Feb. 17, 2012
MADISON, Wis. - Taylor Wurtz can attain an inner peace by making sure there’s a basketball in her hands (“I love the sport,’’ she said of her passion) and music in her ears (“R&B and rap,’’ she said of her preference).
On any given day, including scheduled team off-days, she will get on the court and shoot. Visualization is a part of these sessions whereby she will visualize game situations.
“It makes it fun that way,’’ said Wurtz, a junior on the Wisconsin women’s basketball team. “Get some layups, create off the dribble, listen to my music. Oh, yeah, I do it (visualize) all the time.’’
This is all an extension of those days when Wurtz, the Badgers’ leading scorer and rebounder, used to shoot in the driveway with her dad, Lud Wurtz, the ninth-leading scorer in Ripon College history.
“I credit all my success to him,’’ said Taylor Wurtz, the fifth-leading rebounder (7.4) and seventh-leading scorer (16.2) in the Big Ten. She’s also averaging the second-most 3-poiners (2.5) in the league.
“We didn’t have a gym to play in, so we’d be shoveling the snow (off the driveway) and always shooting outside, and he’d be rebounding for me. Just watching him, he had a love for the sport.’’
Lud Wurtz, who once scored 44 points against River Falls, still holds Ripon’s single-season scoring record. After graduation in 1978, he entertained playing in Europe.
But after earning an NCAA postgraduate scholarship, he attended law school in Madison. Wurtz has been practicing law for three decades — branching off on his own in 1997.
Wurtz Law LLC specializes in family law in Ripon.
At an early age, Lud Wurtz taught his daughter “to always respect the game, to work hard at her God-given talents and to play the game as hard as you humanly can until the final whistle blows.’’
It didn’t take long to see her potential in the sport, either.
“I can go back to the second grade when she started playing,’’ Lud Wurtz said. “I saw her backpedaling and she was going backwards as far as she was going forwards. The athletic gift was in her.
“And her drive was just unbelievable. She would go out in snow storms and shoot. Or she would go out in 95 degree heat and work on the Pete Maravich basketball moves.’’
Ah, yes, Pistol Pete, the late but great Pete Maravich; a legendary college basketball sharpshooter and Hall of Famer who fashioned a 44-point career average at LSU before the 3-point shot.
Lud Wurtz introduced Maravich to Taylor Wurtz. While growing up in Mayville, he used to shovel the snow off the driveway, too, and shoot the same shots that his favorite college players shot.
There was the indefatigable Maravich, floppy socks and all. There was Purdue’s stylish Rick Mount and Marquette’s explosive tandem of George Thompson and Dean Meminger.
Lud Wurtz would make like Maravich, then Mount, then Thompson, then Meminger, in no particular order. “I’d have to make each of those shots,’’ he said, “before I would go in at night.’’
Maravich’s uniqueness as one of the game’s most creative offensive threats struck a chord with Taylor Wurtz; especially after she watched some of Maravich’s ball-handling and shooting videos.
Lud Wurtz got his hands on the tapes with the help of his brother, Lucky Wurtz, the head coach at Kimberly High School. Lucky’s son, Aris, is rapidly moving up the career scoring lists at Ripon College.
“I watched a lot of those tapes,’’ said Taylor Wurtz, who once listed Pistol Pete Maravich, Martin Luther King, and Abraham Lincoln as the three people she would most like to meet in history.
Maravich died of heart failure in 1988. He was 40 years old.
“His whole story is incredible,’’ said Wurtz, who has tried to read all the books written on Maravich, including one that he co-authored, “Heir to a Dream.’’
Maravich has left a lasting impression. What did she admire the most?
“His basketball skills would be the ideal thing to say and it was something that I admired because he was a great basketball player,’’ she said.
“But what comes to mind most is his faith. He went through his whole life trying to describe it, always searching for that championship ring, always missing something …’’
Near the end, though, he did find a peace of mind through his conversion to evangelical Christianity. Not long after his death, he was named one of the top 50 players in the history of the NBA.
That also resonated with Wurtz.
“I could talk basketball all day,’’ she admitted.
