When the NCAA granted college basketball coaches the opportunity for two hours of structured practice time per week during the two-month summer school window, there was the suspicion that some players might go "Iverson" and react to the news like Allen Iverson might have reacted: "We're sitting here talkin' about practice? Not a game, not a game. We're talking about practice, man?"
Wisconsin senior Jared Berggren grinned at the thought of it all.
"Practice?" he confessed, mimicking Iverson's voice inflexion. "That's exactly what I said."
UW junior Josh Gasser had a similar confession.
"My first reaction," he said, "was, 'What are we going to do?'"
We're gonna practice; we're talkin' about two hours of practice each week.
"The summer," Gasser said, "has always been kind of nice for doing your own thing."
But all of that has changed and Berggren and Gasser really aren't complaining.
On the contrary, they both endorse the new NCAA landscape for men's hoops.
Since the start of summer school, the Badgers have been practicing two hours every Tuesday.
"By having it (practice) once a week I think is perfect," Gasser said. "We play in open gym throughout the week but you get a little higher intensity of play now (with the coaches present); this elevates it up a notch. I think it's going to help us individually and as a team."
Without directly mentioning freshmen Sam Dekker and Zak Showalter, he added, "For the younger guys, they'll get to learn more quickly. Coming in the fall, it won't be as big of a shock to them when we start practice. They'll have a better idea of what's going on."
As a true freshman, Gasser started 30 games without the benefit of organized summer practices. In retrospect, he said, "It would have been nice to have from the standpoint of mentally getting used to the rules defensively and to the kinds of sets that we run offensively (at Wisconsin)."
The additional coaching structure is also bound to help a redshirt freshman like George Marshall, who'll be competing for minutes at the point guard position vacated by Jordan Taylor. Last season, Marshall worked exclusively on the scout team; manning up daily against Taylor in practice.
What are the benefits to the two hours of weekly instruction in June and July?
"I think the cohesiveness of the team comes together a little bit sooner," Marshall said. "You get a better feel for the coaches and the coaches get a better feel for you. If there's anything that needs fixing or you need to work on, you know earlier as opposed to waiting until the fall or the season."
Berggren recalled getting a "heads-up" on the changes from the basketball team's strength coach Scott Hettenbach who had to redesign his summer conditioning program since the two hours of practice time are coming out of the eight hours that were previously budgeted for training.
As a result, Hettenbach has put an even greater emphasis on quality over quantity. "With two less hours in the weight room," Gasser said, "we get in and we get out. It's more high-quality work - fast and intense - and we still get the same amount of stuff done as we had in the past."
During those two hours on the court, Berggren said, "We knew that it was going to be different but we didn't know what to expect coming into it. In talking to the assistants, there was the thought that we would kind of do what we do in the spring and fall and that's more individual work.
"But we've done mostly team stuff - four-on-four; five-on-five - which is good. It's more game-like because you have coaches instructing you. Sometimes you can get into bad habits in open gym. This keeps everyone playing hard and we get to see who's coming along in the summer.
"For the freshmen, they can start getting doses of coaching in their ear; learning what they've got to do without being overwhelmed when we start going six days a week with our real practices. It gives them a taste early-on so they know what to expect and it will definitely speed along the process."
Along with the Tuesday practice, the open gym scrimmages are still critical to player development. "But Wednesdays are completely open now and that's kind of nice," Berggren said. "It's good to get in the gym on your own and get shots up and work on some individual skill stuff."
In this context, each player has his own needs.
"For me, it's the same thing every off-season," said Berggren. "I try to get stronger, quicker, more athletic. I try to get in better shape and I try to put on some muscle and lose some body fat."
Marshall is working "on my leadership and making the right reads" while continuing "to take my game to the next level" by making plays during the practices "and making my teammates better."
Being more of a leader is also on Gasser's radar. "I've played more minutes of game time than anyone on the team," he said, "so even though I'm a junior, I have to show some leadership out there."
As seniors, Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans will be expected to carry more of the burden in terms of their own accountability and leadership, especially with Taylor gone.
"We know that we have to be a little more vocal and take on a bigger leadership role," Berggren said. "We've all done that in our own ways this past spring and throughout the summer.
"It is different because it is our last chance. I've talked to Ryan about it - how this is kind of why we took the redshirt (as freshman). This is what it's all for now. We both recognize that."
There's something that Marshall has recognized, too. "Having leaders who are already established," he said of the UW's upperclassmen, "makes my transition a little easier."
Marshall hasn't forgotten some of the things that Taylor taught him. "He just said always play hard and always listen," he recounted. "My role is to do whatever it takes to help the team win."
Regarding that transition, Berggren observed, "George just needs game experience and these practices are the closest you can really get in the summer. It's better than just playing pick-up games."
The weekly two-hour practices not only keep an open line of communication between the coaches and the players during the summer, but it's another step in the team-building process.
"You can kind of see who's going to fit in where and who's competing for what minutes," Berggren said. "It's good to see guys battling like that already and it's only July."
Is there any chance for burnout with the extra practices? "No, not at all," Gasser said. "If we weren't doing this we'd be in here anyway working on our own game or playing in open gym."
