Fresh faces litter Badger basketball roster
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON--Bo Ryan’s 13th basketball team at Wisconsin may turn out to be a great read, akin to a book you can’t put down until the last page is turned.
Yet with the opener set for 6 p.m. Friday in Sioux Falls, S.D., against St. John’s, the Badgers are more like a mystery novel.
Even Ryan, 65, isn’t sure what is on the first page, much less the last.
“If it’s not the youngest team we’ve ever had it’s close,” he said. “We’re trying to get old in a hurry.”
Perhaps not since the 2001-’02 season, his first as UW’s head coach, has Ryan faced so many questions.
That team had only two seniors and was heavy with freshmen (seven). The 2013-’14 team features two seniors (Ben Brust and Zach Bohannon) and six freshmen.
“We’ve got guys who aren’t going to back down from a challenge,” sophomore forward Sam Dekker said. “When we play together and have that high energy we’re going to be tough to stop in the Big Ten and in any other game.”
Despite the exuberance of Dekker, who clearly wants to lead this team on both ends of the court, the questions are weighty:
• How will UW rebuild the frontcourt decimated by the departures of Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans?
The trio struggled offensively as seniors but it combined for 19.5 rebounds per game and were stalwarts on the defensive end.
“Last year’s seniors were great,” junior guard Traevon Jackson said. “I give them all the credit because they brought so much passion and so much fire to Wisconsin basketball.
“This year we’ve got a different look. The skill sets are different. It is more of an up-and-down class that came in.
“I feel like we can push the ball when we need to push it and slow it down. We’ve got great shooters on the team and we’ve got post guys. We’re just a versatile team.”
• Is Josh Gasser whole? The redshirt junior guard from Port Washington missed last season after suffering a knee injury in practice. He was scheduled to open as the point guard last season, but with UW set at that position with Jackson, George Marshall and Bronson Koenig, Gasser should see plenty of time at small forward.
“If he doesn’t develop, we don’t go anywhere,” Ryan said of Jackson’s play last season. “We don’t have a chance to play in a Big Ten tournament championship game.
“We don’t have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. It would have been a season that would have really been a lot harder.”
Gasser’s play during practices and in UW’s lone exhibition served as a reminder of how much the Badgers missed his all-around game and intangibles.
“He knows he’s not the only one that’s ever had the injury,” Ryan said. “But he also knows he’s the only one that can really mentally overcome any blocks, any mental blocks that he has about his physical ability.
“But he looks like he’s ready.”
• Is Frank Kaminsky ready to bang down low? The junior forward, listed at 7 feet and 234 pounds, has the unenviable task of replacing Berggren, a terrific defender.
Kaminsky has been primarily a perimeter offensive threat in his first two seasons. With Berggren gone, Kaminsky must make teams respect his inside game, though freshman forward Nigel Hayes could help ease the burden.
“You have to have a threat down there,” assistant coach Lamont Paris said. “If you don’t have some sort of post presence you are essentially an imposter as a team. It’s smoke and mirrors. You have to have somebody.
“Frank has done a great job of changing his mindset. He is not abandoning the perimeter game, either, because he shoots it too well.
“He has made a concerted effort to get down on the block and do more stuff. Even if he doesn’t have success all the time, people are still going to respect that he is going to catch it down there and you have to pay attention to him.”
• Perhaps the most important question is: Can UW vie for a championship in the loaded Big Ten?
“Every game is going to be a battle in the Big Ten,” Gasser said. “It is one of the best conferences in the country, if not the best.
“If we don’t bring it every night—and that’s what these young guys will learn—we won’t come out on top.
“We expect to win a Big Ten championship and that is our goal.”