When she’s not playing basketball, of course. As a result, she conceded, “I don’t read as much because I always feel like I’ve got to do something.’’
That something is usually shooting on her own before and after practice, and on those off-days. “It’s my release for everything,’’ Wurtz said. “Just go out there and shoot … 45 minutes to an hour.’’
That type of commitment makes her parents — Lud and Jane Wurtz — very proud of her accomplishments. “You’re not going to find anyone who works harder at it than Taylor,’’ he said.
There’s a high degree of perseverance in her game and life that Lud credited to Jane.
“The stick-to-itiveness to never accept anything other than first place,’’ he said. “In other words that idea you’re going to succeed and work hard to succeed. That’s what she gets from her mom.’’
In most respects, this has been a learning season for Wurtz and her UW teammates. Transitions are like that.
They’ve been learning a new discipline under a new coach, Bobbie Kelsey.
“When we first met coach Bobbie,’’ recalled Wurtz, “she told us that she was going to squeeze us like lemons and get everything out of us — work us like we’ve never been worked.
“I really admire that in her. She treats everybody the same. She rides everybody the same in practice. She’s expecting our best, and she doesn’t settle for anything less.’’
Wurtz believes that she has become a better player over the course of the season and “I credit all my coaches and teammates — they’ve gotten me better every day in practice because we go so hard.’’
Even if they don’t measure up in terms of personnel, the Badgers are starting to understand what it takes to win.
“As a collective group,’’ Wurtz said, “I think we’re learning a lot about each other.’’
As one of the upperclassmen, Wurtz accepts the responsibility of setting the tone for others. “One of the ways that I can lead is by example,’’ she said, “because I’m not that vocal.’’
Her game speaks volumes. She has led the Badgers in scoring — or shared the team lead in scoring — in 17 of the 24 games this season. So is Wurtz a shooter? Or a scorer?
“I do believe there’s a difference between a shooter and a scorer,’’ she said. “I feel like a pure shooter is someone like Ray Allen who comes off stagger screens and is always ready to shoot.
“A scorer is Kobe Bryant — someone who can put the ball on the floor and score different ways. My first two years I was just a shooter, a 3-point shooter. Now I definitely want to say I’m a scorer.’’
But she’s still developing her skills. Outside the 3-point arc, Wurtz has what she describes as a “funny little rotation’’ on her shot that is not present when she shoots closer to the basket.
“I’ve shot a million shots that way,’’ she said with a sigh. “It’s a hard habit to break.’’
Her dad has been fine-tuning her mechanics, along with UW assistant Kyle Rechlicz. “The point,’’ Taylor said, “is putting the ball in the basket. I guess it doesn’t really matter what it looks like.’’
Laughing, she added, “People tell me that we have similar looking shots but he (Lud Wurtz) can elevate a little higher. I guess he could really jump. That’s what he says. I don’t see it now.’’
In the next breath, she pointed out, “He won’t play me anymore.’’
Lud Wurtz opted to put a stop to their one-on-one games when Taylor was a junior in high school and it dawned on him that “she could get to the basket on me’’ with relative ease and regularity.
But he hasn’t stopped critiquing her performance after every game. “We’ll talk about the little things that I can help her with … when she talks with me … there will be times when she won’t,’’ he said.
After the recent Penn State loss, Taylor Wurtz said, “He just told me to slow down, look for my shot and keep attacking. I’ll get a call or I will call him and we’ll talk about what I could have done better.
“It’s always constructive — that’s how you get better.’’
Taylor Wurtz is majoring in legal studies at Wisconsin. She has given some thought to law school. “I could definitely see myself being in the court room,’’ she said.
She could also definitely see herself staying on the court. “I definitely want to continue playing basketball as a long as I can,’’ she said. “If that means going overseas, I want to try that then we’ll see.’’
Her parents have taught her well. Mostly, they’ve encouraged her to stay in the moment.
“I’ve always learned that no matter what I do, I need to put 100 percent into it,’’ she said.
“I want to be the best basketball player I can be and take advantage of the opportunity that I have here.’’