Coming into a new season many look from the outside in to the Badgers program and assume everything must go through the senior trio of Ryan Evans, Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren, but you know what they say about assuming, right? Instead this team enters the first week of organized fall practice searching for it's own identity. At least that's what head coach Bo Ryan thinks as he spoke at Wisconsin's media day today.
"I do think that this group is trying to find itself and an identity that we'll only know once we start doing our thing," said head coach Bo Ryan. "There are a lot of things I could say after yesterday's practice that I couldn't say after today's. I could've told you something last week that I couldn't tell you this week."
One thing about this team's identity is for sure, it won't revolve around Jordan Taylor, who graduated after a much celebrated final two years in Madison. So, what's going to be different and who replaces him? Is it Josh Gasser or could it be George Marshall? No matter what, it's clear that players are stepping up to take on new and key roles in the 2012-13 version of the Wisconsin Badgers.
"Well, the nice part about now being my 41st year of coaching, when people say 'replace other people' I don't don't get as alarmed or excited or nervous," Ryan said about not having Taylor around. "It is amazing how young men step up and I have all the faith in the world that that will happen with this group."
Last season the offense not only revolved around Taylor, but at times was so dependent on his ability to create for himself that it seemed to get lost at times. That shouldn't be the case this season though.
"I think what we are doing with our offense with our ball movement, it's more scoring off of action away from the ball than maybe on the ball," said Ryan."It's still about taking care of the ball and taking good shots. I think that the players we have will continue to do that."
Now the burden of ball handling and running the offense could likely fall on junior Josh Gasser, a player who has created more problems with his ability to shoot the long ball in his first two years than his ability to pass it persay. As Coach Ryan spoke of the changing offense he also talked about Gassers changing role and his importance to this team.
"I think he'll be a scoring threat," Ryan stated. "Now whether those numbers are produced that way? Again, will he get the attention from other teams? But by him being better as a scoring threat, that will help the others on the floor."
Of course, the hot topic of media day was the highly touted freshman named Sam Dekker. Everyone seems to have a certain image from the Kohl Center court last March in their minds, but according to Coach Ryan, Dekker is much more than just that.
"I've had a chance to watch Sam for three summers, more than just a 32 minute high school game or on a highlight reel and the reason I say that is because we know about his total game," Ryan said. "To be successful it takes a lot more than just that (scoring). You've got to be able to rebound, pass, screen, play defense and that's what Sam is here for."
"Sam wants to come here to be a complete player. The nice part is he knows he's got a lot to learn, he hasn't come in here thinking he knows everything."
That's been seen in his play and how the players around him have reacted to him as well. Dekker is clearly going to be a difference maker when on the court for Wisconsin.
"He's already shown some strengths. He's been fouled more than anybody in all the possessions this summer, this fall, and in the practices this fall since we started the 20 hours per week," said Ryan of Dekker's play so far. "Now, what that tells you is he's finding a way to get to the rim, he's getting offensive rebounds, he's drawing contact. That's he's strength right now. He still needs to keep filling out physically."
Most think of Dekker as just a scorer, but according to Ryan it's all the other things that he's able to do that have endeared him to the team already.
"He's been accepted by them very easily because he'll pass the ball, he'll rebound and he's trying to play defense the way we play it… and he's not afraid to make a play," said Ryan. "He doesn't play tight, he plays a little loose with the idea of trying to figure out how well he can do certain things."
One of the most pressing issues facing the returning core is the health of senior forward Mike Bruesewitz, who suffered a severe laceration to his right leg and required surgery to fix it. Coach Ryan stated that Bruesewitz's first concern was being able to ever play basketball again, but has really done a great job recovering.
"Mike's handled it well," Coach Ryan said. "Henry Perez (Wisconsin athletic trainer) is unbelievable. He should be the highest paid trainer in the Big Ten, because I've seen him handle so many things so well and what he did that day."
Of course it wouldn't be a Bo Ryan press conference without some crazy moments and this media day didn't disappoint.
Ryan made reference to Ice Cube's hit song "Today Was a Good Day" and managed to even slip in a little 1960's reference.
The Ice Cube reference came when Ryan was talking about Evan Anderson and some of the improvements he made and how he looked good today in practice but you never know what could be happening from day to day. Get it… "Today was a Good Day."
That's also when coach Ryan made reference to the Lyrics: "I swear there is no heaven, I pray there is no hell," and challenged the media gathered to guess the band. That band was Blood, Sweat, & Tears and the song is below:
Up front the one player that's garnering the most attention early on in practice has been sophomore Frank Kaminsky, who according to reports has really changed his body in a tremendous fashion. But, what sparked that transformation and how real is it?
"He's just not a freshman anymore," said Coach Ryan. "He's moving his feet, he's more cognizant of anticipating what's next. He's not caught up in if he doesn't do something well he doesn't mumble to himself or hang his head."
It doesn't take a genius of the highest order to figure out that the supposed strength of the Badgers this season lies up front with the likes of Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren, but the question is just how important will they really be to success?
"We need Jared with his minutes from last year, we need Mike to comeback and Ryan is better than he was last year," Coach Ryan said. "Sometimes it may not equate to better numbers in a statistic. Wherever it comes from it isn't all about individual statistics."
"What you always hope for as a team where you're so well blended that they can't zero in on one or two players and that's what I like about this mix right now. We have guys who could really play well every night and be really good."
Despite the ability to be a very good team, one of the worries that could creep up for that senior class is a propensity to want to do too much, prove they've got it all, and go out with a bang so to speak. It's something Bo is very aware of and looking to avoid.
"The approach right now is I don't want them thinking about 'Oh this is my last year', that's hurt a lot of players in a lot of programs across the country because sometimes you play desperately."
"I think he'll be a scoring threat, now whether those numbers are produced that way? Again, will he get the attention from other teams? But by him being better as a scoring threat, that will help the others on the floor."