March 26, 2011
MADISON, Wis. -- Tim Jarmusz played two minutes while Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil didn’t get off the bench until the waning seconds of a 2008 loss to Davidson in the NCAA tournament.
Three years later, they were the backbone of a UW basketball team that won 25 games, set an NCAA record for fewest turnovers in a season and, most importantly, returned to the Sweet 16.
“When they were freshmen sitting on the bench and watching,’’ said coach Bo Ryan, “they had a vision of, ‘This is where we want to be.’ And that’s how we’ve maintained what we have in our program.
“To advance a couple of rounds and get those valuable minutes is important not only for the players on the court but for the players learning the ropes and hoping to get on the floor down the road.
“It’s all about the experiences, and the more experience you can have at a championship level, at a high intensity level, like these NCAA games were, it’s 120 minutes you can’t get anywhere else.’’
Moments after losing to Butler in Thursday’s Southeast Regional semifinal, Jarmusz talked about core values and the “unforgettable experiences’’ that he shared with teammates. “Love them to death,’’ he said.
Looking ahead to next season, Jarmusz said the returning players will have to “keep getting stronger obviously and keep working on their toughness’’ while “taking care of details.’’
Details like blocking out, making free throws and taking care of the ball. “All the things that we’re normally so good at, so consistent at,’’ he said, “that got away from us against Butler.’’
The Badgers will have a different look minus Jarmusz, Leuer and Nankivil.
They appeared in 122, 123 and 117 games, respectively.
“I learned a lot from watching others,’’ said Josh Gasser, who started 30 games as a true freshman. “The seniors definitely taught me a lot and hopefully I can pass it on to the younger kids.’’
Next season’s team will obviously revolve around point guard Jordan Taylor.
What can he do to get better?
“He needs to keep working at everything he’s done well to this point,’’ said Ryan, “and then maybe he needs just a little bit more of an edge, just a little more consistency next year.
“He was one of the best players in the country at not turning the ball over, but there’s still ways to get better – like finding out who the go-to guys are among his returning teammates.
“We have some interesting guys that will be vying for minutes next year – guys who showed flashes on the scout team – and Jordan has to learn how to play with them and get them to buy in.’’
Ryan sounds intrigued by the toughness and low-post presence of 6-foot-10, 250-pound Evan Anderson, a redshirt freshman. He’s a “big’’ with a little bit of an attitude, a good starting point. Add 6-foot-8 freshman Duje Dukan to the list of players looking to ge stronger and more physical moving forward.
Ryan has also seen many positive signs out of freshman Ben Brust on the scout team. Brust is a shooting guard with quickness. “He competes,’’ Ryan said. “And guys who compete play for me.’’
Gasser epitomized that this season. Beginning with his triple-double at Northwestern – the first in school history – he scored in double-figures in seven of the last 16 games.
“As a freshman coming in, you don’t know what to expect, now I do,’’ Gasser said.
“There are a lot of areas where Josh can get better, and he will,’’ said Ryan.
The backcourt rotation could include Rob Wilson, who got off to a slow start this season because of an injury in training camp; a setback that he never seemingly recovered from.
“He has to get his confidence back,’’ Ryan said. “Confidence is something that you have to get from within. It’s not something handed out in a bag. Rob has to get tougher physically and mentally.’’
Ryan also mentioned toughness in conjunction with Ryan Evans’ development.
“He has to get tougher and he just has to understand that this game is a physical game,’’ Ryan said. “If this (the Butler game) didn’t open his eyes, then nothing will. It’s not a finesse game.’’
Mike Bruesewitz is not a finesse player, either, much to Ryan’s delight. Despite injuring his knee in the Big Ten tournament, the irrepressible redhead had a terrific March in all facets of his game.
“You know Mike is going to give you everything he has, and then some,’’ Ryan said. “Just look at the marks on his legs, how many times he hits the floor and how many times he sticks his face in there.’’
In New Orleans, Bruesewitz drew favorable comparisons to Butler’s Matt Howard. “He’s that type of player,’’ Ryan said, “because he’s committed to being involved in every possession.’’
Bruesewitz showed much more aggression on offense late in the season.
“He’s our best attacking big man,’’ said Ryan. “But he has to learn when to attack and how far he can take it, and how quick the (defensive) help is. But that all comes from playing.’’
To that end, Bruesewitz is growing into a team leader.
“I now have the confidence that I can play at a high level,’’ he said. “I’m going to try and be more of a vocal leader for this team and make sure I set a good example over the summer. I learned more about myself and basketball this year than I have in a long time.’’
Jared Berggren also got a taste of the competitive level that it takes to be effective in the paint.
Now he has to take the next step.
“He has to get his feet better defensively,’’ said Ryan. “There are teams that like to attack off the dribble and he’s got to be able to get his feet to where he can stop penetration and then recover.
“But that’s true of any big man. That’s what most of them have to work on. Jared is no different. He’s got a good shot and he’ll be a guy who will get more touches because of the seniors graduating.’’
Four incoming freshmen could get into the mix and find roles.
The guards are Traevon Jackson and George Marshall.
The “bigs” are 6-8 Jarrod Uthoff and 6-10 Frank Kaminsky.
“They’ll come in and make some noise this summer, they’ll make the pick-up games interesting,’’ Ryan predicted. “Each guy brings something a little different – quickness, strength, size. Uthoff is a tenacious rebounder. He’s not that big but he has a nose for the ball.’’
Per usual at the end of a season, Ryan has challenged all of his players to get better.
“We had guys who didn’t play that much this year that could play on average teams,’’ Ryan said. “But I don’t want guys who can be just on average teams. I want guys to compete at a higher level.
“Talking about getting better has never been part of our philosophy. It’s all about doing it. We’ll know next September when the guys come back who’s worked and who’s gotten a little better.’’
Reflecting on this season, Ryan said, “There were categories where athletically we may have been a little shy and we had to make up for those areas by being proficient in other categories.’’
Like being efficient on offense by maximizing each and every possession.
“Outside of one game (at Ohio State),’’ Ryan said, “we had a chance to be on the left hand side (win column) with 4 minutes to go in all 34 games. How many teams had that opportunity?’’