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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.
Bruesewitz on 'The Journey' Photo Gallery
The 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.
----------------------------------------------------------------Watch Bruesewitz on "The Journey 2012"
Sunday, Jan. 29 - BTN - 7 p.m. CT
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."
Growth 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.''
Scott 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.
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.
There 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."
UW running backs coach Thomas Hammock has been around Montee Ball every day since the start of practice in August. But he had no idea that he was working with the "player to be named later.''
"I did not know that,'' Hammock said.
Neither did Ball's head coach, Bret Bielema, who has been around the Heisman Trophy finalist every day since Ball arrived on the Madison campus in 2009.
"I thought the two e's at the end of his first name were unique,'' he conceded. "But he never said one word to me about it. I've called him Mon-TAY once in awhile when I'm joking around.''
Ball has revealed his first name is pronounced Mon-TAY. But since elementary school, everyone has called him Mon-TEE, so he never bothered to correct them or add the accent over one of the e's.
"How about Mon-TAY,'' Bielema teased during Friday night's football awards dinner at Union South. "He gets invited to the Heisman, so he skips the banquet and he changes his name.''
Even though Ball was in New York City, he was with his teammates in spirit. Along with quarterback Russell Wilson, Ball shared the Most Valuable Player award on offense for the Badgers.
"It's unbelievable the ownership that he took of his situation,'' UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said of Ball, who didn't even play in the 2010 win over then No. 1-ranked Ohio State.
"He's unlike any other guy I've been around as far as self-assessing his situation and being pro-active in doing something about it. It's one of the neater stories that I've been around.''
Bielema, Hammock and former UW tailback Ron Dayne, the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner, will fly to New York following Saturday's practice and attend the televised presentation in Manhattan.
"It's a tribute to Montee Ball and everything that he has put into it -- all of his hard work and dedication,'' Hammock said. "He has been a model and a leader for the younger running backs.
"Hard work pays off.''
Added Chryst, "It's something that our whole team can take pride in. It's as much of a team award as anything. But it's awesome for Montee. He deserves everything he's getting and more.''
Chryst also had some kind words for Wilson.
"The greatest compliment that you can give someone is that when you go to a place, you leave it in a better situation, you make it a better place,'' Chryst said.
"What a great statement. If you can do that by making the people around you better people, you are truly something special. We all knew how fortunate we were to have Russell join us.
"But it doesn't just happen if you don't have a tremendous group of guys that took him in. Everyone can take ownership and pride.
"You wrote a heckuva story, Russell.
"I appreciate being a part of it.''
Wilson was most gracious in accepting the co-offensive MVP award.
"I couldn't do it without the offensive line and the rest of the guys on the team who worked their butts off every single day to be great,'' Wilson said.
"When I first came here, my first meeting with the team, I told them that I wanted us to be special, and we have a chance to do that. We are special, but we have one more huge game to win.''
The co-MVPs on defense were linebacker Mike Taylor and cornerback Antonio Fenelus.
A number of players were honored, including Josh Oglesby, Kevin Claxton, Aaron Henry, Kevin Zeitler, Patrick Butrym, Nick Toon, Bradie Ewing, Andrew Lukasko, Jake Byrne, and Brad Nortman.
Although they didn't receive any awards, Bielema also singled out four seniors -- Adam Hampton, Louis Nzegwu, Kyle Wojta and Nate Tice -- for their contributions to the program.
Linebacker Derek Landsich was the Newcomer of the Year. Offensive lineman Tyler Marz and defensive end James Adeyanju were the Scout Team Players of the Year.
All are freshmen. Marz and Adeyanju are redshirting.
"I knew who were going to get the awards tonight,'' Bielema said. "And a certain freshman pops out to me because he doesn't have a tie on.
"We have 120 guys in the room and 119 have ties. One doesn't, and he's going to get an award.
"So I ask him, 'How far away do you live?'
"He says, 'Ogg Hall.'
"I said, 'Get running.'
"I guarantee you for those three or four blocks James Adeyanju wasn't saying pleasant things about his head coach.