Given the UW's returning personnel, and team strengths, the NCAA changes to the summer calendar couldn't have been more timely. "Guys need to find their roles," Gasser said. "And we've got a lot of guys who can play. We're probably deeper this year than we have been in the past."
Berggren was on the same page. "I think the sky is the limit for this team," he said. "We have four out of five starters coming back and a lot of guys off the bench who are all fighting for playing time. Everyone is hungry and looking to prove something. We have very high goals for ourselves."
Four Badgers will compete in the 2012 NBA Summer League, with the hopes of earning an invitation to an NBA training camp this coming fall. Brian Butch, Marcus Landry, Kammron Taylor and recent graduate Jordan Taylor will look to showcase their talents in front of numerous NBA scouts and GMs during the five-game, two-week slate, which is set to begin Friday, July 13th at the Thomas & Mack Center and the Cox Pavilion on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
NBA TV will televise all 60 games, including 39 live from both the
Thomas & Mack Center and COX Pavilion in Las Vegas. Games will also be available
online at NBA.com.
Brian Butch (2004-08) - Milwaukee Bucks If there is one thing for certain regarding Butch and his NBA career, it is that he is persistent. After ending his last two NBA Summer League experiences earlier than expected due to injury, Butch returns looking to make up for time lost. Following graduation, the Appleton, Wis., native began his professional career in China before leaving for the Greek League later that season.
Butch eventually landed with the NBDL's Bakersfield Jam, serving as the team's starting center and earning a spot on the D-League Western Conference All-Star team. The 7-footer also spent time with the Denver Nuggets before returning to the Jam in 2010.
Schedule (All time CT): Monday, July 16: Milwaukee vs. New Orleans (9:30 p.m.) Wednesday, July 18: Milwaukee vs. Washington (3 p.m.) Thursday, July 19: Milwaukee vs. NBA D-League (9 p.m.) Saturday, July 21: Milwaukee vs. Boston (9:30 p.m.) Sunday, July 22: Milwaukee vs. Chicago (3 p.m.)
Marcus Landry (2006-09) - Phoenix Suns Landry began his NBA career as an undrafted free agent, earning an invite to the New York Knicks training camp and a spot on their 15-man roster at the beginning of the 2009-10 season. After being traded to Boston later in the season, the Celtics assigned Landry to the Maine Red Claws of the NBDL for the remainder of the season. Landry later spent time with the D-League's Reno Bighorns, teaming up with current New York Knick, Jeremy Lin. The Milwaukee, Wis., native spent last season playing in France for the BCM Gravelines.
Schedule (All time CT): Sunday, July 15: Phoenix vs. New York (3 p.m.) Tuesday, July 17: Phoenix vs. Cleveland (7:30 p.m.) Wednesday, July 18: Phoenix vs. New Orleans (7:30 p.m.) Friday, July 20: Phoenix vs. NBA D-League (9 p.m.) Saturday, July 21: Phoenix vs. Memphis (9 p.m.)
Jordan Taylor (2009-2012) - Atlanta Hawks After concluding a polished career with the Badgers that included earning All-America mention in consecutive years, Taylor begins his pro career with the Atlanta Hawks summer league organization. An undrafted free agent, Taylor earned numerous summer league offers, choosing to sign with the Hawks. Taylor will try to impress GMs at this week's summer league in the hopes of beginning his professional career at the highest level of basketball.
Schedule (All time CT): Friday, July 13: Atlanta vs. Washington (3 p.m.) Sunday, July 15: Atlanta vs. San Antonio (7 p.m.) Monday, May 16: Atlanta vs. Boston (3 p.m.) Wednesday, July 18: Atlanta vs. Dallas (7 p.m.) Thursday, July 19: Atlanta vs. Portland (5 p.m.)
Kammron Taylor (2004-07) - Minnesota Timberwolves Taylor returns to the U.S. after spending this past season in Ukraine where he averaged 14.6 points and 3.6 assists. The former second-team All-Big Ten honoree enjoyed stints in France, Hungary, Turkey and Spain following his UW career and now the Minneapolis native will look to build his NBA stock while playing for his hometown team.
Schedule (All times CT): Monday, July 16: Minnesota vs. LA Clippers (9 p.m.) Tuesday, July 17: Minnesota vs. Charlotte (9:30 p.m.) Thursday, July 19: Minnesota vs. Cleveland (7 p.m.) Saturday, July 21: Minnesota vs. NBA D-League (7 p.m.) Sunday, July 22: Minnesota vs. Memphis (7 p.m.)
Given his own personal odyssey in professional basketball, Brian Butch is more than willing to share some of his experiences with another former UW player, Jordan Taylor, who's just embarking on the journey. What would be the first thing he would tell him? "Buckle-up, it's a great roller-coaster,'' he said. "Honestly, he just needs to know that it's a job now.''
The 27-year-old Butch stands to be much more than just a sounding board to Taylor, 22. He's also set to become an NBA Summer League teammate. Butch and Taylor have agreed to play for the Atlanta Hawks' entry in Las Vegas; marking the first intersection of their playing careers. "It will be nice to see a familiar face,'' Taylor said. "But at the end of the day, you have to go out and play ball.''
