Feb. 26, 2011
MADISON, Wis. -- Hundreds and hundreds of practices later, Tim Jarmusz still remembers his first; his first practice as a member of the UW basketball team. “I’ll never forget it,” he said. “It was intense.”
Jarmusz was coming off back-to-back state titles at Oshkosh West High School. “Hungry, driven, competitive and a winner are the words that best describe Tim,” said UW coach Bo Ryan.
Jarmusz was a member of the UW’s 2006 freshman class which also included Keaton Nankivil (Madison Memorial) and Jon Leuer (Long Lake, Minn.). All were looking to find their niche.
“He has a tremendous amount of talent with the best of his career yet to come down the road,” Ryan said of Leuer. “He’s only touching the tip of the iceberg in terms of the type of player he can be.”
Ryan characterized Nankivil as a “hard-working and humble” player who’s all about “substance and just getting the job done without caring who gets the credit.” A perfect fit for the program.
But first things first.
That first practice.
“I couldn’t imagine I was playing for the Badgers for one thing,” Jarmusz recalled. “And to step on the court with the bigger names like Brian Butch and Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry …”
Well, that was pretty unbelievable stuff since “all these guys you watched on TV for so long and now you’re playing with them,” Jarmusz said. “But now, it’s coming to an end and it’s kind of sad.”
That was also the word that Wquinton Smith used to describe Sunday’s game against Northwestern, which will mark the final time the six seniors will suit up together at the Kohl Center.
“I’m not an emotional type of person – I was born in Milwaukee – and you can’t show weakness,” said Smith, a walk-on from Rufus King High School. “But it’s definitely going to be sad.”
The games may be winding down, but the friendships will endure. “I’ve already thought about that,” said Brett Valentyn, a walk-on from Verona. “These are friends that I will have for a long time.”
Added J.P. Gavinski, a senior from Wisconsin Dells, “I’m going to miss my teammates the most. That will be the toughest part – you go from seeing these guys every day and then it’s over.”
Leuer, Nankivil and Jarmusz were the first-teamers.
Smith, Valentyn and Gavinski were the scout-teamers.
But there was never any division. Quite the opposite.
They shared the same goals; the same highs and lows as teammates.
“The great part about our program is that everyone is treated the same,” Valentyn said.
“We like each other and like being around each other, that’s the main thing,” Leuer said.
Jarmusz elaborated on the scout- teamers. “They don’t get enough credit for what they do,” he said. “They prepare us every day. They’re at every minute of practice; just like we are, and they’re doing all of the little things that don’t get attention. They do an awesome job. They’re just good guys.”
Smith expounded on the first-teamers. “They handled it great,” he said. “They stayed down to earth. They haven’t gotten big-headed. They keep working hard. That’s the main thing – everyone staying humble, whether you’re getting zero minutes or you’re getting all the minutes.”
What makes this union so special are the differences not the similarities. They each have different life experiences. “Everyone has their own unique perspective on things,” Leuer confirmed.
But they’ve all made sacrifices to be a part of a team, whatever their role. “We have a great chemistry on this team; it’s one of the underrated parts of the game,” Nankivil said.
A sense of pride began to develop the first time they ran the hill. “It’s the kind of thing that’s instilled in you,” Nankivil said. “You see everyone working hard and you don’t want to be the weak link.”
The growing pains along the way have brought each of these seniors closer together. “We’re like brothers,” Smith said. “You’ll never find a bond like this again unless you get married.”
Added Jarmusz, “Through the good times and bad, I’ve made friends for life.”
Echoing those sentiments, Nankivil tried to put everything into context.
“We spend every day together almost the whole year,” he said. “We get a couple of weeks off here and there but for the most part I see the same 16 guys every day. It’s really like a family. You don’t get this kind of connection in any other part of your life, unless it’s with your immediate family.”
What happens when the family breaks up and everyone goes in separate directions? “We’ll always be close in the sense that we’ve gone through so much together,” Nankivil insisted.
He then cited an example.
“I may not see my brother for a month but I can go home now and pick up right where we left off,” he said.” I feel that’s kind of the personality of our guys. It will be 10 years down the road and we’ll be telling the same jokes – and talking the same way – like we never missed a day with each other.”
Through the years, Nankivil conceded that he has been influenced by many different teammates in the locker room. “You take a little bit from everybody and kind of make it your own,” he said.
During the growth process, Leuer said, “You have to enjoy every moment. I’ve definitely learned a lot from my fellow seniors and teammates. It has been a learning experience in a number of ways.”
That includes the players who rarely got off the bench during games. “I’ve been through a lot, I’ve seen a lot, I’m more mature now,” Gavinski said. “I wouldn’t really change much. I have no regrets.”
Gavinski was just grateful Friday that he wasn’t injured when another motorist “T-boned” the car that he was driving out of the Kohl Center lot. “It took me by surprise for sure,” he said.
Looking ahead to Sunday’s senior video, Gavinski doesn’t expect to be surprised by the emotional sendoff for this class. “It will be an in-the-moment kind of thing,” he said.
One chapter is about to close, another one is about to open. “I’m sure my mom will be a lot more emotional than I will be,” Leuer said. “After the game, I’ll look back on everything.”
First things first.
“Preparing (for Northwestern), executing and getting a win is our first concern,” Leuer said. “It’s an emotional day but you have to put that aside and concentrate on what you’re doing.”
When Nankivil was asked about the senior’s legacy, he said, “We just did as much as we could to win games. But we have more to go so I’m not even going to look to answer that question.”
Instead, he’s looking to extend their time together by winning more games. “We have all the pieces in place,” he said. “We have the talent. We have the knowledge.” And they have the chemistry.