

Mackey Arena, which opened during the 1967-68 season, has been a House of Pain for the Badgers, who had won there only twice previously (1972 and 2005).

Bringing the energy was a Bruesewitz priority.

"We needed to be excited to play and we needed to get off to a fast start,'' he said. "You have to bring your own energy on the road. It's you against the world.

"The way you get energy there is through silence -- silence is your motivation. You want to try to silence the crowd as much as possible and get the fans to sit on their hands.''

In addition to his 12 points -- the most that he has scored since Thanksgiving weekend when he had 13 against BYU -- Bruesewitz also had five timely defensive rebounds against the Boilers.

"He has become a more active rebounder lately,'' Gard said. "Whether or not he's getting the rebound, he's also keeping the ball alive so somebody else can secure it.''

Bruesewitz, who contributed defensively to Robbie Hummel's poor shooting night (13 points on 5-of-17 field goal attempts), put his own game plan for the Boilermakers into focus.

"We've got to climb back on the horse, get back after it and right the ship,'' he said.

If you're keeping score at home, that's three clichés in one sentence.

Invited to use whatever trite phrases or bromides were warranted, Bruesewitz grinned and confided that he was well-versed and stocked on clichés thanks to the movie, "Bull Durham.''

"That's where I got all my media training,'' he said.

With all due respect to Crash Davis, then, you could say Bruesewitz believes there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf, the designated hitter and losing streaks.

"I hate losing,'' he stressed on the heels of the UW's three-game losing skid.

That's understandable since Bruesewitz has had so little experience with it. The last time the Badgers were mired in a "significant'' losing streak, he was a senior at Sibley High in St. Paul, Minn.

("Significant'' translating to more than two in a row.)

That was during the 2008-09 season when the UW lost six straight Big Ten games. Despite the ignominious stretch, Wisconsin still made the NCAA tournament and won its first round game.

"Nobody had really experienced what we were going through,'' Bruesewitz said, "other than the seniors and the redshirt juniors. We lost one game at home my first two years here.''

After Michigan saddled the Badgers with their third consecutive defeat -- a streak including back-to-back losses to Iowa and Michigan State at the Kohl Center -- Bruesewitz took charge.

When the team got back from Ann Arbor early last Sunday evening, he suggested that everyone get together for a "bonding'' session and a "late night breakfast.'' So they huddled at Perkins Restaurant.

"We really didn't discuss basketball,'' Bruesewitz said. "Nobody gave any big speeches.''

The players just hung out together.

"We just wanted to change things up,'' he said. "It was a team event.''

It was important to point out that nobody had accepted losing. On the contrary, Bruesewitz said, "We were definitely disappointed'' with the 1-3 start in the Big Ten. That topic had been broached.

"We talked a lot about it in the locker room,'' Bruesewitz said. "We've got good leaders on this team. We don't have guys sitting there with their heads in their hands.''

Nobody was feeling sorry for themselves, he added. And there was an urgency to turn the season around, which the Badgers may have done with their rare victory in West Lafayette.

"Winning is a good deodorant,'' he said. "Trust me, it's a good deodorant for a lot of things.''

Prodded to critique his own play, Bruesewitz said, "I think I've underachieved. I feel like I should be more consistent offensively. But I'm not trying to force shots, I'm not trying to do too much.''

This is where he reached for the "quicksand'' cliché.

"The harder you try, the more you bury yourself,'' he explained. "I'm trying to let things come to me. I've been working on my jump shot and finishing around the rim.

"Luckily there's more than just shooting and scoring in the game of basketball. I feel like I've done a good job rebounding, and I've tried to bring as much energy as possible to the team defensively.''

Bruesewitz admitted that he tends to be tougher on himself than others.

"You know the cliché, it's the old lawyer's model,'' he said. "If you get everything you asked for, you didn't ask for enough. I kind of ask a lot out of myself and I haven't quite gotten there yet.''

But he's working on it. So are his UW teammates. "Everybody in our locker room,'' he said, "feels like we're a better team than we've shown most of the year.''

And they went out and proved it Thursday at Mackey Arena.