Both are walking into the unknown from the standpoint of what Atlanta's roster might look like at the end of the summer. The Hawks have reportedly not only traded Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets, but they've unloaded Marvin Williams to Utah for the expiring contract of Devin Harris, the No. 5 selection in the 2004 draft, and another former Badger point guard.
Reports have Atlanta positioning itself for a run at Orlando's Dwight Howard, the No. 1 overall pick in '04. The only certainty is that the Hawks' new general manager, Danny Ferry, is shaking things up. At the start of the week, Atlanta had only six players under contract. That is subject to dramatic change with the pending Johnson and Williams transactions that can't be consummated officially until July 11.
"It's July,'' Taylor said, "and a lot of things could change between now and October.''
Atlanta is offering Taylor and Butch access to a stage where they show what they can do.
"It's an opportunity,'' Butch said. "All you need is a chance.''
Resiliency also helps.
"There are going to be ups and downs,'' Butch acknowledged. "Even in the Summer League, there are going to be days when the coaches think you're great and there are going to be days when the coaches think you're horrible. You have to be ready for everything.''
Speaking directly to what Taylor needs to learn, Butch said, "The biggest thing is that he has to be confident in what he does best -- that's take care of the basketball and create for others. If he does that, he can make his way on to a team. There's no doubt that he can play in the league.
"What's the difference between guys who make it, and don't? It's opportunity, it's staying healthy and it's timing. If he (Jordan) gets into the right situation, there's no reason that he can't be the third point guard or even the second guard for someone (in the NBA).
"Everyone is so good at this level, the separation between what makes a guy stick, and what doesn't, isn't much. It's all about the fit and the timing. Everybody knows what you can and can't do.
"I can shoot the ball, but can I rebound? Jordan can take care of the ball, but can he distribute?''
Taylor is counting on answering some questions in the Summer League; a small window of five games in seven days. Milwaukee and Cleveland each offered a roster slot. Why the Hawks? Taylor didn't even work out for Atlanta prior to the draft. "It's more of an impulse thing,'' he said.
It wasn't like he studied the various rosters and determined that Hawks were the most guard-needy. "At this point, there's going to be competition everywhere you go,'' he said, "so you can't really try to duck and dodge (better players) or hand pick a place where you don't think they have any guards.''
It's more about the playing opportunity than the team affiliation, too. "The nice thing about being undrafted,'' Taylor said, "is that if I play well in the Summer League, maybe I'll have a chance to get invited to a lot of different training camps as opposed to just one (if he had been drafted).''
Asked whether Wesley Matthews could be utilized as a model -- Matthews was an undrafted free agent out of Marquette who used the Summer League as a stepping stone to his NBA career -- Taylor said, "It shows that it's not impossible. My goal is still attainable, still reachable. It might be a little tougher, it might be a little harder route this way (as a free agent) but it's not impossible.''
Taking the lead from UW coach Bo Ryan -- a huge fan of the movie "Dum and Dumber'' -- Taylor alluded to the exchange between Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) and Mary Swanson (Lauren Holley).
Upon inquiring what were the chances that he could wind up with a girl like her, she responded, "Not good.'' He countered, "You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?'' She replied, "I'd say more like one out of a million.'' After a pause, he shot back, "So you're telling me there's a chance?''
Opined Taylor of his Summer League audition and NBA dream, "As long as there's a chance ...''
Butch can relate, especially after the injury setbacks that he has endured and overcome. After keeping his career alive overseas, bouncing from China to Germany to Greece, Butch used the NBA Developmental League as a springboard to a roster spot with the Denver Nuggets.
But in early July of 2010, Butch dislocated his left patellar tendon while playing for the Nuggets in a Summer League game against the Lakers. After months and months of rehab, Butch went to training camp with the New Orleans Hornets and tore his MCL, which put him on the sidelines again. After more rehab, he joined Bakersfield (Calif.) in the D-League and let the team in scoring over the final 21 games.
"I don't know if you're ever left with a good taste playing in the D-League,'' he admitted. "But that was huge -- as far as confidence -- and what I needed to do. I feel good right now. I'm in great shape. I've changed my diet. I've changed my training a little bit. I've done everything I could do for this.
"Do my knees hurt? Yeah, they hurt. But it's about as good as they're going to feel and it's not like a 'bad' hurt. It's just more of, 'You're getting old' type feeling. The frustrating thing is that I have to be in the Summer League again. But I understand that because I've been hurt so many times.
"Hopefully I'll play a lot in the Summer League, and play well, and that leads to a training camp invitation wherever. Hopefully it's Atlanta. But if not, hopefully it will be to a camp somewhere. I've got to play really well so people can see that I'm healthy again.''
The window, he conceded, is beginning to close. So what keeps him going? Maybe it's the realization that former UW teammate Greg Stiemsma kept grinding overseas and at the lower levels of competition until finally catching a break. The Boston Celtics were short on "bigs'' and he filled the void.
