I had no clue what was ahead when the buzzer hit zero and a team I covered suddenly had won the whole damn thing.
The year was 2020, and suddenly the Wisconsin Badgers — who were 5-5 after the first semester and had a rough January where Kobe King transferred out of the program — rattled off an eight-game win streak to somehow become Big Ten champions in 2019-20. The team seemed to have a huge dollop of momentum as the tournament approached, and little Bremen — a senior in college — began wondering where he might go for an NCAA Tournament appearance for spring break.
I personally was hoping the Badgers would start their tournament in Greensboro, N.C. which not only was just a four-ish hour drive from my home in Atlanta, not terrible in the grand scheme of things plus I could use my mom’s Hilton honors points for a stay. But it was also a middle ground for friends from the summer camp that I worked at near Charlotte, and I could hope to visit pals while covering a once in a lifetime opportunity to be credentialed for an NCAA Tournament game as a member of the student press.
The one note I remember saying to my parents was, “I hope the Badgers aren’t in Spokane because there is that weird COVID thing going on the West Coast, and that might be hard to handle.”
Fast forward to the week of the Big Ten Tournament. The Daily Cardinal — like the rest of the world — learns on March 11, 2020 that the NBA got shut down because of a positive test and renowned actor Tom Hanks got the “Coronavirus” — whatever that was. Rumors at UW-Madison are wild about what might happen.
It’s a Wednesday, a print night, where the editors send off their pages to the printer to publish. I write a story a day before that about a third case being found in Dane County. That night, or the next day, the university announces a cancellation of classes. Suddenly, my parents ask if I want to go to Hawaii for spring break. I’m not an idiot, so I say yeah and blissfully fly to paradise — a day or two after the University cancels classes.
Suddenly, the Big East tournament is cancelled. Eerie scenes. Then every basketball tournament. Then…well, everything. My mom — who wasn’t with us because of her important role at the university she worked at and couldn’t join us in her favorite place in the world because of a mandate from the state — suddenly calls us and puts the rest of my family on a flight out of Hawaii because she heard rumors the whole West Coast will close down.
I’m suddenly a senior in college at UW-Madison, about to spend the rest of my time in college from my basement in Atlanta, Georgia with a new reality that I have to live with.
I didn’t expect a ton from that 2019-20 UW team to be honest.
I thought that the group of Trice, Davison, Ford and Reuvers had a good veteran presence, but just wasn’t explosive enough. And though Potter — who, as I wrote, was jobbed by the NCAA — could be a good bonus to the team, I still did not expect much. It seemed like a tournament team and…that’s about it.
Suddenly, the team got momentum out of nowhere and I was able to feast on some decently loud Kohl Center crowds before I watched the clincher from Indiana in my apartment in Madison.
Weeks later, I had to watch replays of the 2015 Final Four team from my parents’ living room in Atlanta because the world around me was canceled. Funny enough, I still yelled about the refs enough for my dad to come out of the bedroom while my parents were trying to sleep to chastise me for my loudness.
While this moment sounds fun from a minor descriptor, I had no fun. I struggled to find a meaning in remote classes with my friends and instructors 800 miles away and soon suffered from panic attacks and a deep, deep depression. Suddenly, my world was shattered by COVID-19, and all I could do was curl up in my bed and maybe get up to drink coffee and watch New Girl. That was about all my brain allowed.
I eventually got the help I needed, some antidepressants after scoring (sadly) highly on a depression test and wound up finding enough juice from God knows what to do well enough to pass my classes and graduate from my basement on May 9, 2020. It didn’t feel like much, but I did enough, and somehow worked at a summer camp — which I’d talk ad nauseum about if people cared and were more familiar with the Charlotte area on this website — without any
COVID-19 cases during a stressful summer thanks to a strict mask policy despite a really hard time to do it.
I wound up back in Madison drifting with a nannying job and not much else until I started writing for B5Q about the volleyball team. Lo and behold, I clearly found a good beat, but not much confidence and soon the crippling depression and many moments where all I could do was curl up in a fetal position came back as the calendar ticked towards 2021. Even as I rooted for the Badgers, I found myself disappointed. It was a tough time for everyone, punctuated by *gestures at Alando Tucker* everything in the men’s hoops program and I was unable to find happiness in the performances.
2021 changed for me right around February 13 — my birthday — when I was at my lowest.
Although the Badgers lost despite my dad’s presence in a freezing cold Madison — he was there to check on me to make sure I didn’t do anything stupid — I soon got lucky. I found a girl I ended up loving and a job soon afterwards. Sure, I worked at nights, which I thought might not be a big deal at first — lol — but it was something. My life was going somewhere.
And it was fine until the fall, when things shattered again. I wasn’t happy and nothing — not even someone I loved, who got her dream job away from Madison — totally changed that. Many things ended up changing in a tumultuous time that was mostly my own fault, but as my family visited for my May 2020 graduation hosted in September 2021, I realized I was deep in a funk. And found hope in changing myself despite not knowing where I’d go.
