Most of the current roster doesn’t remember Mike Kelley’s stifling defense. Or Jon Bryant’s clutch three-point shooting.
Andy Kowske and Mark Vershaw … Vershaw who?
It’s been a week to reflect, relive, relish and reset for Bo Ryan’s 2014 Final Four squad. He and his players took some time this past week to meet with the local media and talk about what this ride has been like, and what to look forward to this weekend in Arlington.
“We’re definitely proud of how far we’ve come, the obstacles we’ve overcome this year,” Traevon Jackson, said. “It’s been a great ride. We had expectations from the beginning of the season back in the summertime. It’s still not done yet. We’re excited we made the Final Four. We’re excited to go down and have an opportunity. But to complete the assignment is still at hand.”
Jackson has been a lightning rod for the Wisconsin team this season. Much of the time falling under tough scruitiny of his head coach and fans, alike.
His role though has been nothing short of spectacular over the past four games in the tourney, averaging 13 points per game, going 17-19 from the free throw line, dishing out 4 assists and grabbing nearly 5 rebounds a night.
One gentleman who’s been rather absent, but holds a big role, is sophomore Sam Dekker.
He too, talked about how much of ride it’s been this season and how impressed he is with his team.
“Obviously, you’ve got to be proud of what you’ve done to this point. We really are,” Dekker said. “We’re proud of what we’ve done as a team together, and we set goals in the summer where we wanted to be, and this is a place where we wanted to get. We didn’t want to just stop there. We didn’t want to get there and let it come short. We want to win this next 40 and then hopefully get to another one and win another.
“We have all intentions of going down there and reaching another goal of ours, and we’re excited to do it.”
For many of those on the Badgers roster, the biggest game of their career has been the next one. That began, for some, in the first round of the tourney when UW matched-up with American.
The way the upper-classmen have handled the pressure isn’t surprising with Ryan at the helm. The team is looking at their next test in Kentucky, the same way they’ve looked at every contest this season – as one they need to win.
“It’s still a 40-minute game. It’s still a 10-foot hoop. Everything’s the same,” Josh Gasser, said. “I think [our composure and preparation] stems from our coach. He prepares. Coach Ryan prepares us the same for any game. It doesn’t matter if it’s now in April or it’s back in November.
“We prepare the same way, we get ready the same way, and just got to stay that way.”
With just two seniors on Wisconsin’s roster this season, Zach Bohannon and Brust, a lot of the responsibility of preparing from week-to-week has fallen on the shoulders guys like Dekker and Jackson.
It’s something each of them say they relish, and are thankful for. Each has reflected back to their days as freshman and pulled from what the elder statesmen on those teams, taught them.
“I remember coming in freshman year just seeing Josh, and Jordan (Taylor) especially when he was here, and Josh being a guy that, no matter what it was, that he always was just rock solid. I just couldn’t put a handle on it,” Jackson said. “A lot of that had to do with his maturity and just learning from him, and I think that’s just a blessing just being able to go through a couple years here and just embracing the moment, embracing the opportunity that has been given. You know, just trying to learn from the mistakes I made in the past or the past failures and stuff and just capitalize on it.
“I’ve been given a special role on this team as a point guard, and it’s important to embrace that.”
Dekker talked a bit about the challenge Kentucky’s athleticism and size could cause, and how Wisconsin is preparing for it.
“We’ve played big teams before. We’ve been outsized in multiple matchups this year, and I thought we’ve done all right with it. It’s just going to be another fight and another test for us against a good team. They’ve got some big guys on the outside and inside. Their point guards stack up at 6-foot-6,” he said.
“They’ve got good size. Everyone knows that. But we’ve got guys that are going to fight and claw and do everything they can to get a win. When you’ve got four guys on the court that are with you with the same mindset, it doesn’t really matter how big you are. It just matters how much you want it and how much you’re willing to fight for it.”