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Wisconsin men’s basketball: Connor Essegian making the most of his opportunities, which will only increase

Essegian has enjoyed a strong start to the season, catching the eyes of his teammates and coaches.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Wisconsin Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin Badgers freshman Connor Essegian has flashed significantly early in his career, earning key minutes in his first six games, while shooting 54% from beyond the arc en route to begin second on the team in scoring at 9.7 points per game.

Essegian, a 6’4, 185-pound freshman from Indiana, made the most of his opportunities in the Battle 4 Atlantis, averaging 14 points during the three contests on 50% shooting while bringing his team to life in multiple matchups offensively.

Early in the season, head coach Greg Gard has been impressed by Essegian’s offensive confidence but acknowledged that minutes will go as far as his defensive efforts.

“He’s not one that’s bothered by pressure,” Gard said. “I’ve learned that about him. He’s a really confident kid. I think Connor did exceptionally well, given the opportunity he had. It’s good to see that Connor stepped in right away and was able to help us.”

Essegian understands the defensive importance and works hard in practice on that side with help from assistant coach Dean Oliver.

“Yeah, [coach Oliver helps me on] both ends of the ball. Even today, we were working on ball screen stuff and he was there helping me,” Essegian said. “Hip by hip, he was letting me know how to do it right and correctly. He’s helped me in a lot of different ways.”

Essegian’s efforts on the defensive end have been noted by his teammates, as fellow guard Kamari McGee believes the freshman has made strides as the coaches have pushed him in that area.

“I been seeing a whole lot in [Connor Essegian’s] development. The coaches really wanted to test his defense and his defense has definitely been improving. Everybody knows he can shoot [and] put the ball in the hoop,” McGee said. “But, the coaches wanted to see his defense and his defense’s definitely improving. Everything’s improving. He’s stepping up and getting in a good role.”

Wake Forest v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

But, Essegian’s bread and butter comes on the offensive end, which is where he’s been able to contribute primarily for the Badgers.

While the transition from high school has been a challenge for the freshman, the Indiana product has prided himself on the ability to get through adversity, which spearheads his offensive confidence.

“Going from high school to college is not easy at all. I’m still going through it and I’ll go through it all year. That’s just how it is, going from a big transition like that physically and adjusting to the speed of the game. There are moments where it messes with you a little bit, but I’ve feel like ever since I’ve been playing basketball, I’ve prided myself on being mentally tough and being able to get through adversity.”

One of the primary adjustments Essegian has been forced to make is with his role, as he’s gone from being the star player to a bench role with the Badgers.

Essegian has changed his approach to games, but doesn’t overcomplicate matters, understanding that it’s the same game of basketball he’s played his entire life.

“It’s different, you know, being the main player on a high school team for four years and coming here and coming off the bench right now. There’s definitely a different approach I’ve got to bring to it, but, at the same time, I’m just playing basketball,” Essegian said. “I’m just going in there and on the same court, doing the same thing, and putting the ball in the hole. It’s something where I’m just having fun and doing whatever it takes to win.”

Still, while Essegian has his eyes set on bigger goals, the freshman guard took in his first moments as a Badger in the regular season, especially given his dreams to play in the BIg 10.

“It was amazing. It was incredible. I’ve dreamed of playing in the Big 10 since I decided I want to play basketball. So, to finally be out there, see pictures, and have people text me they were watching me on T.V. was unreal. So, to be able to finally put that uniform officially for the first time and get out there on the court and do what I love, it was a blessing.”

While Essegian hasn’t earned starting minutes yet, he has played important minutes in the second half and has been a part of several Wisconsin offensive runs when they’ve needed a spark.

Given the defensive excellence displayed thus far and the offensive inconsistencies, Essegian’s name will continue to be called upon to provide the necessary spark, especially as his defense improves.