FB_111222_Konz_Peter.jpg

UW center Peter Konz was more "curious'' than "anxious'' about his scheduled doctor's appointment Thursday with a foot and ankle specialist in Charlotte, N.C.

Konz has missed three games since dislocating his ankle Nov. 12 at Minnesota. While he was able to take some "positive steps'' during Tuesday's practice, he wants to know the skinny on his injury.

That's why he's getting a second opinion from Dr. Robert Anderson, who has been a consultant to a number of professional baseball, basketball and football teams, including the Green Bay Packers.

Anderson attended the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee -- hence his Cheesehead connection -- and has served as an assistant team physician for the NFL's Carolina Panthers.

He's also a founding member of the Foot & Ankle Institute at OrthoCarolina.

Put it this way -- Konz's way -- his ankle will be in good hands.

"He's a specialist so he's going to be able to tell me things from his experiences,'' Konz said. "He's going to tell me whether I can strengthen my ankle or if I'll need surgery.

"He's going to tell me if it's good to be practicing on my ankle -- that type of thing -- and if I do have to have surgery maybe it doesn't have to happen until after the season, so I'll be good to go.''

Konz added, "He'll help me make a decision.''

He then stressed, "I want to make sure I'm not doing anything to worsen my condition.''

In his heart, does Konz believe that he will be playing in the Rose Bowl?

"In my heart, yes,'' he said. "But I definitely have to be as healthy as I can.''

That relates to his potential effectiveness against an opponent like Oregon.

"If I'm not healthy,'' he said, "I'm not going to do anything (to help the offense).''

Konz took part in Wednesday's practice at the McClain Center, though his work to this point has been limited to individual drills on a weighted sled and conditioning.

Before leaving for Carolina, he has a final exam in "Wildlife Diseases'' which is an elective. "And a much more interesting class than I thought it would be,'' he said. "We have a lot of guest lecturers.''

The topics range from avian botulism to rabies.

Konz loves thinking outside of the box (not just the tackle box, either).

"That's what I do,'' he said. "I want to take the unbeaten path because there are a lot of great classes here that I don't think a lot of people explore just because they don't know much about them.''

Konz can understand the reservations that some of his teammates may have.

"Especially during the football season because you don't want to go out on the limb,'' he said. "What if this class is really hard? What if the professor won't work with my schedule?''

That's critical in terms of balancing a commitment to academics and athletics.

Each semester, Konz will check out available electives -- "I want to make sure it fits with my electives and everything I need to graduate'' -- and he will opt for what sounds interesting.

"If I'm interested in something,'' he said, "then I'm likely to do better in it.''

A couple of years ago, Konz recalled, "I said to myself, 'I want to read some classics.' So I took a class on Dante's Devine Comedy.''

How many All-American offensive centers can quote from Dante Alighieri's epic poem?

This might even leave Mel Kiper Jr. speechless.

"This year,'' Konz went on, "I said to myself, 'I want to be a little more religious.' I wanted to explore that side of myself so I took a class on early Christian religion.''

Konz has also taken a course on "Japanese art'' because "I really enjoyed my Roman art class -- I just love Italian culture being an Italian myself.''

When asked if he minded being labeled "eclectic'' he responded, "I do like that word actually.''

When reminded that jocks tend to be stereotyped, he laughed.

"I agree. It's easy to fit into a stereotype,'' he said.

At that moment, the post-Tuesday practice interview session was interrupted when the UW drums corps -- which had taken over the McClain facility -- began playing.

If ever there was anyone who marches to a different ...

Konz laughed again.

Lucas at Large: Back stateside, Leuer ready to realize NBA dream

MBB_110629_Leuer_Jon_NBA.jpgThere were some "anxious'' moments for Jon Leuer -- the 12th-leading scorer in school history -- while Wisconsin was holding off Milwaukee, 60-54, on Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Arena.

Seated behind the UW bench, Leuer was anxious to see his former team in action. "This is my first experience watching the Badgers live; I never saw them when I was in high school,'' Leuer said,

Recruited out of Orono, Minn., it was a long commute to the Kohl Center. But he never regretted his choice. "I learned a lot from coach (Bo) Ryan on how to be disciplined,'' he said.

