clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Big Ten Basketball Media Day: Wisconsin Badgers embracing the hype as season nears

The Badgers showed up to Big Ten media day with a clear message -- they know how big the target is on their backs, and they're perfectly fine with it.

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The ball left Traevon Jackson's fingertips, bounced off the backboard, took a spin around the rim and fell to the hardcourt floor as the final buzzer rang.

Kentucky had just taken down Wisconsin in the second of two Final Four semifinals, sending the Badgers back home to Madison with one of the most successful seasons in Wisconsin basketball history under their belts.

Thursday at Big Ten media day near Chicago, the Badgers embraced the hype that has steadily built since last season ended in April. Wisconsin entered the day as the No. 4 team in the first USA Today Coaches poll of the season and with two players -- center Frank Kaminsky and forward Sam Dekker -- on the preseason All-Big Ten team for the first time ever.

"We were one possession away from playing for a national title," senior guard Josh Gasser said. "That's what you work for all year long."

"To be so close last year and not come away with a national title gives us a sour taste in our mouths," Kaminsky, now a senior, added.

The last-second loss was heartbreaking for the Badgers, but they've moved on. They're ready for the 2014-15 season-armed with championship expectations.

"This year, it's about not just making it to the Final Four," Gasser said. "We want to win the whole thing."

"Anytime you end a season with a loss, you're going to be unsatisfied," Dekker added. "We're going to use that loss as motivation, but we can't look too far into the past. We have a lot to look forward to and a lot of goals to achieve."

Last season, the Badgers won 30 games for the third time in school history and reached the Final Four for the first time since 2000. The team returns four starters -- plus seven of last year's top eight scorers -- but Bo Ryan's crew knows it can't afford to ease up in a deep Big Ten.

"We've got a chip on our shoulders," Kaminsky said. "We want to get back [to the Final Four], but it comes one game at a time. It's a process. It's not going to happen overnight."

And Ryan intends to treat this season no differently than how he has approached past seasons.

"Challenges for coaches and coaches' staffs are the same as if you finish in the bottom half of your league, if you finish .500," said in his media day press conference. "Still, for the next season, what you're looking to do is to try and see if you can continue to develop your players. That's our job.

"You can't possibly think that I woke up this fall thinking, ‘Wow, I'm going to do something different this year.' We're not. The coaching staff isn't. The players are the ones that put a lot of time in in the offseason. The returning players, they're hoping that pays off, and that's all you can do. You can prepare, you train, you take care of business in the classroom, you put yourself in a position to be successful. Then, let's play."

"You can't possibly think that I woke up this fall thinking, 'Wow, I'm going to do something different this year.'" -Bo Ryan

With the season opener against Northern Kentucky just 29 days away, this year's starting five will take the Kohl Center floor minus Ben Brust, who graduated in the spring. But underclassmen Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are poised to fill the void left by the program's all-time three-point leader. Redshirt senior forward Duje Dukan could also be an option to lock down the final starting job.

"Not a lot of questions last year were asked about Nigel Hayes or Bronson Koenig last year," Ryan said. "They've had some experience, they've been in the mix, they've been under fire, so hopefully that translates into a more mature approach when they get on the court. We're going to need that."

Aside from the void left by Brust, the Badgers' core of upperclassmen returns. National Player of the Year candidates in Kaminsky and Dekker join guards Traevon Jackson and Gasser looking to return the Badgers to the Final Four. The squad's mix of veteran leadership and young firepower led to UW being chosen unanimously by Big Ten beat writers to win the Big Ten regular-season title.

It's been a while since a similar level of preseason hype came to Wisconsin basketball, but Ryan was quick to remind media members that high expectations are nothing new to Madison.

"How soon do we forget the Sports Illustrated cover of Alando Tucker and Brian Butch?" Ryan asked reporters at his press conference. "Devin Harris played in our program, Jordan Taylor. We've had first-team All-Big Ten guys."

"We're going to have a bigger target on our backs this year," Kaminsky said. "But at the same time, we're inviting all challengers. We want to go out there and prove to the world what we can do. We're going to make them believe."

Gasser also embraced the added attention directed at the Badgers.

"[The hype] means we did something well the year before," he said. "It's definitely not a bad thing at all. Every year we have expectations in our locker room that we're going to be a great team."

Opponents have also taken note of the threat the Badgers pose to the rest of the conference -- and to the nation.

"Wisconsin's at the top right now, and rightfully so," Michigan State senior guard Travis Trice said. "They're the one favorite, and everyone else is kind of scattered beneath. They're a great team from top to bottom."

"They have a combination of playing very hard and playing very smart," Northwestern junior guard Tre Demps said. "They have guys who can make shots and guys that have bought into Bo Ryan's system. They're one of the model teams of college basketball."