Wisconsin men’s basketball is riding high. Over the course of the past week the Badgers won the Maui Invitational, cracked the AP Top 25, and saw Jonathan Davis get high accolades across the sport. It seems like it’s all smiles for Wisconsin hoops right now, but head coach Greg Gard is clearly focused on the task ahead of them which is winning basketball games consistently, not just in November.
Gard started his presser by talking about the Badgers play in the Maui Invitational and mentioned how grateful he is to coach this group of players.
“Happy to get back, obviously, to have the trip we had to Vegas and play the teams and play in a variety of ways coming from behind, trying to hang onto a lead, fighting back against St. Mary’s. I’ve said it many times, this team is a delight to coach. We make mistakes but they play so hard and they enjoy being around each other... we grew over the week.”
Gard then talked about his young point guards, Chucky Hepburn and Lorne Bowman, who are learning a lot about the college game in a short period of time.
“They’re really resilient, I mean I mentioned we make mistakes. They understand now don’t go under ball screens in college, they understand Coach Gard wants you to take care of the ball, but they’re really resilient. If they have a miscue they bounce right back. They take coaching and want to be better. They’re both very team-oriented. They’ll do whatever they can to help the team win and I think that’s kinda been throughout this team. I’ve seen that nobody really cares about individual accolades or stats. They just want to do whatever they can to help the team win.”
After that, Gard talked about the upcoming matchup with Georgia Tech which should be another good test Wednesday night in the Badgers’ ACC/Big Ten Challenge contest.
“It will be the first time this group has faced the Princeton offense. It’s going to challenge a lot of our defensive discipline... that’ll be the one big challenge. They also will mix their defenses so we need to make sure we stay true to who we are and make good decisions... I think the biggest thing it’s the first time that we’ve seen a high dose of what the Princeton does.”
Later on, Gard talked about the maturity of this team. Clearly not as aged as last year’s group, but they still seem to be playing older than what they seem.
“Yeah, I think sometimes we try to judge maturity based on the year it says in the programs. Freshman and younger players playing a bigger role than what they did maybe 20 years ago isn’t as big of a leap... I think it’s been a collective maturity with this group. I think two guys that have helped it, obviously Brad, Johnny, and Tyler, but I never want to underestimate the value of Chris Vogt and Jahcobi Neath. It’s not in points or what shows on the stat sheet but it’s four years of experience for Chris and two for Jahcobi that have helped settle our locker room.”
Following that, Gard talked about the accolades his team has received in the rankings and individually with Johnny Davis winning Big Ten Player of the Week.
“To be honest with you we never really care about the rankings, it’s never going to change how we work today. It’s great, but it really has no value on how we have to approach today. Georgia Tech isn’t going to care... as for Johnny, I’ve said it many times but he said to me this summer ‘Coach, I don’t care about the accolades I just want to win’. He had a terrific week in Vegas. He’s going to be highlighted and going to have to continue to grow his game.”
On the injury front, the status of point guard Jahcobi Neath is still up in the air for Wednesday’s game, but he has returned to practice in “a limited role.” Neath has only appeared on one game so far, but will provide more veteran depth in the backcourt when he returns.
Overall, Gard seemed to be happy with his team’s performance, and rightfully so, however, the focus is very clear on what challenges Georgia Tech will bring to the table on Wednesday evening and how his team will respond to that. It’s important to stay level-headed, especially in a long season like basketball, and it appears Gard and Co. are headed in the right direction.