It's a much shorter commute -- on N. 4th Street -- between The Cell and the Bradley Center. While enjoying the reunion with his old teammates, Leuer was anxious to join the Milwaukee Bucks.

"I'm just waiting for my contract in Germany to clear FIBA (the International Basketball Federation),'' said Leuer, a second-round selection (40th overall) of the Bucks in the June draft.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the NBA lockout, Leuer signed in early August with a German professional team -- Skyliners Frankfurt -- in the Basketball Bundesliga.

His agent, Mark Bartelstein, made sure that there was an opt-out clause in his contract so that Leuer could return to the states once the labor dispute was resolved and the lockout was ended.

"It was looking gloomy for awhile,'' Leuer admitted of the negotiations which threatened to cancel the entire season. "But my agent kept me informed of what was going on the whole time.''

On Nov. 26, the NBA and the NBA Players Association reached a tentative agreement.  On Dec. 8, the new collective bargaining agreement was ratified.  On Dec. 9, the NBA training camps opened.

On Dec. 15, Leuer signed a two-year deal with the Bucks and practiced for the first time.

"The first 10 minutes I think I was a little nervous -- just kind of the 'Wow' factor, your first NBA practice,'' Leuer said. "But after that it was just basketball. I settled in and I just played the game.''

Bucks coach Scott Skiles was impressed with what he saw out of Leuer. Speaking to the local media corps following the workout, he said, "He's a smart player; he's got good defensive instincts.''

Skiles didn't sound surprised, either.

"Obviously playing where he did in college (Wisconsin) he has been well-coached,'' he said. "Watching his team in Frankfurt, you can tell that they were well-prepared; the coach did a good job.

"Coupled with (the fact) he's a smart player anyway, you wouldn't have been able to watch practice today and pick him out as the guy who just showed up. He got involved with everything.''

After missing the team's first six practices, Leuer does not have any personal timetable. "Right now the only thing I'm focused on is working hard in practice and trying to earn minutes,'' he said.

Leuer does have a reference point for development. As a true freshman, he appeared in 32 games for the Badgers. He had an auspicious Big Ten debut with 25 points at Michigan.

For the most part, though, he was anchored to the bench and got limited playing time. Especially during the final two months of the conference season.

"I know it's tough for a rookie (in the NBA) but it was the same thing I faced as a freshman,'' he said. "Nothing is given to you -- you have to earn you minutes. That's the same mentality I have now.''

Leuer believes that his exposure to pro basketball in Germany will help his transition with the Bucks. "I definitely got better playing with a 24-second clock,'' Leuer said.

There was a "home away from home'' feel to Skyliners Frankfurt, too. One of his teammates was former Northwestern guard Michael (Juice) Thompson. "It was good to have a connection,'' Leuer said.

Leuer played in 10 games and averaged 15 points and eight rebounds in the German League. Justin Gray (Wake Forest) and Jermareo Davidson (Alabama) were also on the Frankfurt roster.

"It was definitely good competition,'' Leuer said. "I'm glad that I went over there because I got to play against other professionals.

"You're playing in a system against other teams that are trying to work their own systems and you're not going to get that in open gyms.

"It was not only a good experience from the basketball aspect, but I learned about being a professional athlete. It's like, 'This is your job and this is all you have to work on -- your game.'''

Besides growing out his hair, Leuer has added some weight to his 6-foot-10 frame. "I'm a few pounds heavier,'' he said. "It's something that I've wanted to improve on -- getting a little stronger.''

Although the Bucks signed free agent Mike Dunleavy Jr. -- the 31-year-old former Duke star -- Leuer wasn't sure how the 6-9 Dunleavy's presence would impact his status, if at all.

Dunleavy is expected to be utilized as a back-up shooting guard and small forward. Leuer recognizes that he can't worry about how the pieces are going to fit into the Bucks' puzzle.

All he can control is how he works and practices.

"I feel like I can come in and knock down some shots and space the floor out,'' Leuer said. "It's a good situation and I'm glad to stay in Wisconsin. The fans have been great to me.''

After his first practice, he admitted, "Ultimately, this is where I really wanted to be. It's been my dream ever since I was a little kid to play in the NBA, so I didn't want to let this opportunity slip away."
ON WISCONSIN