MADISON — Coming into the year, there was a lot of buzz around what Brevin Pritzl and Andy Van Vliet could bring to Greg Gard’s squad. Many people forgot what the Badgers already had on their bench. Charles Thomas and Khalil Iverson, although not always spectacular, were serviceable role players for a team that came a few plays within reaching the Elite Eight.
Thomas and Iverson gained something during their first year that Pritzl (medical hardship redshirt) and Van Vliet (ineligible) weren’t able to during their year off: game experience.
The Badgers are now a few weeks into the season and neither Pritzl nor Van Vliet have gained much traction in the rotation. Although both will have great careers at UW, a meaningful role this season, or at least within the near future, seems unlikely. A lot of this can be attributed to Iverson and Thomas’s production and improvement so far during the young season.
Iverson and Thomas still don’t have impressive stat lines, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t had impressive seasons.
Iverson is averaging 4.2 points per game in just above 13 minutes a game, which is a two-point increase in the same amount of minutes from last year. Iverson’s shooting a stunning 68% from the field. His shot attempts are mostly dunks and lay-ups, but you have to give credit to Iverson for staying in his role and sticking to what he does best.
10 points was Iverson’s scoring high last year, a number he’s reached three times already during this young season. He credits experience as the reason for his offensive improvement.
“Literally just being out there and getting a better feel for the game,” Iverson said after practice on Thursday. “Freshman year I was more timid, [I] wasn’t really comfortable attacking.”
His game isn’t fully explained by a points per game average. Iverson’s athleticism jumps out at you right when he steps on the court, often making tough rebounds, steals, or blocks look easy, not to mention the bevy of highlight reel dunks he’s already had this season.
He’s versatile, kind of like the Badgers’ Swiss Army Knife.
“I don’t try to focus on one thing. I just go out to make plays.”
Charles Thomas IV has made similar strides during his sophomore year. His interior defense has allowed him to see the floor more. After a similar small role to last year at the beginning of this season, Thomas has started coming off the bench earlier as of recently.
“With the experience from playing last year you learn a bunch of things,” Thomas says. “Learning how to handle pressure and being called on in certain situations…It really helped.”
There is more connecting Iverson and Thomas than just being two key members of the Badgers’ bench squad. The two were roommates their freshman year and their relationship has grown into the two being best of friends.
With just the mere mention of Iverson, Thomas’s large smile comes out. Thomas immediately blurts out, “That’s my main man 50 grand.”
Iverson said of their relationship, “Off court, we go everywhere together and do everything together.”
Associate head coach Lamont Paris described the two as sneaky funny. “Charlie is a little more outspoken, plus when he grins it’s a mile wide,” Paris said. “Khalil is secretly, quietly funny. We didn’t even know he talked until halfway through his freshman year.”
The duo’s chemistry off the court has leaked to the court, Thomas and Iverson believe.
“Doing everything together helps with the court too,” Iverson said. “Just our chemistry and knowing each other well.”
“It’s so much better, you know, when you play with him and [you’re] with him all the time, on the court we’re here,” Thomas explained. “We’re level with each other, we know where to find each other, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses so it just makes it that much easier to play with him.”
After the end of the string of compliments Iverson gave Thomas on Thursday, he finished it off playfully.
“But he’s still a sucka,” Iverson joked. “He’s funny to be around.”
Iverson, Thomas, and the Badgers take on Oklahoma on Saturday at 12:00pm CT at the Kohl Center.