"As you can see with Greg,'' said Butch, "it's a matter of what you do with that timing.''
What else is driving Butch?
"I'm just stubborn,'' he said. "I'm going to decide when I'm done on my terms. It's not going to be because my knees don't let me do something. When push comes to shove, I still love the game of basketball. I'll deal with all the BS because I love the game. It's that simple.''
Butch knows that some NBA general managers may do a double-take when they spot his name on Atlanta's roster for the Summer League. "They'll be thinking, 'What is Butch still doing this for?''' he said. "It's just who I am, and what I do. I want to play at the top level and I know that I'm good enough.''
Butch and his wife, Megan, will soon be celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary. The couple purchased a home in Neenah, Wis., to be close to family. "I've told her, 'If I was a little better player or a little worse player, our life would be a lot easier,'' he said. "But I am what I am. We're stuck with it.''
If he doesn't make the NBA in the next two years, Butch said, "I can go overseas and still make a good living.'' But he agreed to play in the Summer League "to try and reach my goals and dreams.''
Not unlike the timetable that Taylor has set for himself. "At this level,'' Taylor said, "you have to take everything in stride and remember it's nothing personal.''
For the first time in program history, the Badgers made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16.
Fourth-seeded Wisconsin entered the 2012 NCAA Tournament having tallied the third-most victories in school history and coming one game short of grabbing a share of the Big Ten regular-season crown.
After cruising past Montana, the only thing standing in the way of the Badgers and a return trip to the Round of 16 were the fourth-seeded Vanderbilt Commodores, the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament champions.
After holding the SEC's two leading scorers, John Jenkins (20.1) and Jeffrey Taylor (16.3), to below-average performances, the Badgers marched on to Boston and the Sweet 16, where they would tip-off with Syracuse, the East Region's top-seeded team.
Wisconsin defeated Montana, 73-49, in the second round of the NCAA tournament at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M., before holding off Vanderbilt, 60-57, and earning a trip to its second-consecutive Sweet 16.
Despite a valiant effort from the Badgers, including 14-made three-point baskets, UW fell to Syracuse, 64-63, in one of the most thrilling games of the entire 2012 NCAA Tournament.
College basketball coaches have gotten their wish for more communication and contact with players during the summer. Ru ready 4 this? That includes unlimited texting and calls to recruits.
"I absolutely love it,'' said UW associate head coach Greg Gard. "It allows you to speak directly to the parents or the kids and you don't have to worry about anybody relaying a message.''
"It will help coaches get to know players better, and vice versa, they get to know you better. As long as everybody abides by the parameters, it will be good for college basketball and help the process.''
That would be the recruiting process. In the past, the NCAA limited calls between coaches and recruits to one or two a week. But it was very difficult to monitor and enforce.
"What we've found since the rules went into effect (June 15),'' said Gard, the UW's lead recruiter, "is that it's helpful to have multiple times during the day or the week to access prospects.
"You can have a short conversation and call them back later in the day, or tomorrow, or next week; however you want to do it. Now a dialogue can take place with the kids and parents.''
Besides unlimited texts and calls to prospects who have finished their sophomore year of high school, the NCAA is allowing coaches to send private messages through Facebook and Twitter.
UW head coach Bo Ryan is pragmatic about the changes.
"If a kid doesn't want to take your call, he doesn't take your call,'' Ryan said. "If a kid doesn't want to read your text messages, he doesn't read your text messages.''
Thx but no thx.
"I really would find it hard to coach someone for four years that constantly needed to be texted or tweeted or whatever,'' Ryan opined.
"In recruiting, I'm not looking for people who are so needy that they have to have someone talking to them -- or doing some form of communication -- 25 times a day.
"Be a teenager -- be a teenager.''
Ryan's plea is for kids to be kids.
"It isn't about the next step yet,'' he went on, "but when you're interested in a school, or a school is interested in you, then there are ways to communicate without being obsessive.''
Ryan is more excited about the NCAA allowing "court time'' in the summer. That amounts to two hours a week during the eight-week summer school session. Players must be enrolled to practice.
The Badgers held their first two-hour workout last Tuesday. Some coaches have elected to split up the time and hold two one-hour practices or three 40-minute practices per week.
Because of class schedules, Ryan said the two-hour window worked the best.
"We did a lot of competitive drills,'' Ryan said of the first workout. "I've already started to break that one down and some things we want to emphasize in the next one.
"We used it (the first practice) to get a little better idea of where the guys are -- those filling positions where you have guys graduating -- and who's stepping up in different areas competitively.
"You see, this is all we ever wanted as coaches, to have some kind of contact and be around our kids in the summer while they were playing; even if it was just to watch pick-up games.
"The fact that we can be on the court with them (two hours a week) is even better because now we can help them through some different situations.''
The old rules frustrated coaches who were left in the dark; out of the loop, if you will. "Unless our guys were working our summer camp, we didn't have any direct contact,'' Gard said.
There are just so many benefits to the NCAA relaxing those standards, he added, not the least of which is helping build more lasting relationships between the athletes and the coaches.
