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Badgers

Dec. 12, 2013

BY MIKE LUCAS
UWBadgers.com

MADISON, Wis. -- If Zach Bohannon were to blog on the challenge of coming off the bench, he might write about dealing with the unknown - not knowing from game-to-game if you'll even get a chance to contribute.

That's especially true if you're the ninth or 10th man in an eight-player rotation.

Bohannon, a senior role player on an undefeated Wisconsin basketball team, described it thusly,

"Obviously it's hard, no matter what, coming off the bench in general, sitting for however long."

It takes a special mindset, maybe even a special ability, to stay ready and engaged until that moment arrives when you are summoned from the end of the bench and inserted into the game.

"It's just a hard spot to be in," Bohannon said. "And if you get that chance, you have to be ready. Whenever you play for Coach (Bo) Ryan you have to be ready no matter when the time happens."

It has happened in each of the last two games for Bohannon; a noteworthy development since he appeared in only two of the first nine games and for a sum total of three minutes.

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"Last Saturday, he played two minutes against Marquette. He grabbed an offensive rebound, missed the only shot that he took and was overshadowed by Evan Anderson, who played three minutes.

On Wednesday night, Bohannon was more productive. He had five points and two rebounds in his three minutes of playing time against Milwaukee. He made two of his three field goal attempts.

After a blistering first half, in which the Badgers drained 9-of-13 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, they went 1-of-13 in the second half. Bohannon had the 1 - the only triple after intermission.

"It's definitely gratifying just to get into the box score," said Bohannon who's in the midst of his third season in the UW program after transferring in 2011 from the Air Force Academy.

"It's a big thing when you're a part of something special in a program like Wisconsin has had over the years. It's one of those things where you just want to be proud of being part of the journey."

In accepting his role, whatever it may be from time-to-time, Bohannon said, "I've just tried to do whatever it takes for the team to win. It's not about me. It's about the team as a collective whole."

It's about putting the game in the left-hand column, a Ryanism; it's about winning, he confirmed. So as long as the Badgers are on a roll, Bohannon said, "It's healthy." For everyone.

It all comes back to staying ready and staying within yourself as a player. "I just hope I can bring consistency," he said of his role. "Hit some open shots, play some good defense."

At 6-6, Bohannon is versatile enough to play inside or out. He's also wise enough to recognize his greatest strength may be in his recognition as far as "doing whatever the team needs me to do."

So why has this particular Wisconsin team had so much early season success despite the graduation losses of an entire starting frontline of Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz?

"It's a special group," said Bohannon who was unwilling to delve any deeper. "If you want the answer come to me at the end of the season. I don't want to give away any of our secrets right now."

The cryptic response was a little bit out of character for Bohannon who's normally unrestrained in his opinions; so much so that he served as a guest blogger for CBSSports.com last season.

He was very good, too. His first blog came shortly after his UW teammate Josh Gasser suffered a season-ending ACL injury during an October practice; a crippling loss to the team's leadership.

"Athletes hear it all the time, `Play every play like it's your last,'" Bohannon wrote, "but this was one of those moments that made me take a step back and understand what that statement truly meant.

"I was less than 10 feet behind him (Gasser) trailing the play. I heard the piercing scream come of his mouth as he crumbled to the ground.

"I tried to keep him calm and said, `You're fine, take some deep breaths.'

"However, Josh knew and shot back sharply, `No, I'm not fine.'

"Everyone in the gym fell quiet. Nothing could be said.

"We all prayed for the best though we knew we had no choice but to expect the worst."

Bohannon
Bohannon has seen action in each of UW's last two games against Marquette and Milwaukee, scoring five points against the Panthers.

"It's no secret that Gasser's return to the lineup has been one of the keys to the 11-0 start which ties the modern era school record set by the 1993 team that featured Tracy Webster and Michael Finley.

It's also no secret that everybody seems to get along. "The personalities have definitely meshed," confirmed Bohannon. "There are specific reasons why we're closer than past teams."

Again, he didn't want to get too specific beyond saying "everyone has accepted a role." That can help define a team, along with making the extra pass - or two - in sharing the basketball.

The Badgers had nine assists on 16 baskets in the first half against Milwaukee. Leading the way was the only other senior on the roster, Ben Brust, who made his first six shots, including four triples.

"Ben is fearless," Bohannon said, "and he brings that fearlessness to everyone else on the team. No matter what happens, it's about the next shot, it's not about the previous one."

Bohannon has a standing offer to resume blogging from Jeff Goodman, one of the more respected college basketball writers in the nation. Goodman has moved from CBS to ESPN.com.

"I might do a few things here and there," said Bohannon, who has been hesitant to make a full commitment because "I don't want to do anything that will take away from our team right now."

It's too bad because he has a lot of things to say. For instance, one of his blogs last season focused on the need to more adequately compensate athletic trainers for all that they do.

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"They are not coaches. Athletic trainers are way more than that," Bohannon opined. "They are allied health professionals. They don't have to deal strictly with the physical aspect of the sport.

"They have to deal with the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects as well."

To which he concluded, "Ask any athlete participating in a college basketball program and he will agree that athletic trainers are overwhelmed, underpaid and, for the most part, underappreciated."

You have to appreciate Z-Bo's candor. Yes, Zach Bohannon is a Z-Bo to his older brother's J-Bo. Jason Bohannon, a sharp-shooting guard, appeared in 135 games and scored nearly 1,200 points.

J-Bo is back home in Marion, Iowa, where he's a financial advisor. He also just got engaged, according to Z-Bo, who's working on his MBA in the prestigious UW School of Business.

The semester has been demanding in that it has entailed a juggling act between his class study, his full-time networking for an internship and his basketball. "I have three 40-hour a week jobs," he said.

Bohannon's long range goal is Wall Street and investment banking. As far as it being a vision, he said,

"I like guides and pathways to lead me in the right direction."

So where does he envision this Badger team being in March? "We'll have to wait and see," he said. "It's one of those things where you just have to watch." And enjoy.

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