I applied for work everywhere and soon found a job in Oshkosh. I had high hopes but soon found a lot of struggle — namely, I was by myself.
It luckily coincided with the football team’s rise again but I was dreading having only Badgers basketball — projected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten standings — to root for come a cold, awful winter.
After waxing poetic about the person I fell in love with, this section will feel rude (sorry).
I fell in love with Chucky Hepburn from almost his first game.
I am a new-ish Wisconsin fan — my parents both went to Stanford and, before going away to college, I grew up a Michigan fan because of my Aunt and Uncle — but I quickly found him incapable to look away from.
With his Weston McKennie-esque hair dye and tenacity on defense at first then offense at second, it became clear why this freshman was starting.
It was all the effort in the world. Something I started to realize I lacked as the parameters of my job seemed to change and I wished I had more effort to give but my fully depressed self seemed incapable of doing.
After a disappointing season for the men’s basketball team in 2020-21 — and that’s putting it mildly — nothing was expected this year. I was hoping I’d like some of the players helping in the UW rebuild.
And, well, they said “fuck you Bremen and the rest of UW media, we aren’t rebuilding.”
Hepburn said that right out of the gates, but so did Johnny Davis.
Davis, who turned from a good sixth man to legit super star and actual NBA player on a college court, yelled and cursed and waved goodbye to other teams he vanquished on the way to likely All-American honors.
Tyler Wahl did that silently with a deft pivot in the paint as he drained another little 40-year-old-YMCA move to suddenly have a 16/9/3 blocks/2 assists stat line. A player who I kindly felt had “lost puppy eyes” when he was a freshman made me look like an ass as he became more and more aggressive and better everywhere as a junior. And he’ll lead the team again next year, as Wisconsin somehow defends a title run.
Brad Davison, the most maligned player from opposing fans but someone I can never hate because we nodded at each other at Wando’s after UW beat Indiana in 2020, was like a coach on the court.
The actual coach, Greg Gard, was someone I thought just gave good quotes and was reasonably good at coaching basketball. Like most of this Badgers team, I underestimated him as he has proven time and time again to be the perfect coach with his out of bounds plays, timeout calls, rotation stuff, transfer calls — Chris Vogt has constantly given good minutes while Jahcobi Neath is starting to look like what you’d want from a guard off the bench. Gard is now a likely coach of the year candidate in the country, but for sure the Big Ten.
And I had it all wrong.
I was depressed come Nov. 2021.
It was there before for sure. I got lucky that I had my camp to fall back on in the summer of 2020, which helped buoy me a bit during severe unemployment. I had it bad again in February 2021 right before my birthday and before actual love brought me back to where I should be.
It wasn’t all perfect, clearly. And moving to a new town, while not having a ton of help from those around me at the paper, did not help me find my footing mentally. Really, the only thing keeping me going was the national champion volleyball team — in case y’all forgot, they won the damn championship.
But soon after that, I fell back into a deep depression. It is obviously something I am working on, and I’m in therapy and getting medical advice for those worried about me, but that didn’t mean I didn’t throw on my overalls and root for the Badgers when it was game time.
I felt a kinship to this men’s basketball team in the way you expect for a team that plays for your alma mater. But there was also something more.
I felt a kinship — I now realize — because they were doubted. The way that I doubted this team, I doubted myself too. I thought I didn’t work in this new job. I thought I would never be happy in a town where I knew no one and just knew Oshkosh from the fact that Oshkosh B’Gosh was something my parents dressed me in when I was a toddler probably.
I had given up on myself many times when things didn’t click.
You know who didn’t?
Yeah, it’s beyond Wisconsin cheesy to say, but legit, they never did. I wanted to embody that courage. It’s why I have never-ending tweets about wanting to burn things for Chucky Hepburn — a freshman showing more poise than I could ever. The fact he hit the conference title winning shot on Tuesday night, unexpectedly, off the glass fit perfectly.
This is a team that said “fuck you” to every poor projection the media and fans made in the preseason. This was a team that suffered through key players missing from COVID, a fan base that was wary and exhausted after a tough year and turbulent offseason — which as someone who lived through it at a similar age, totally get — and a lot of naysayers about talent and grit.
But guess what. I’ve learned through this team as well as watching them.
The games are close because who cares? They will find the way to win.
The players who score the most, save Johnny Davis — a literal demigod we have the luxury of witnessing wear our favorite colors (red is for sure my favorite color) — change every damn night but don’t seem to care about who is the points leader. They just win.
If I’ve learned anything from this team — and the two years I’ve spent deeply caring and following through *shrugs at the world* everything — it’s that it doesn’t matter. Just do your thing.
And because of that, they are the freaking Big Ten champions in 2022.
And because of that, I am reminded that I am worth what I should be worth, and not what the depression monster in my head yells at me about.
And somehow, I will be seeing these champions in Milwaukee come that second weekend in March. And I will tell 2020 Bremen that there will be a March Madness in your future, but you must remember that you deserve to see it.
Because as any Wisconsin fan should be well aware, this team is special. And we deserve special after these years of heartache.