January 13, 2010

Young Badgers to gain experience

MADISON - One of the old adages relating to player development in the game of basketball suggests that if a player is to succeed in the sport, he or she must gain valuable experience on the court.

Experience that will inevitably fuel them into the type of player their potential and talent suggests they could one day reach or possibly exceed.

For young players like Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz, as well as Jordan Taylor-a player whom is rapidly establishing himself as a legitimate sixth man award candidate -that opportunity is now.

On Monday morning, the Wisconsin Sports Medicine staff issued a press release to relay information about Jon Leuer, the team's second leading scorer, and his broken wrist that will keep him out indefinitely.

Not only is UW heading into the thickness of a conference schedule without arguably its best player, it is also creating a void that will rely on three freshman contributors to fill.

"We play a team game," freshman center Jared Berggren said. "We try not to rely too heavily on one guy. Though Jon has put up some good numbers and good production this year, we have some other guys that are real good players, too.

"Collectively, we've all got to contribute a little bit more and just get the job done as a team."

That opportunity presents itself tonight when the Badgers play at Welsh-Ryan Arena against an up and coming Northwestern squad that's capable of playing with anyone in the Big Ten.

The Badgers have had a history of replacing solid numbers after a season finishes and key players leave via graduation. But when a player with similar numbers has to be sidelined mid-season, it's a completely different animal.

Against the Wildcats tonight, and every other team yet to come on the schedule while Leuer is out, the Badgers will be replacing 446 minutes, 246 points, 99 rebounds, 28 assists 19 blocks and 16 starts.

Though Evans has played in all 16 games, he does not have a start, and neither do the other likely replacements. Instead, if you combine all of their stats together they fail to combine to reach what Leuer had contributed in any category.

With 392 combined minutes, 112 points, 87 rebounds, 14 assists and eight blocks, the trio of freshmen have their work cut out for them.

"As a player that's what we come to do," Evans said. "We come to play. So, yeah, I feel I'm ready. His presence is important, but we know we can win without him. We'd like to have him back and we look to be a stronger team when he does come back because younger guys will get a lot more experience."

Over the past week and a half, Leuer may have unknowingly foreshadowed what it would be like to play without him as he got into severe foul trouble in two consecutive games. Yet the Badgers were still able to extend a lead against Ohio State and pulled away from Penn State without him while claiming victories.

Now, it's just like he's in foul trouble. The only problem is that he won't be able to come off the bench in a crucial stretch and hit one of his staple jumpers that were falling at an incredible 53 percent clip.

"I think this gives me a real good opportunity to where I can come in and maybe get a few more minutes with Jon being out," Berggren said. "I've just got to be confident, work hard in practice and show that I can contribute to the team."

Bo Ryan will likely start Evans in place of Leuer. Or he could go with a lineup of three guards and throw Taylor into the starting lineup fire. Whichever route the veteran coach decides to go, it's almost guaranteed that player will not contribute to the likes of Leuer.

But that, in essence, is why the game of basketball is played with five players on the court at once. Collectively, this team while given a chance to replace those figures, will probably do just that.

Because when it comes to Wisconsin basketball, success is something about as sure as an eight-foot Leuer jump shot.

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