Badgers basketball media day: Different voices, but the same feel

If there were two messages the Badgers wanted to emphasize today at men’s basketball media day, it was that the team still has the same expectations as the past two seasons and that the locker room is still just as loose despite losing Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Duje Dukan, and Traevon Jackson.

“Different voices, but the same feel,” Badgers guard Zak Showalter told me when I asked him about not having guys named Kaminsky, Dekker, Gasser, Dukan and Jackson in the locker room.

The Clear-Cut Starters

One familiar face, Badgers forward Nigel Hayes, was his usual self, cracking jokes but giving media sufficient answers throughout the afternoon. Hayes realizes that the spotlight is on him now with Kaminsky and Dekker gone, but he’s ready to embrace his rule as a leader of the team along with guard Bronson Koenig. In terms of his game, Hayes explained to me that he’s been working on his mid-range and that he “needed to transition to the wing. I needed to make sure I can score off the dribble as well as get to the free throw line.” From what I gathered from talking to Hayes and others, Nigel will be playing the 3, with Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown starting in the front court.

There’s a lot of buzz on Happ. Bo Ryan explained that the redshirt freshman was able to play against the older guys in practice like Kaminsky, Dekker, and Hayes, and he’s “no longer that little kid.” Ryan added, “His basketball IQ in the post is very high.”

Forward Vitto Brown explained to me that he and Happ were roommates last year and play one-on-one all the time. “He’s stronger than he looks,” Brown explained.

Brown said he’s been working on post moves and “trying to make it [mid range] almost automatic. In terms of his summer, Brown told me it was  “very productive. I’ve been expecting this. I’ve been working for this moment, knowing I wasn’t needed last year, but would definitely be needed this year.”

One thing Hayes was especially excited about was the improvement of the team’s low-post defense. Hayes explained, “Last year, there were some times that we could switch maybe 2 through 4 or maybe 3 and 4 or maybe Frank and I could switch. With me moving to the 3, with a lineup with Vitto and Ethan at the 4 and 5 respectively, we would be able to switch 3 through 5, which would be tremendous for us to be able to put our height and length. Us being able to switch 3 through 5, would be good for us defensively. It would create a lot of problems for other teams trying to exploit mismatches.”

Although we don’t know who will start alongside Bronson Koenig (and we really don’t know if Brown and Happ will start for sure, although it appears so), he told media that he “wants to be a whole different player, kind of what they saw in the Big Ten Tournament.”

On working on going to the rim, as I told him I noticed in practice, Koenig told me, “I’m just trying to be more of a complete player. I know teams are going to play me for the jump shot…I’m just trying to become more multi-faceted.”

Bo Ryan explained that, especially with the new shot clock, Koenig will shooting toward the end of the shot clock: “A lot of times the ball is going to be in hands, like it was in Jordan Taylor’s…at the end of shot clocks.”

The Fifth Starter

So who will step up alongside Koenig? Zak Showalter (the more than likely starter), Jordan Hill, and Riley Dearring are all in the mix.

Showalter, the junior from Germantown, wants to make a step up for this team just like Koenig did last season. Showalter, who has been stroking three-pointers and playing great defense but turning the ball over a little bit too much in practice, explained, “I look at him [Koenig]…and I want to see myself develop as he has done.”

But, even Showalter admitted, “I think Jordan Hill will start to make a name for himself.” Hill has been working on his dribbling and ball-handling and shooting, and he’s been impressive on the court as a leader of the team in practice.

The last of the candidates, Dearring, noticeably got stronger and several teammates explained to me that he’s been working hard to be more physical. He told me he’s been working on “Just getting stronger, working on my ball-handling a lot so I can take pressure off the other guards, and being a consistent knock down shooter.”


There’s a lot of buzz around the freshmen class, especially Charlie Thomas and Khalil Iverson for their physicality.

I asked both of them if they felt they were ready for the Big Ten. Thomas explained to me, “I’m just trying to transition to college play…But I think I’m transitioning well. Especially in the Big Ten, with my body type, I’m very comfortable with who I am now.”

Iverson attributed much of his physicality to his high school coach Jordan Blackburn getting him into the gym early on in high school. “I feel pretty good about the physicality…Junior year and senior year that was a big jump for me because I put on a lot of muscle. He [Blackburn] knew that would get me ready for wherever I chose to go.”

Iverson will certainly play this season, but Thomas is more likely to make an impact. As Showalter announced to the media: “Charlie (Thomas) is going to have a huge impact.”

Freshman guard Brevin Pritzl (recovering from broken foot) told me he’s a little behind schedule, as he was hoping to play in the Red-White Scrimmage on Sunday. “I’m feeling good. Every day gets a little better. Some days it’s going to feel a little more sore. Physically, my body I feel like I can do some things…I’m a little heavy. We’re getting there.” He told me he does not have a full timetable yet on his return.

From what I’ve gathered, this team is very young and missing key players, but they’re having a great time and look solid just as they have in past years. Bo Ryan’s team may have lost some of its best players, but he’s enjoying teaching this talented, young team in hopes of another run at March Madness. In terms of expectations for the team, Brown explained to me, “We have the same goals, the same aspirations, we want to make it just as far…we want to make it that one step further this year. We’re not slacking at all.”

Bo Ryan Quotes of the Day

  • On Andy Van Vliet’s official visit: “I’ve never had a story about getting Andy here. I did have to get something cleared though. His parents came in and actually brought me some beer. So I had to find out from the NCAA if I’m allowed to accept that. And I guess the ruling was yes.”
  • On retirement: “I’m thinking, a year ago, would anyone have thought that a newspaper would cut their staff in half? I’m in a job that I get into the gym, that’s what I do…The world is not a stable place. There are no guarantees out there. For me to even take two seconds to think about later, just takes away from the job I can do with these young men.”
  • Bo as the backdrop wall started making loud noises: “They’re using the heavy balls, but nobody told them there are interviews going on.”
  • On first day passing drills: “I think we have them on film…Maybe we destroyed them. I was afraid somebody was going to get hurt.”
  • On continuous Ethan Happ questions: “Are you guys his agent or something?…You know that’s an NCAA violation.”
  • On Vitto Brown: “What I would like Vitto to do…is talk a little higher.”
  • On Khalil Iverson and Charlie Thomas: “If there was Big Ten tag-team wrestling, I would take those two…That would be a heck of a duo.”
  • On the rotation: “I’m not Santa Claus with a bag of minutes over my shoulder…They’re not given. They’re earned.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s