"It's not only good from the instruction and teaching standpoint on the court,'' Gard said, "but it also gives you more contact; such as helping the younger guys (freshmen) in their transition to college.''
That would be to the benefit of UW freshmen Zak Showalter and Sam Dekker, who was a member of the USA under-18 national team that won the gold medal at the FIBA Americas Championship in Brazil.
"We're talking about two very talented and extremely competitive players who grew up being huge Badger fans and have worked extremely hard to put themselves in this position,'' Gard said.
"Anything they've gotten so far as high school players -- or will get down the road as college players -- will be because of their work ethic and the fact that they've both earned it.''
That would be the operative word in Ryan's vocabulary -- earn.
"There's never an excuse for not getting better (over the summer) whether we're teaching them on the court or not,'' Ryan said of a player's implied commitment to out-of-season development.
"We give them things -- the breakdown drills -- which they can work on.
"But this gives coaches a better understanding of the competitive level of the incoming guys and if there's been improvement since April with the returning guys; strength-wise and everything else.
"Still, they're going to have to do a lot if it on their own because two hours is nothing. Good players spent a heckuva a lot more time than two hours a week working on their game in the summer.''
Yet, he fully endorses the NCAA changes; the additional contact which adds up to eight hours a week (two on the court and six for weight-lifting and conditioning) while attending summer school.
"It's an historical period,'' Ryan said, "because basketball coaches have been fighting for this for a long time. (UW men's hockey coach) Mike Eaves asked me how we went about it.
"I just said, 'You have to keep knocking on the door,' because I can see other sports wanting to do this also. It just so happens in our sport we've been clamoring for it a longer period of time.
"If we have more contact with our players, it means that they're not running around with some of these third parties and runners and other people telling them things they don't need to be hearing.''
Two days after Wisconsin's season-ending loss to Syracuse in the "Sweet 16," an email from junior Zach Bohannon showed up in my inbox.
Bohannon, who redshirted in 2011-12 after transferring to Wisconsin from Air Force, was unable to travel with the team due to NCAA transfer rules. Instead he holed up in the UW men's basketball office at the Kohl Center and watched the season come to an end just like the rest of us.
However, unlike the rest of us, Zach's therapy to deal with the loss was to write about it. This is what he sent me.
The Longest 15 Seconds of My Life By Zach Bohannon
Just over 15 seconds remained on the clock...
Wisconsin just got the ball back, down 63-64, and it was in none other than Jordan Taylor's hands. As I sat watching the game from the basketball offices back at the Kohl Center, I could not help but think about what a picturesque scene this truly was. Wisconsin was in the Sweet 16, playing against a team that was ranked #1 in the nation for a good majority of the year and we had the final shot to win it. Coach Ryan, who strategically chose not to use his final timeout after we regained possession, more importantly trusted that Jordan would be able to make a play and send us into the next round. Who better would you want with the ball in that situation anyways?
Less than 13 seconds remained on the clock...
Jordan dribbled the ball up across the half court line and the top two defenders in Syracuse's ferocious 2-3 zone defense played a game of cat and mouse with him. Wisconsin had the play "Horns" called, which is two high ball screens at each side of the lane. This action was made famous by two-time NBA champion coach Chuck Daly, who coined the term in the 1980's. The play was exploited by Syracuse due to their great length and athleticism. However, Jordan tried to make a play anyways, something that Wisconsin fans saw countless times throughout his stellar career, but nothing was there. He retreat dribbled back to half court, a maneuver that has been drilled into his head religiously the past four seasons by Coach Ryan when you are under pressure. Time was running out and Jordan knew it, but still somehow kept his cool.
Less than 10 seconds remained on the clock...
Jordan took a look up at the clock and saw it was now or never to make something happen. He dialed in and dribbled right back at the two Syracuse guards, putting both of them on their heels. He drew a double team and whipped a right-handed pass around the left side of the top defender. The pass landed in Jordan's senior teammate hands of Rob Wilson. This was typical Jordan, knowing when to give up the ball when he had to. He became famous for this throughout his marvelous career as well, while along the way, shattering the NCAA's assist to turnover record. This was the action that made Jordan such a great player at Wisconsin, he knew when to take over a game but more importantly, he knew when it was time to make his teammates better. This was one of those.
Less than 7 seconds remained on the clock...
As the ball bounced to the floor and Rob caught a perfect pass from Jordan, he as well was immediately double teamed. Rob tried to pump fake to shake one of the defenders off of him, but it was to no avail. He was in a similar situation as Jordan was just in and knew nothing was there, so he kicked it back out to the point guard.
Less than 5 seconds remained on the clock...
Jordan received the bounce pass and took one right handed dribble in order to gather some momentum to get up a decent look from three. He found an opening and it was a miracle that he even got up a decent look. The infinitesimal gap he found to shoot was closed with not one, but two Syracuse defenders. However, Jordan still got the shot off cleanly with 3.3 seconds left, a smart play because he gave our team just enough time to have an opportunity for an offensive rebound and a put back to win. No one was thinking about that at the time though. As the shot was released, for that one second the ball was in the air, the world stopped spinning and everyone was focused on the spinning orange leather globe. Everyone was on their feet praying for two different outcomes. As I use to say when I was younger, the "good guys" (Badgers) were praying for only one more basket. The "bad guys" (Syracuse) were praying for one final miss. With exactly two seconds left, the shot fell inches short. But the season was not quite over yet.