"But in the end everything matters -- every detail, every day -- everything matters from the way you present yourself to the way you prepare yourself to the way you play on Saturday.
"It makes a difference. I think our senior class will attest to that.''
At the end of the program, Bielema challenged his players, "Let's finish it. Let's go out there with a task in mind and finish this thing (in the Rose Bowl) like we need to.''
2011 Wisconsin Football Awards Winners
Rookie of the Year
Scout Team Player of the Year
Tyler Marz (offense), James Adeyanju (defense)
Presented annually to the players who excelled on the scout team in preparing the Badgers for each week's game.
Ivan B. Williamson Scholastic Award
Presented annually to a player who has been exemplary in the area of scholarship and sportsmanship. The award is given in memory of Williamson, a former Wisconsin football coach (1949-55) and athletics director (1955-69).
Badger Power Award
Jake Bryne and Andrew Lukasko
Presented annually to the player that consistently performs at a high level in all aspects of the Strength and Conditioning program, one that has a great work ethic coupled with a positive attitude that garners the respect of teammates, is dependable, buys into the program and shows constant improvement.
Wayne Souza Coaches' Appreciation Award (Offense)
Josh Oglesby and Nick Toon
Presented annually to the offensive football player who has contributed to the team's success to the best of his abilities. It is based upon improvement, attitude and willingness to help the program in all areas. The award is given in memory of Souza, a UW football letter winner (1977-78).
Jay Seiler Coaches' Appreciation Award (Defense)
Aaron Henry and Kevin Claxton
Presented annually to the defensive football player who has contributed to the team's success to the best of his abilities. It is based upon improvement, attitude, and willingness to help the program in all areas. The award is given in memory of Seiler, a former player.
Tom Wiesner Award
Kevin Zeitler and Patrick Butrym
Presented annually to a Wisconsin-born student-athlete whose loyalty, hard work, spirit and dedication are unselfishly directed to the success of the Badger football team. The award is given in memory of Wiesner, a Wisconsin football letter winner (1958-60).
Special Teams Award
Presented annually to the most valuable player on the special teams as selected by the coaching staff.
The Captains' Cup
Presented annually to an individual, other than a player or coach, who has shown tremendous dedication and unselfish commitment toward the betterment of the football program. The recipient is selected by the head coach and team captains.
Most Valuable Player
Montee Ball and Russell Wilson (offense), Antonio Fenelus and Mike Taylor (defense)
Presented annually to an offensive and defensive player who were most instrumental to the success of the football team.
Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson has some history with championship games. Indirectly, he also has some history with the infamous Sports Illustrated
This is not to suggest that Wilson's appearance in Saturday night's inaugural Big Ten Football Championship Game could lead to an SI
cover for the UW senior or teammate Montee Ball -- jinx be damned.
This is merely revisiting another entry in Wilson's extensive resume, which may or may not serve to frame or foreshadow the rematch with Michigan State at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Consider: The Dec. 18, 2006 issue of Sports Illustrated
featured Tennessee Titans rookie Vince Young on the cover. Young had just sparked the Titans to a four-game winning streak.
"I can do whatever it takes to win,'' Young crowed.
How did that turn out for Young, a Titans bust, who was last seen throwing four picks in Seattle and leading his self-anointed "Dream Team'' Philadelphia Eagles (4-8) into NFL purgatory?
Also consider: The Dec. 18, 2006 issue of Sports Illustrated
featured the "Faces in the Crowd" department -- a weekly piece that shines the spotlight on young, up-and-coming athletes.
More to the point, it gives some national media exposure to individuals who are otherwise overshadowed by the higher profile jocks in professional sports.
Consider these "Faces:"
There was Krystina Orwat, a volleyball player, who led Kishwaukee College to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II championship in Scottsdale, Ariz.
There was Josh Rohatinsky, a cross country runner from Brigham Young who won the men's 10K race at the NCAA championship in Terre Haute, Ind.
There was Melissa Gonzalez, a high school field hockey player who led her school to the New York State Class A championship.
There was Jachelle Bigornia, a high school golfer in California who led her school to a perfect season and an eighth-straight conference title.
