A great deal of discourse has been tweeted, shouted and texted about the 2020-2021 Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team not living up to lofty preseason expectations so far this year.
The Badgers entered the season as a consensus top-10 team with aspirations of making a push for a B1G title and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. With seven seniors back, the hopes seemed highly plausible given the stellar end to the year the group had the season before.
With only the NCAA Tournament left in these seniors’ careers, assuming that they do not exercise the ability to come back for another season due to a one-time COVID-19 waiver, their collective time in Madison together is drawing to an end.
While the 2020-2021 season has been an arduous one filled with constant virus testing, remote workouts, a lack of fan attendance and the inability to see family and friends as frequently as normal, this group embodied grit their entire careers.
This 2021 senior class has collectively won a ton of games, and represents the first true group that was built by Greg Gard. With their time potentially drawing to a close, we at B5Q thought it would be fitting to look at the groups accomplishments and their story.
From the very start many of the seniors career paths were unorthodox for Wisconsin.
D’Mitrik Trice and Aleem Ford were late additions to Greg Gard’s first recruit class in 2016, after Gard took over for Bo Ryan in the middle of the season. The duo of Trice and Ford were fairly under recruited coming out of high school, and Greg Gard took a flyer on the two IMG Academy products who committed in late-April before enrolling a few months later for summer workouts. Ford wasn’t even on the Badgers recruiting radar until Wisconsin got involved with Trice, who is was originally from Ohio.
Brad Davison came to Madison as a top-120 recruit from Minnesota, but he was thrust into the starting lineup for the Badgers early in his career after Trice went down with a right foot injury. Davison displayed his toughness as a true freshman when he played through a dislocated shoulder injury of his own for the bulk of the season, and he was the second leading scorer on the team that year.
Also joining Davison in the 2017 class from Minnesota, four-star prospect Nate Reuvers was all set to redshirt during his freshman year. After a few games on the bench, Reuvers made the decision to play and went on to start 15 games while still learning the ropes and needing to add bulk.
Walt McGrory, again from our neighbors to the west, joined the Badgers in 2017 as well, and the walk-on freshman, like Reuvers, was initially planning to redshirt. After 11 games, McGrory was called into action late due to injury concerns. He played over 20 minutes off the bench against Green Bay, and gave Gard contributions after Trice and Kobe King got hurt.
The last two seniors that have been wildly valuable members of this year’s team are Micah Potter and Trevor Anderson. Both Potter and Anderson came to Madison via the transfer portal.
Potter was a 2016 recruit, who initially started out his career at Ohio State. After a redshirt season, he started 12 games in his first year of action, and would wind up transferring to the Badgers after 2018. He had to sit out a year, and also missed a chunk of his junior year due to (Editor’s note: arbitrarily enforced) NCAA stipulations, much to the ire of Gard and Wisconsin fans.
Trevor Anderson didn’t earn a scholarship offer from the Badgers out of high school despite sharing Mr. Basketball Honors in the state as a senior. He instead wound up playing at UW-Green Bay, where he started 20 games as a true freshman and nearly averaged 10 points per game. He opted to transfer to Wisconsin after that initial season to walk-on with the Badgers, a lifelong dream of his.
Beyond a less than normal path on campus for the seven seniors, the group also had many injury hurdles that they had to overcome during their careers to this point as well.
As previously mentioned, Trice lost the vast majority of his sophomore season due to foot injury. Davison was seen popping his shoulder in and out on a nearly a game-by-game basis his freshman season when he was one of the only scholarship guards available to play point guard. Anderson tore his ACL in 2018, and Ford saw his minutes severely diminish in 2018 after undergoing a knee surgery of his own and battling the injury all year long.
Injuries tended to come in bunches for the group, as the 2017-2018 season was extremely tough on the young team. After going 27-10 and making the Sweet 16 in 2016-2017 (Trice and Ford were the only members of that team), the 2018 team in total finished with a losing record that season (15-19). That year represented the first losing season since Dick Bennett’s 1997 squad.