Less than 2 seconds remained on the clock...
The one Badger who always found a way to get his hands in on the action throughout the year, found a way to do it again. Mike Bruesewitz "bruised" his way to another rebound and tapped it just enough to keep it alive, a play he had done countless times as well in the season. The ball was knocked to the floor with exactly one and a half seconds left and it was found in the hands of Josh Gasser, a player who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, had done it once again. Realizing that time was about to expire, he threw up a desperation one handed fade away shot as the horn sounded and it hit nothing. Nothing, but air.
No time remained on the clock...
The game was officially over. The scoreboard's red light was on, no more time was left, no fouls had been called, and nothing was reviewable. The final 15 seconds of Wisconsin's year had come to a halt, but more sadly, we witnessed the final game of two more great Badgers, Jordan Taylor and Rob Wilson. These excellent ambassadors of not only the basketball program, but of the University of Wisconsin as a whole, just like that had both finished up their careers in this last play. Rob immediately bent down and put his hands on his knees, while Jordan put his jersey over his face. It was all over. The "good guys" did not win. Jordan and Rob did not get their one shining moment like they had dreamed of since they were little kids shooting hoops in their backyard and on the playground. Both of their four year college windows were over. In a blink of an eye, their careers were done.
The clock is ticking...
That is the magical thing about sports. The "good guys" do not always come out on top, even if they played their best and up to their potential. It is a mysterious phenomenon to grasp; that is, hard work does not always lead to success. One works his entire life to have that one golden opportunity, but it still sometimes is not enough. Through all of this however, we are forgetting to mention the hundreds of thousands of seconds that led to those final 15 seconds of their careers. Years down the road, this play will be meaningless. Sure we will remember that Wisconsin lost to Syracuse in the Sweet 16, but more importantly, we will remember the great lessons that these two fine seniors had shown throughout their careers.
Let's start with Rob. I do not think you can come up with a better word for his career than perseverance. Rob exhibited this trait throughout his career, and I am not only talking about on the court, but in the classroom as well. Rob is going to be the first college graduate in his family when he gets his degree this May. He overcame that great barrier, which should be applauded on its own. However, Rob did even more. On the court, Rob struggled throughout his career to get consistent minutes. His career was a roller coaster, with many highs and lows. His senior season in particular, he played sporadic minutes up until the second half of the Big Ten season, until finally he had taken advantage of his opportunity. The great thing that the average fan did not see was the hard work and commitment he showed through the tough times. Rob never pouted or got upset for a long period of time, he would be mad initially, but he moved on. He just prayed for one more opportunity to show what he really could do and what he believed in himself to be able to do. He persevered until finally he solidified his minutes and had a huge role on the team. To the average fan, Rob came out of nowhere and scored 30 points, along with tying a Wisconsin record of 7 three's, in a big win over Indiana in the conference tournament. However, the average fan did not see the thousands of shots and extra sessions in the gym through his difficult times. In regards to his final play, just the fact that Rob was in the game and in a position to make a play against #1 seeded Syracuse was a feat by itself, but showed how much he grew as a person throughout his career. He kept getting better and his hard work was rewarded. In the end, his perseverance paid off.
Now time to talk about Jordan. The one obvious word that defines his career and who he was is leader. As Coach Ryan often jokes, Jordan could possibly be "the future Governor." That's a pretty strong statement coming from your head coach, but I honestly think that is an understatement on just quite how great of a leader he truly is. His leadership skills put him second to none and could easily make him the President if he wanted to! Jordan will be one of the greatest leaders to come out of the University of Wisconsin, ever. He is that great with people, but that is not what makes him special. It is his ability to get people to not only listen to him, but to follow him as well. A lot of people, including most sports writers, said that the year that Jordan had this year was a "down year" compared to what he accomplished last year and he was no longer "a top five point guard in the country." That kind of statement is just mind boggling. He went from a Sweet 16 team, losing three starters, including one to the NBA, came back the following year as a senior, with a bunch of "no names", and accomplished the same, if not more. He turned these "no names" to household names in the mere matter of months. He led the team to not only a point away from an Elite Eight game, but he won a game in the conference tournament, something Wisconsin had not done the previous three years, and he was only one game out of the conference title race. Not bad for a senior point guard that's team was predicted to finish 7th in the Big Ten this year. He single handedly willed his team this year from start to finish, and took more burdens on himself than any single person deserves. But that's what leaders do, they take the blame when the going gets rough, and praises their teammates when their on a high. That's what Jordan did, time and time again throughout the year. It was an honor to be in his locker room and on the court, along with Rob, this season.