There was Kerri Hanks and Joseph Lapira, soccer players at Notre Dame who became the first athletes from the same school to be named the top women's and men's college players of the year.
And then there was "young'' Russell Wilson, a senior quarterback/defensive back at Collegiate School in Richmond, Va., who led the Cougars to a 38-16 win over Fork Union.
It was Collegiate's fourth-straight Virginia Independent Schools Football Association Division I title. Wilson passed for 291 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 223 yards and three scores.
That was his last appearance in a championship game.
"I remember the emotion part of it is a little bit heightened for a championship game,'' he said Monday. "I guess everybody is a little more aware for whatever reason.
"There's a natural awareness because you're playing for a lot. At the same time, you have to be cool, calm and collected.
"That's where I've really grown as a quarterback through my experiences -- being poised no matter what the situation, whether we're winning by 25 or 30 or we're down by 25 or 30.
"I've tried to be the same -- always attacking with the mindset, 'What can I do to excel?'''
That's how Wilson is approaching the Spartans.
"There's going to be a lot of emotion, a lot of fire,'' he said, "and I have to be the one to make sure everybody is on the same page and communicating well.
"Whether that's on the sideline or in the huddle, I have to make sure everybody understands what our goal is for that one particular play or that next series, whatever it is.''
During his Monday press conference, UW coach Bret Bielema mentioned that the presence of Wisconsin and Michigan State in the first Big Ten championship game was refreshing.
Bielema's perspective was related to the thought process behind divisional alignment.
"I knew they wanted to separate those four big boys just because of tradition and history and national championships,'' he said of Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska.
Minutes later, Wilson was taking questions from the same assembled media contingent and Bielema's "big boys'' reference was brought up in a question that was posed to Wilson.
It was conveyed to Wilson that the league title game was an opportunity for Wisconsin to demonstrate that maybe it's the new face of the Big Ten.
With a smile on his face, Wilson prefaced his remarks by saying, "Well, I think that Wisconsin is a big boy.''
Saturday night will be most telling in that regard.
When Marcus Cromartie was informed of the number, he did a double-take.
The number was 24.
Shaking his head, the Wisconsin cornerback conceded, "Wow, I honestly didn't know that.''
Cromartie paused to reflect on the number before continuing.
"I just know that he's in there a lot,'' he finally said.
"In there'' is the end zone.
Montee Ball has been "in there'' a lot -- 24 times through nine games.
That matches the school record set by tailback Brian Calhoun in 2005. For perspective, Ron Dayne had 21 touchdowns in 1996 and 20 in '99 -- the year that he won the Heisman Trophy.
Ball is two touchdowns shy of the Big Ten record which is shared by three prominent former running backs: Ohio State's Pete Johnson, Indiana's Anthony Thompson and Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter.
(Note: In 2006, Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan threw for 58 touchdowns, the NCAA record. In 1988, Oklahoma State tailback Barry Sanders had 39 touchdowns in 11 games.)
"Whenever I'm sitting on the bench and getting a breather or the coaches are talking to us about some adjustments,'' Cromartie said, ''when I hear, 'Touchdown' I know it's Montee.
"He just has a knack for the end zone.''
Having a "nose for the end zone or the goal line'' is an old sports cliché. But it would seem to be a fair assessment on how Ball has accounted for 46 touchdowns in 30 career games (13 starts).
"I'm surprised Montee doesn't have more touchdowns; he's extremely talented,'' said quarterback Russell Wilson. "You notice that on the practice field and in the film room.
"He always wants the ball in his hands and that's a great thing to have in terms of a running back that can make big time plays when things aren't necessarily always there.''
When UW coach Bret Bielema was an assistant at Kansas State, he came to appreciate the running talents and work habits of Darren Sproles. Ball has reminded Bielema of Sproles.
"I loved the kid (Sproles) and his competitive nature and I knew he'd have success,'' Bielema said. "It reminds me a lot of Montee's personality; just the vibe that he can give an entire team.''
Ball has definitely shown a presence in the red zone; dating to the late game-winning touchdown that he scored at Iowa last season. That gave him a huge confidence boost.
