The Badgers opened up practice today to the media for the first time in the 2015-16 academic year without Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Duje Dukan, and Traevon Jackson.

Whether it was running through half-court set pieces, out of bounds plays, scrimmaging, suicides, or shooting practice, Bo Ryan’s squad was back in action. There were plenty of new faces to get used to seeing on the court, but also some familiar players eager to step up.

The Familiar Faces

Nigel Hayes was hitting shots, getting to the rim, and was in the right position. And of course, he was having fun while doing it.

Ditto Brown blocked a few shots and hit a few jumpers. He noticeably looked much stronger than last season, as some time in the weight room may have paid off.IMG_9179

Zak Showalter actually struggled throughout the practice, turning the ball over during half-court drills and the full-court scrimmage, but I’m pretty confident to say it just was not his day. I also noticed that Showalter was taking more outside shots, and he did block redshirt sophomore guard Riley Dearring on a fastbreak.

Bronson Koenig’s jumper looked as sweet as ever, as you would expect. He was taking care of the ball well, and looked like he will be an even bigger part of the scoring this season.

Players Looking to Make an Impact

Jordan Hill was the most vocal player on the court, as he actually had to settle down Happ after a few frustrating plays. He was noticeably one of the leaders of the team, and he showed some improvement at the point guard position.

Riley Dearring was playing some point guard. During some fast break drills, he was not going to the basket very strongly, getting blocked a few times.

Ethan Happ had a rough day, turning the ball over multiple times and struggling to get involved on offense. He was visibly frustrated throughout the hour I was there. I’m hoping for Happ to make a big impact this season, so let’s hope today was just not his day.

First Look at the Freshmen

Charlie Thomas, listed at 6’8″, 253 pounds, was the most impressive of the group. He had multiple offensive rebounds and followed with put backs. He was much bigger than I thought, guarding guys like Hayes and playing with poise. He hit a few outside jumpers and even a step back 12-footer. From what I saw today, Thomas is a player to watch for the Badgers this season.

Andy Van Vliet, the 6’11”, 203-pound Belgian, looked a little lost on the court, but that is to be expected. He is transitioning to a much different type of system under Ryan from whatever he was playing in Europe. He was getting a lot of rebounds due to his height, and his left-handed stroke looked pretty pure. IMG_9172

Khalil Iverson did not do anything negative that stood out to me, which is a great sign at a Bo Ryan practice. I thought he passed the ball well, and he worked well with the team. Iverson will definitely fit the Wisconsin identity, and his athleticism is going to be something fun to watch.

Alex Illikainen was active down low, but he did not get the ball very much. He, like Iverson, did not do anything overly negative that Ryan called out. The freshman from Minnesota was setting screens and seemed to have a high basketball IQ.

Fellow freshman Brevin Pritzl, who broke his leg over the summer, was on the sidelines, but not noticeably wearing anything that would indicate injury.

Overall Analysis

Ryan’s team was in good physical shape, and he was doing his fair of coaching throughout. The players were playing well together and they definitely get along well. There’s no doubt that this is Hayes and Koenig’s team, but I was impressed by Hill taking a leadership role. There are several question marks remaining, especially for the rest of the starting five, with Brown, Showalter, Happ, Dearring and Hill all in the mix. When it comes down to it, the team lost so many important players that it’s going to take time for the team to be at the same level as the past two seasons, but I like what I saw at today’s practice. And how can we doubt Bo Ryan?

Other Notes

  • It was just practice, but it was interesting to observe the team with the new 30-second shot clock. It depended on the possession, but for the most part, the Bo Ryan, swing offense was very much in tact.
  • It was intriguing to observe assistant coach Greg Gard, who Ryan has continually supported to be his eventual replacement.
  • Will Decorah, who was recently added to the team, will be wearing #0 this season. Will  Jordan Smith, Matt Ferris, Aaron Moesch, T.J. Schlundt, or Decorah make an impact this season?