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Lucas: Final Four more than just fun and games for Badgers

April 4, 2014

Photos: Day 1 in Dallas   |  Bohannon Meets Bush Small Video Graphic


ARLINGTON, Texas -- As soon as Wisconsin freshman Nigel Hayes walked into the darkened "specialty shots" room here Thursday at AT&T Stadium, he knew that he had messed up because he had left his cell phone in his locker and he couldn't take pictures.

"Something told me to bring it but I didn't," he lamented.

This was not the Magic Kingdom, this was not Disneyland; this was better. This was a made-for-television equivalent of a Hollywood set, this was a facsimile of a backlot studio -- complete with a smoke machine, boom camera, flashing lights and all the special effects.

Hayes was greeted at the door by a producer/director from the CBS Sports/Turner group producing the Final Four telecasts.

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"Nigel, I hear you like to have some fun?"

This was a lob dunk.

"I try my best to keep everything as serious as possible," Hayes deadpanned.

The producer/director picked up on his sarcasm immediately.

"OK, good, you'll fit in very well here."  

They exchanged knowing smiles.

"You enjoying yourself, Nigel?"

"Of course," Hayes said. "We're still winning and we're still alive."

In the middle of the room, Traevon Jackson was recreating a postgame scene -- his leap for joy into the arms of teammate Aaron Moesch, a freshman walk-on -- after last Saturday's win over Arizona, a win that catapulted the Badgers into the Final Four.

Subbing for Moesch in the CBS/Turner shoot was Jeremy Wodajo, a member of the UW Athletic Communications staff. Wodajo, a stunt double, was wearing a red golf shirt. The Badgers wore their road red uniforms in the Elite Eight game.

When it airs, Wodajo will not appear in the sequence with Jackson.

"They're not going to invisible him, are they?" Hayes yelled out.

Everybody on the set broke out in laughter.

"Invisible him?" the producer/director posed. "Is that a euphemism for something?"

Without missing a beat, Hayes said, "I do what I can."

Moments later, Hayes jumped on the stage with Jackson, who was having trouble dancing on command. In addition, he was cued to sing along to "Happy" by Pharrel Williams.  Jackson confided, "That was nerve-wracking. That's not me, I don't sing. It was awkward."

All of this, of course, was in Hayes' wheelhouse.

"He took right to it, that was cool," Jackson said. "He's a lot more comfortable. This is definitely for the personalities, this is for the people who like the cameras. That's just Nigel. He's a people person. He can relate to anybody in any situation at any time."

Lights, cameras, action. Each of the Final Four teams got their turn with the CBS/Turner crew. It was the same drill Thursday for Kentucky, UConn and Florida. Before going to practice, Hayes summed up the experience, "Reminds me of my first Hollywood scene."

And, surely, not his last.

•  •  •  •

"There are going to be more distractions," said Bohannon, who had the chance to snap a pic with a former President on Thursday. "But we're here for a reason, one reason alone, to cut down the nets."

"I watched a clip on television about the NCAA tournament," Duje Dukan was saying, "and there are a lot of great players who don't get to experience something like this."

So Dukan, a junior forward, is taking the advice of his father.

"He told me to enjoy every second," he said.

But how do the players bring perspective to something so enormous?

"That was one of the things that we talked about as a team when we pulled into our hotel (Wednesday night)," said senior Zach Bohannon. "We called a little team meeting in the back of the bus before we got off."

Bohannon conceded that it was on his urging that they discussed a few things.

He paraphrased what was said:

"Guys, there are going to be a lot of distractions. You see all the people in the lobby now, all the fans, all the media, just here seeing us get off the bus from the airport.

"And there are going to be more distractions, especially with family and friends coming into town the next couple of days.

"But we're here for a reason, one reason alone, to cut down the nets. So we've got to keep our focus and worry about the next possession."

One distraction Bohannon could not have foreseen was a welcome one, as the senior with presidential aspirations was called onto stage by CBS' Jim Nantz to meet the 43rd President, George W. Bush, during the Final Four Salute program Thursday evening.

After Bush deadpanned that Bohannon -- who's nearing completion of his third college degree -- was "probably over-educated" for the presidency, the two posed for an impromptu photo op in front of an audience that included each of the Final Four teams. "Sir, do you mind if I get a selfie with you?" Bohannon asked, a request the President happily accomodated.

Afterward, it was back to the business at hand for Bohannon and his teammates.

When the Badgers returned from Anaheim after punching their ticket to the Final Four for the first time in 14 years, Ben Brust and Jackson reminded everyone, "Hey, guys, we got to the Final Four. But that's not our goal. We're here to get some work done."

Were they merely reinforcing what everyone knew?

"Exactly," Bohannon said. "We just want to make sure we stayed focused. Obviously, this is about us. This isn't about anyone else. This is about us coming together as a team -- staying close and doing what we've been doing."

During these "player-only" team meetings -- and Bohannon estimated that there have been a handful -- the message has been short and to the point. "We just take a few minutes," he said, "to make sure we keep our eye on the prize at the end."

Discussion is encouraged. "Anyone can talk," Bohannon said. "That's the unique thing about this team: there are so many unique personalities and different backgrounds coming together and we're all so accepting of each other. That's a big asset."

Nobody is excluded, either. "When we had a team meeting during our losing streak," he said, "some of the freshmen stepped up and talked. This is an open forum, so let's get it all out there, so we're all on the same page."

Monday's meeting was a reality check; more protocol than necessity.

"After we had a few days to enjoy the win (over Arizona)," Bohannon said, "it was, `Hey, guys, let's put away the hats and the `Net Worthy' T-shirts. We want to get another hat and shirt, that's our goal. The great thing about this team is everyone is willing to listen."

And that's why these team meetings have been so effective. "We want to make sure we get everything out there," Bohannon said. "This is our one shot and we don't want to leave anything on the table. Everyone is happy we're here. But we're here for a reason."

Wisconsin's Bo Ryan and Kentucky's John Calipari put their own spin on that message during a joint news conference here Thursday. While exchanging compliments, stories and one-liners, they seemed very comfortable together; a genuine comfort level.

Ryan cited the collaboration of an "Italian and an Irishman" on the dais. Calipari laughed, along with everyone else, when Ryan tackled the popular question of one-and-one players in college basketball.

"All I remember," Ryan said, "is when my mom would give me a pork chop or a piece of meatloaf and I would ask for another piece and she would say, `No, one and done.'"

Neither wants to be done quite yet.

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