"I think he does know where he's at on the field,'' said UW running backs coach Thomas Hammock. "What I've tried to explain to him is if it's third-and-short it should be the same mentality.
"That's something that he has to continue to work on. We're third-and-short (in the first half) at Ohio State and we don't get it. If that was a goal line, would he have scored?
"That's how you have to have the same sense of urgency every time you carry the ball.''
In practice, Ball will "run out'' every run. Bielema remembered hearing how the late Walter Payton programmed himself to finish every run by running an extra 40 yards in drills.
Payton preached running with long strides and extended legs.
"The coaches have stressed with Montee,'' Cromartie said, "to keep running through to the end zone even if he gets tapped after a five yard gain in practice.
"That carries over to games. You want to get into the habit of running through things.''
In non-tackling drills, the tap from a defensive player signifies that the runner is down.
"I truly believe what you do in practice you do in a game,'' Hammock said. "You look at the Purdue game, he made a couple of guys miss at the second level and was running physical.
"He was also finishing runs, which is something that he has to continue to do. It's a week-by-week thing. Some weeks may not be as good as others.''
Cromartie can relate to that last point. After enduring some rough moments at Michigan State and Ohio State, he had one of his better all-around games against the Boilermakers last Saturday.
Cromartie subscribes to an old John Wooden quote:
"Success is never final and failure is never fatal.''
Wooden had a way with words.
"You have to go through hard times,'' Cromartie said, "and you will see good times at the end of the road. Part of football is having good days and bad days, the ups and the downs.
"As long as you keep competing, you're going to be OK in the end.''
On successive defensive possessions against the Boilermakers, Cromartie attacked the ball aggressively and broke up passes to wide receivers that could have kept the drives alive.
Along the Purdue sidelines, coaches and players were chirping for pass interference.
There were no flags.
"A lot of times they're trying to take the physicality out of football,'' Cromartie said. "But I was looking for the ball, I was going for the ball and I was trying to make a play on the ball.''
Opposing defenses have taken the same steps on the Ball with little success -- Montee Ball.
"I'm happy to see him do well after everything he went through last year,'' Cromartie said.
"Saturday is the reward for all the hard work that he has put in,'' said Hammock.
"The way he's wired has just kind of been special,'' Bielema said.
David Gilbert celebrated his 18th birthday by learning how to fly.
That was 2009; the last time Purdue played Wisconsin in Madison.
Late in the first half, Gilbert, then a true freshman, went airborne and flew over 6-foot-6 Peters Drey -- one of the blockers in the Boilermakers' shield -- and smothered Chris Summers' punt.
Aaron Henry scooped up the ball and ran nine yards for the touchdown. That gave the Badgers a commanding 24-0 lead at halftime. The overwhelmed Boilers never recovered and got skunked 37-0.
Earlier that year, Gilbert had been on the receiving end of punt block when he fell on the ball in the end zone after Chris Borland had leaped over the shield to block a punt against Wofford.
That convincing late October win over Purdue was a turning point in the '09 season for the Badgers, who had lost consecutive games to Ohio State and Iowa before getting back on track.
Wisconsin ended up winning five of its last six, including a bowl victory over Miami (Fla.).
The Badgers are hoping to use the Boilermakers as a springboard again here Saturday.
While Gilbert's punt block was memorable, the game itself was not; it was a rout.
But there have been a handful of memorable games in the Purdue-Wisconsin series.
Here's the short list from Camp Randall Stadium:Nov. 6, 1971
Wisconsin 14, Purdue 10
Trailing 10-7, the Badgers had the ball on the Boilers' 3-yard-line with no timeouts left and 13 seconds remaining in the game.
"It was a real gamble to go with Allan Thompson up the middle,'' said UW coach John Jardine, who knew if the "A-Train" had been stopped there would not be enough time to run another play.
Not to worry. Quarterback Neil Graff, who had success on his option keepers, finally gave the ball to Thompson on the fullback dive and he scored allowing the Badgers to escape with the victory.Nov. 10, 1984
Wisconsin 30, Purdue 13
The Badgers exploded for 551 yards of total offense as tailback Marck Harrison ran for 225 and quarterback Mike Howard threw for 290, offsetting the presence of Purdue's All-American Jim Everett.