As I sat down to write this the morning after the game, coincidentally the basketball team was just landing in Madison and coming back from Boston. I could not help but think of the greater implications of the picturesque scene that they came back to. Jordan and Rob had started their next stage of their lives, the ending of one thing led to the beginning of another for them. However, someone, somewhere decided to still mourn. The day was overcast with a slight rain that happened throughout the day. We never did see the sun that day, the big orange thing, a metaphor for the mascot of Syracuse, was off hiding. They knew that the career of two great young men had just come to a close. They did not want to be anywhere near Madison, and someone greater than us all decided to mourn as well.
As a sports fan, eventually you will forget about great games, great plays or even great players. However, the one thing you will not forget will be the players who touched your life emotionally, either directly or indirectly. If each one of us could take these lessons and learn from them like we did from these two great seniors, think about how better off we would be. I hope that each one of you prepare for your "one shining moment" with every ounce of energy you have. Don't ever give up on that vision either, because the struggle will be worth it. Now what are you waiting for?! Your time is limited, and the clock is ticking...
In an era of college basketball "one and done" players and others who leave school early to chase their dreams of playing professionally, I bring you the Badgers' Dan Fahey (@DanFahey10), who earlier this week offered this little nugget via Twitter:
"Lot of people asking me if I'm leaving for the NBA. Just want to let everyone know I'll return for my senior year & seek my 4th career point."
In the brief history of Twitter, I nominate this as the best tweet in the history of tweets.
Then our very own Patrick Herb (@BadgerMBB) from UW Athletic Communications just had to deliver this cheap shot:
"That's good news...people definitely want to see how the career scoring race shakes out between you and @jd_wise22 (7 points)."
I think that should be a Flagrant 1, if not an ejection for Herb.
* * *
On Tuesday, April 24, basketball fans will have one final chance to celebrate another successful season as the Badgers have their Sweet 16 Reception at the Kohl Center. Tickets are just $25, with a cocktail buffet and a cash bar. This tends to be a fairly informal event, as Bo Ryan addresses the crowd and Patrick takes a break from tweeting to help offer a season in review. If you are a hoops fan, it is a fun evening.
Consider it one more chance to applaud the team, especially seniors Jordan Taylor and Rob Wilson for a job well done. For more details, just follow the link.
In the week following the national title game, it has been interesting hearing people talk about Kentucky's "one and done" players, and whether other teams can win in a similar fashion. Clearly in college basketball, there are different ways to be successful, be it style of play or how a program recruits.
I still like to believe there is no one set way to win. Perhaps Kentucky can keep winning with a new cast of one-year players, but that does not mean a school such as Wisconsin should try going that route. These are two different schools and two different programs, and what works for one may very well not work for the other.
Every school is different, and every school has its own mission statement. Make no mistake, the University of Wisconsin wants to win, but those within the university community are very comfortable with the type of athlete wearing a Badger uniform. Everyone wants to get the best players, but finding those who are the right fit academically and socially also remain very important.
This is in no way slamming Kentucky's method. Even if it is just for one year, as long as the players are doing the work in the classroom, what the Wildcats are doing is perfectly within the rules. If that does not happen, the program will pay a price, not unlike some other high-profile programs who fail to meet minimum academic progress requirements.
What I am saying is the "Wisconsin Way" is working just fine, too. The last player to leave early for the NBA draft was Devin Harris, yet the Badgers remain tournament regulars. The instant stars might be few and far between, but watching the development of the players is something loyal fans have embraced.
This year Kentucky had the most talent, and that group played together extremely well. Give them all the credit. But if you are a Badgers fan, do not be discouraged into thinking such a season is no more than a dream for your favorite team. This program continues to knock on the door, and as long as that happens, there is always a chance.
Now, let the scoring battle continue between Mr. Fahey and Mr. Wise.
By Matt Lepay on April 4, 2012 10:22 AM
For the record, Bo Ryan's Badgers went 3-0 against the two teams that beat Kentucky this season.
Wisconsin beat Indiana twice, and then knocked off Vanderbilt in the NCAA tournament. Maybe that is small consolation, and I understand that comparing scores can be misleading, but I thought I would throw it out there.
Now you know.
In the world of college football and basketball, it is interesting how the sports have such vastly different seasons.
In football, the regular season is precious, and the critics continue to hammer away for a playoff. In basketball, for millions of the more casual sports fans, it is all about those three weeks in March and early April.
I believe it is safe to say that a good chunk of the sporting public pays close attention to college hoops only during the NCAA tournament.
Locally, that might not be the case because attendance at the Kohl Center remains strong, but there is a reason CBS pays billions of dollars in rights fees, and it probably isn't for the Sunday games it shows in January.
While the powers that be continue to discuss a possible football playoff, maybe college basketball could look at ways to boost the regular season.
One idea seems obvious -- reward the regular season conference champion with an automatic bid in the NCAA field.
Clearly, this was not a banner year for the Pac-12, but for Washington, a league crown was rendered useless after a conference tournament loss to Oregon State.
For the Huskies, it was off to the NIT. To their credit, they advanced to the semifinals before losing to Minnesota. I say "to their credit" because it might have been very easy for Washington's players to blow off that tournament.
I mean, what does a coach say to a team after it wins the regular season title, only to be told that it is still not good enough to get in the NCAA tournament?
