Josh Gasser was set to enter the 2012-13 season as the next Wisconsin point guard after the graduation of Jordan Taylor. Instead, after Gasser tore his ACL during Saturday's practice, he'll be spending the year in what he termed a "coaching internship."
The junior guard met with the media on Tuesday for the first time since he sustained the injury. Gasser said after forcing a steal in transition during a scrimmage, he sidestepped to his left to evade a defender and go up for a layup. But after pushing off with his left foot, Gasser said he heard a "pop" in his left knee and immediately knew he had torn his ACL.
"It was kind of a freak thing, first of all," Gasser said, adding that he will undergo surgery on Nov. 6. "You can't really describe it. Henry [Perez-Guerra], our trainer, he was real honest with me from the start. He knows what he's doing, he pretty much knew right away. He didn't want me to have sit there for a few hours just thinking about it. He pretty much informed me right away."
Without offering any specific timeline, Gasser said he will be ready for next season. He also added that even after doctors discussed the quick rehab some athletes attempt after ACL injuries, he's not going to rush anything.
"I'm going to take my time with it, get 100 percent, come back and work my tail off, come back stronger than ever," Gasser said. "I'll be ready for next year."
That sort of patience was Gasser's first reaction, though he also said it's something he heard from many of the people who reached out after the injury. Gasser said an "overwhelming" amount of people contacted him, including Badgers quarterback Curt Phillips and Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe. Phillips, who has undergone three knee surgeries himself as a result of ACL injuries, preached that patience and the importance of listening to doctors.
"He just told me to be patient with it," Gasser said. "It's going to suck the first few weeks, it's going to suck the first couple of months to try and get it done, but he just told me to take my time with it and don't rush into it. If you take your time with it, you'll come back strong."
So instead of the experienced Gasser heading up the post-Taylor offense, the Badgers will fill the void with some combination of redshirt freshman George Marshall, junior Ben Brust and sophomore Traevon Jackson. Given Brust's strengths as a spot-up shooter and Jackson's larger frame (listed at 6-foot-2, 213 pounds), Marshall seems likely to start at point guard.
But regardless of which member of that trio seizes the job, there'll be no mistaking the lack of experience. Gasser played in 34 games as a freshman and 36 as a sophomore, starting all but four games in that first year. Brust has 51 games of playing time over his two years, but zero starts. Jackson appeared in 17 games last year, but averaged just 5.4 minutes of playing time. Marshall spent the season with the scout team, and as his bio on UWBadgers.com reads, did a solid enough job to prompt Taylor to say, "You probably won't even remember I was here by the time he gets done."
Still, that was only the scout team. Gasser knows as much, and said head coach Bo Ryan expects him to still be a leader for the young backcourt. Hard as it might've been for him to watch practice before even having surgery, Gasser was there on Tuesday, watching the Badgers scrimmage while sitting behind the bench with his left leg propped up on a chair.
"It sucks," Gasser said. "You can't really describe it, I guess. Watching a scrimmage is probably the worst. I'm going to do everything I can to help us.
"George, Traevon, Ben -- we're not going to skip a beat without me out there. The big thing that I think we're going to miss is just a vocal guy at the guard position, a leader who's been there and played a little bit. That's something I can still contribute to, even if I'm not out there."
Positive as Gasser tried to be, there was no mistaking an air of frustration. After all, Gasser said he "worked my tail off" to earn the starting point guard job. To suffer this kind of injury after Ryan finally rewarded him with the job was obviously frustrating, and Gasser said he knows there will be moments where he can't help but only watch, whether after big wins or tough losses.
"Coach Ryan said I get to help be an assistant coach, so that's the good thing," Gasser said. "That's one thing I like to do. If I'm going to do that in my future, I guess I'm going to treat this year like a coaching internship, I guess.
"That's what guys that have reached out to me have told me; you're going to learn some stuff that you never would've learned playing out there. You're going to realize how much you love basketball, and that's just going to help you in the long run."