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Wisconsin regroups, welcomes newcomers after 2 Final Fours

Nigel Hayes

Nigel Hayes


MADISON, Wis. (AP) Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan groaned when he thought back to passing drills on the first day of preseason practice.

So many new faces, so many mistakes.

“I was afraid someone was going to get hurt,” Ryan said at the team’s media day Thursday. “There were five or six guys out there that hadn’t been in the drills that hadn’t seen them.”

There is quite a different dynamic from last season’s veteran, fun-loving squad.

The trusted senior backcourt of Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson is gone. Sam Dekker is in the NBA after being drafted in the first round by the Houston Rockets.

And no more Frank Kaminsky, the 7-foot ringleader, anchoring the middle. The Wooden Award winner as the top college player was drafted by Charlotte.

They were the four leaders of teams that went to back-to-back Final Fours, and had a school-record 36 wins last season.

This new group is still getting used to each to other.

“It was weird, man,” said forward Vitto Brown, recounting the first day that the Badgers gathered as a team. The nameplates on the lockers belonging to the storied departing class were empty.

“Now that they’re gone, it was like, `Who’s there?"" Brown recalled.

Well, Ryan, for starters. Given another opportunity to talk about his future after this season, Ryan passed.

“There are no guarantees out there. For me to even take 2 seconds about later just takes away from the job that I can do with these young men,” Ryan said.

He had announced in June that he planned to retire at the end of the season. Two months later, Ryan left open the possibility of staying beyond this season.

Last week at Big Ten media day, Ryan didn’t rule out coaching beyond this season.

On Thursday, his focus was trained on the immediate future.

“I don’t know what else he would do besides coach,” forward Nigel Hayes said.

The junior with the affinity for NCAA tournament stenographers is the leading returning scorer after averaging 12.4 points. Hayes said he has worked on all facets of his game this offseason. Ryan wants Hayes to get to the foul line more and to be more assertive.

“He needs to make sure that what he does is scrutinized even more now because .... all eyes are on him from his teammates,” Ryan said. “His leadership skills will be on display, every drill he does in practice when it comes to his teammates.”

It’s a role that Hayes has already relished, Ryan said. Another junior, lightning-quick point guard Bronson Koenig (8.7 points), is the other returning starter who will be counted on to set the tone for the youthful roster.

Brown and Zak Showalter, two juniors who had moments coming off the bench, are also back. They’ll assume more responsibility this year.

And that’s it from last year’s nine-deep rotation, which means a lot more teachable moments for newcomers. That means some growing pains for Wisconsin at the season’s outset.

The starting lineup isn’t already set, unlike last year’s star-studded group. Beyond Hayes and Koenig, and Brown and Showalter to a lesser extent, there will be jostling for roles on the depth chart.

“I’m not Santa Claus with a bag of minutes over my shoulder, ready to give them out,” Ryan said gruffly. “I don’t give them out - they’re earned.”



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