I understand the reason for conference tournaments. Revenue, for one, and a chance for lower-profile conferences to get some national exposure.
Everyone knows the risk involved, and there have been multiple instances where those so-called mid-major teams have lost an NCAA bid because of five bad minutes in a league tourney game.
This season it just happened to burn a program in a power conference.
Yes, it was a down year for that league, but there were 12 teams with a lower RPI than Washington that made the dance.
While the RPI is only part of the formula the tournament selection committee uses, doesn't that fact seem a bit odd?
Perhaps it is unrealistic to reward automatic bids for both regular season and conference tournament champions, but it seems to me that a team proving to be the best of its league during a period of more than two months should carry a little extra weight.
I get the excitement of conference tournaments, but I believe the game would be even better if the regular season is rewarded as it should be -- all across the board.
March Madness is great, and I love every minute of it. I also happen to enjoy those other months of the college basketball season.
Fortunately here in Wisconsin, I have lots of company. A big-time regular season game generates plenty of buzz in Badger Nation, and that is good.
I just tend to believe that too many sports fans across the nation are missing out on the fun prior to March.
BOSTON, Mass. -- The Badgers advanced to the 2012 Sweet 16, and that meant @BadgerMBB sent out 16
Tweets with observations and commentary leading up to the matchup between No. 4 Wisconsin and top-seeded Syracuse.
Patrick Herb and Karl Anderson were in Boston with the team. Check out the Field of 68 and Field of 32 to see what you missed while the team was in Albuquerque.
16. Seems like an appropriate way to launch the #Badgers #Fieldof16. Beautiful Boston: http://t.co/tXxqmDEv
15. Scout team has a new weapon at its disposal for practice tonight. Former #Badgers big-man Paul Grant. http://t.co/69ybODtA
It happens every season, but it remains a jolt. Unless a team goes the distance, the basketball season ends suddenly. A player is in the routine of practices, scouting reports, road trips and all the rest. This time of year is especially hectic. The road trips are longer. The stage is bigger. The lights are brighter.
Then it is over. No more practices. No more scouting reports. No more road trips.
Even for someone who just announces games, it is a jolt. As someone who has seen more practices than I can count, at times it can seem like Groundhog Day. Then I miss it. Imagine how a player feels.
There are years when a team's final game is ugly, when you know that group simply did not have it. Sometimes a team loses because it runs out of gas. This Wisconsin team appeared to have plenty in the tank. It just ran out of time. At least this year's Badgers know they went down swinging against talent-rich Syracuse. One could argue that last Thursday's Sweet 16 game in Boston was the best game of the tournament so far.
For that reason, I left TD Garden feeling both good and lousy for the players, coaches and support staff. Good because the Badgers did nearly everything right. Sure, they could have made a couple of more free throws, or finished another play or two near the basket. That happens with every team nearly every game. The Badgers proved to be the toughest of outs, and there is no shame in that.
I felt lousy because I thought they deserved better. Yeah, I am a touch biased. I wanted to see Jordan Taylor nail one more big shot. Then again, if his final attempt is just another quarter of an inch short, it is an airball, and Mike Bruesewitz is in position to recreate the ending of the NC State-Houston NCAA title game of 1983. If the final attempt is a hair longer, the ball caroms off the rim better, and Bruesewitz probably is still in good position for the board.
So it goes.
That is not how I choose to remember the season.
There are the obvious moments that can make Badger fans smile, such as the thrilling victory at Ohio State, Rob Wilson's 30 point outing against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, and the NCAA tournament nail-biter with Vanderbilt.
All of that works fine, but for the last few days, I was thinking about other things. Such as the night before a road game in January. The team was on the bus, returning to the hotel after a practice. On the radio was the 1983 Lionel Ritchie hit "All Night Long," and the players were singing along.
Gotta love it when players less than half my age know a tune that was big when I was in college.
I think about the routine on the airplane before road trips. The radio crew, athletic communications director for basketball Patrick Herb and some others usually are on board before the team arrives. When the rest of the travel party boards the plane, assistant coach Gary Close always acknowledges everyone with "Gentlemen," and then he looks at me and says "Matt." OK, maybe you need to be there, but it is always good for a chuckle.
Then strength and conditioning coach Scott Hettenbach will chime in with his usual wisecracks, leaving those within earshot laughing helplessly, and another trip officially begins.
Finally, I will think about those seemingly endless practices, and how I believe the Badgers have a chance to be pretty good again next year. George Marshall, Jarrod Uthoff and Zach Bohannon are players you have yet to see. My guess is you will like them.
Those three, plus the continued development of the other returning players and the additions of Zak Showalter and Sam Dekker, should make for quite the battle for minutes.
As for Taylor and Wilson, Bo Ryan put it best when he told the CBS crew that followed the team during the tournament, "They will be able to step away from here, once the sting of this eases up a little bit, they will realize what they have accomplished, and also how well they played for the name on the front of the jersey."
Perhaps that is the best memory of all. Their love of the game, and their love of the school they have represented so well. It was a pleasure watching them in a Wisconsin uniform.