2014 NCAA Tournament: Former Badgers reflect on Wisconsin's Final Four run

Jon Leuer (left), as a senior, boxes out an Illinois defender with then-freshman Josh Gasser. - Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Despite commitments ranging from law school to playing in the NBA, recent Wisconsin Badgers have kept their eyes on this year's Final Four run.

Former Wisconsin guard Dan Fahey was studying in Milwaukee last Saturday. Fahey, the former walk-on now studying law at Marquette University, kept his head in the books until about 4:30 p.m., but the excitement of possibly seeing his former team reach the Final Four was too much for him to stay in the Cream City that evening.

"I was just sitting there, and it was eating at me, and I was like, 'I need to be in Madison if they win this game,'" Fahey said.

"So I got in my car, drove up to Madison, and I watched the game with a few buddies of mine in Madison and proceeded to State Street following the victory."

He wasn't the only former Badger to be in Madison last weekend. Former guards Brett Valentyn and Kammron Taylor also saw their alma mater reach its third Final Four in school history. Valentyn, like Fahey, was able to be part of the large mass of fans celebrating on State Street, while Taylor -- who's in town rehabbing from a torn ACL while playing in the NBA's Development League -- watched the game from a friend's house.

Taylor noted he didn't feel nervous about the Badgers' chances against the Arizona Wildcats, the top-seeded team in the West region. The way Wisconsin had been playing the past couple of weeks, he was quite confident they would fly back from Anaheim as West regional champions.

"I just felt they were on a roll," Taylor said.

Two time zones away, Jon Leuer was at a Buffalo Wild Wings, watching with his Memphis Grizzlies teammates as they were in midst of a late-season West Coast road trip. Though the game went to overtime, he swears neither he nor his teammates pressed the fabled "overtime" button seen in the restaurant's commercials.

"I think every Badger fan was holding their breath there for probably the last 20 minutes of the game," Leuer said with a laugh.

All four former Wisconsin players saw an offensively potent team that has seen consistent improvement from its players who are now just two games away from winning Wisconsin's first national championship since 1941.

The staple of a Bo Ryan-led team throughout the years has been a mature, sound defense. Pundits throughout the country have noted that this year's team may not have been as stifling as year's past, but Valentyn, himself a former walk-on who now goes to UW-Madison for law and writes for BadgerNation.com, has noticed improvements in the team's defense throughout the season.

But what's really taken this team to the next level has been the offensive firepower displayed by the Badgers this season, and the balanced, unselfish scoring threat presented by every player on the court.

"They have scorers and shooters at every position. Probably the best way to describe their offense is how fluid it is. They have several guys that can freelance or make a play when you need it at the end of the shot clock." -Brett Valentyn

"They have scorers and shooters at every position," Valentyn said. "Probably the best way to describe their offense is how fluid it is. They have several guys that can freelance or make a play when you need it at the end of the shot clock."

Among the developments on this team is the maturation of junior forward Frank Kaminsky. The evolution of his game allowed him to shine center-stage against the Arizona Wildcats last week, putting up 28 points in the 64-63 overtime thriller.

In the regular season, Kaminsky averaged 13.6 points per game, along with 6.3 rebounds per contest. Leuer believes it's a combination of Kaminsky's unique skill set and confidence that have really made Kaminsky become, in his words, a "match-up nightmare."

"Just watching the games that I've seen, it just seems like, especially the second half of the season, Frank's confidence is just sky-high right now," Leuer said.

"When you have confidence, the coaches have confidence in you, the teammates have confidence in you, the game becomes a lot easier. He's really skilled at his size and what he can do."

Taylor, Valentyn and Fahey, when asked about their successors at guard on the current team in Josh Gasser, Ben Brust and Traveon Jackson, noted the continuous improvement of all three. Both Valentyn and Fahey played with Gasser and Brust in their time at Wisconsin. They noted the impact of Gasser's presence this year compared to last season when he was out of commission with a torn ACL in his left knee, as well as the continued improvement of Brust in defense rebounding and the other aspects of the game not involving shooting the basketball.

Much praise was also given to Jackson. Taylor noted Jackson's ability to get into the paint and finding his teammates for open shots, while Fahey commended his tireless work ethic.

"Trae is the hardest working kid I know," Fahey said.

"Literally, every single day, I would go to the Kohl Center, and he would be there, and he puts in the time more than anyone I know, and it's really paid off. Whether it'd be the clutch shots down the stretch, or the guy going under on a screen and Trae being able to shoot behind the screen, I tip my hat to him -- he's really the hardest working kid I know."

All acknowledge the significance of Wisconsin's Final Four berth, their second since 2000. Taylor remembers his 2004-05 team that came up short against eventual national champion North Carolina in the Elite Eight. Seeing the program nearly reach the pinnacle of college basketball has him excited for his former coach and mentor, but also intrigued with how this will affect the future of Badgers basketball.

"I'm excited for the team and the program, and it's definitely going to help with recruiting," Taylor said.

"I know a lot of guys probably don't want to come here because of people trying to talk about the style that Wisconsin plays, but our style wins basketball games." -Kammron Taylor

"I know a lot of guys probably don't want to come here because of people trying to talk about the style that Wisconsin plays, but our style wins basketball games."

Valentyn has been able to keep in touch with the team more as he finishes up his first year as a law student in Madison. He's happy for his former teammates in Gasser, Brust, Evan Anderson and Duje Dukan, all who were freshmen when Valentyn was finishing up his playing career in 2011. He noted the development of Dukan, who he believes has made the most drastic improvement since seeing him play as a freshman.

Wisconsin does things the right way, Valentyn said, with Ryan preaching accountability, hard work, learning fundamentals and the discipline to still take care of schoolwork.

"It's really cool to see someone like coach Ryan, a great person and a fantastic coach, him and the program that he runs, does things the right way, I think it's fantastic to see that coming into the spotlight," Valentyn said.

"It's just kind of a special time, too, especially with his father. It just really makes me proud that I got to be a part of that program."

Fahey won't be studying much of this upcoming weekend in Milwaukee. Coming from a family of proud Wisconsin alums, he's flying down to Dallas to partake in the festivities of Final Four weekend.

He remembered the last time Wisconsin made it this far, as the family drove through the night down to Indianapolis at the last minute to watch the Badgers in 2000 lose to eventual national champion Michigan State. He believes this team shows where Wisconsin basketball has gone since then, especially under the helm of Ryan.

"I think it's a testament to the program, and the level that this program competes at," Fahey said.

"I think it's one of the premier programs in the country."

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