"I think that's the best team in the Big Ten,'' said Boilermakers coach Leon Burtnett.
In the end, it was a devastating loss for the Boilermakers - costing them a trip to the Rose Bowl.
In the end, it was the perfect ending for the UW seniors.
"I remember taking the final lap around Camp Randall Stadium,'' said wide receiver Al Toon, reflecting on his final home appearance. "Wearing that uniform was pretty special.''
Toon went out in style, catching seven passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
The following spring, Toon was one of three UW players taken in the first round of the 1985 NFL draft. Joining Toon were defensive tackle Darryl Sims and defensive back Richard Johnson.
Center Dan Turk, tackles Jeff Dellenbach and Kevin Belcher, tight end Brett Pearson, linebacker Jim Melka, defensive tackle Scott Bergold, tailback Gary Ellerson and corner Ken Stills were also drafted.
That might have been one of the most talent-rich teams ever assembled at Wisconsin.
Yet the '84 Badgers finished with a 7-4-1 record and a loss to Kentucky in the Hall of Fame Bowl.
How do you think that would play today? Exactly.
Oct. 18, 1992
Wisconsin 19, Purdue 16
UW coach Barry Alvarez didn't mince words after a lifeless first half.
"We were extremely flat on both sides of the ball,'' he said.
After falling behind 16-6, the Badgers started the third quarter with a few defensive stops and wound up limiting the Boilermakers to only three first downs and 80 yards over the final 30 minutes.
Backup quarterback Jay Macias, who was forced into action after the starter Darrell Bevell injured his shoulder in the first half, helped spark the rally with some clutch throws to Lee DeRamus.
With 38 seconds remaining, Rich Thompson, a fifth-year senior, kicked a 49-yard field goal for the win. It was his fourth field goal of the game and 15th of the season (15-of-17).
"There was no question when I hit - no question,'' Thompson said.Nov. 2, 1996
Wisconsin 33, Purdue 25
The Badgers had lost by three points to No. 3 Penn State; three points to No. 2 Ohio State and four points to No. 14 Northwestern before getting blown out by 17 points at Michigan State.
Saddled with an 0-4 Big Ten record, they had no margin of error against the Boilers.
That may have explained the urgency in Ron Dayne's play.
Dayne, who had lost a fumble in the closing seconds of the Northwestern loss, gashed Purdue for 244 rushing yards; the most ever by a UW freshman.
Dayne credited his offensive line, which included Aaron Gibson at tight end.
The 378-pound Gibson, a converted offensive tackle, traded his No. 79 for No. 81.
Gibby was a physical freak: 47-inch waist, 33-inch thighs, 20-inch neck.
"I thought the best line of the day,'' Alvarez said, "was when one of the officials came over and told me one of the Purdue kids wanted to know if there was a weight limit on 80 numbers.''Oct. 10, 1998
Wisconsin 31, Purdue 24
The year before, the Boilermakers had embarrassed the Badgers, 45-20, in West Lafayette.
Looking for an edge, Alvarez got one when the kickoff was scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
"It's very hard to execute when the crowd is at a fever pitch,'' Alvarez said.
Tell that to Purdue quarterback Drew Brees who completed 55-of-83 passes for 494 yards.
"We were in the two-minute drill basically the entire game,'' Brees said.
Wide receiver Randall Lane had 18 catches. Moreover, the Boilers had the ball for 103 plays.
But the Badgers limited the damage. Brees longest pass completion was for 21 yards.
Unless, that is, you count Jamar Fletcher's 52-yard interception return for a touchdown.
That was one of five Purdue turnovers and broke a 17-17 tie.
"It was one of the craziest games I ever played in -- ever in my life,'' said Brees.
What made it even crazier was the debut of "Jump Around.''
Previously during the third and fourth quarter exchange, the UW band had struck up, "If you want to be a Badger just come along with me.'' Nice, but soft; not easy to rock to.
On this night, Kevin Kluender, a member of the UW marketing department, dialed up the "House of Pain'' and Jump Around has since become a Camp Randall tradition.