As tough as that season was for those involved, it pales in comparison to some of the other struggles they endured later in their careers.
The 2018-2019 campaign was a vast improvement. Led by leading scorer Ethan Happ, the Badgers wound up as a five-seed in the NCAA Tournament after falling to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament. The tournament was unkind to them, as 12-seed Oregon upset Wisconsin to force an early exit. Trice, Davison and Reuvers all put together strong seasons and the trio looked to be the leaders heading into the 2019 season with Happ off to play professionally.
Then the 2019-2020 off-season hit.
A few months after wrapping up the season, assistant coach Howard Moore and his family were involved in a deadly car crash in Michigan on May 25.
Moore’s wife Jennifer, and his 9-year old daughter Jaidyn died in the crash. Moore was seriously injured as well, and the news sent shock waves across the team and the University of Wisconsin community.
The 2019-2020 team would be bound together through the tragedy, and worked to heal over a very tough off-season. Not only did they rally around one another, but they also worked closely to bond with Moore’s 13-year-old son, Jarell, who was also grieving the loss. Jarell was seen on the bench of every home basketball game, and the team spent a great deal of time with him on and off the court.
On top of the great loss that the team was feeling in terms of Moore and his family, junior wing Kobe King — who was also part of the 2017 class that included Davison and Reuvers — decided to leave the program mid-season after the team started off the season on rocky ground. The choice came seemingly out of nowhere, and that move once again further tightened the remaining groups bond together.
From that point forward last year the 2019-2020 team went on to win the Big Ten regular season title, a feat only done four other times since 1950 at Wisconsin. They were unable to play in the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournaments due to the coronavirus pandemic, but winning a share of the Big Ten title is something that this group will forever have.
In addition to group successes, such as the Big Ten title, the seven seniors also have made a lasting imprint on the record books on the court, and found triumphs off court too.
- D’Mitrik Trice is a three-time Academic All-Big Ten choice, was selected to an All-Big Ten team three years (2019, 2020 and 2021), and also is the only Badger to ever record 1,000 points, 300 rebounds, and 300 assists by his junior season.
- Nate Reuvers is the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots with 179 for his career, and was also selected to the preseason All-Big Ten Team this past year after finishing last season as a third-team selection.
- Brad Davison has multiple game defining shots, such as against Maryland last year, and was one of only 20 players in program history to score 1,000 points by his junior year. As a freshman he was included on the 2018 All-Freshman Team, and he is a 2x Academic All-Big Ten honoree.
- Micah Potter was a 2020 B1G Distinguished Scholar, 2x Academic All-Big Ten honoree, and also got engaged last year. Potter also nearly won the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year award, but he was snubbed.
- Aleem Ford was active off the court as a leading advocate on campus for equal treatment for students of color in Madison, in addition to his strong play on the court.
Far too often fans and media members — myself included — get too wrapped up in the moment and only see the recent struggles this team has had this year in regards to wins and losses. After all, slipping from Big Ten title winners to barely making it into the NCAA Tournament is a rather steep drop. But this group of Badgers is no stranger to adversity, and they should forever be remembered for their ability to overcome heartache, injuries and everything else that has been thrown their way.
Winning a regular season title is rarefied air, and this group should be considered one of the best Wisconsin has had. Not only for their accolades on the court, but for everything they have accomplished as individuals off the court, and the path they have paved for future Badgers to come.
Wisconsin might be coming into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 9 seed, and 1.5 point underdogs to North Carolina on Friday night, but this group has every reason to hold their heads high and enter Mackey Arena confidently.
At this point D’Mitrik Trice, Aleem Ford, Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers, Trevor Anderson, Micah Potter, and Walt McGrory have been through a hell of a lot more than just a basketball game these past five years.
Thanks seniors. We will be rooting for you.