The Wisconsin Badgers are getting back to work ahead of the 2023 season, having completed their seventh practice of the fall on Wednesday as they get ready for the season opener against UW-Stevens Point in an exhibition match on November 1st.
After a disappointing 2022 campaign that involved missing the NCAA Tournament for just the second time since 1998, the Badgers revamped their roster with the additions of transfer wing A.J. Storr and freshmen John Blackwell, Nolan Winter, and Gus Yalden.
However, a majority of the focus is on the returners, as the Badgers are retaining nearly their entire rotation from a season ago, including their starting five as they look to grow from last year’s woes.
As one returner decided to slim down 15 pounds over the offseason in Chucky Hepburn, another looked to become stronger, which led to a 12-pound weight increase ahead of the 2023 season: guard Connor Essegian.
As a true freshman, Essegian found his way into the starting lineup, scoring 11.7 points per game while shooting 35.9% from three.
Now, Essegian expects even more from himself all-around, and feels more mature heading into Year 2.
“Yeah, I mean, from last year, even just now, just the last game to even the end of the summer, not even up to this point, was huge,” Essegian said.
“I feel like guys from top to bottom matured a lot. I feel like I’ve matured a lot. You can just see kind of the guys, how they move, how they think, and even the freshmen, as soon as they got here to now, their maturity and their kind of way they look at the game and play the game has been a huge change.”
A part of that maturing process? Getting himself a trainer and starting to put extra work into the weight room, which led to the significant change in weight this offseason, as well as marked improvements to his game.
“This summer was kind of the first summer I really had, like, my own trainer, kind of someone working with me every day,” Essegian said.
“That kind of helped me with my ball handling, being able to create on my own different things like that kind of win the ball offensively and then my body. I’ve gained twelve pounds from last year, so that’ll be huge for me going into this college physicality, kind of getting a year under my belt and kind of knowing it’ll kind of help me I’ll be able to round my game a little bit.”
Head coach Greg Gard was impressed by both him and fellow guard Chucky Hepburn for their offseason improvements, pointing out how each player understood their weakness and sought to find a solution on their own.
“But the fact that they realize it,” Gard said in reference to the offseason work. “I think is always a good sign that the coaches don’t have to be the first ones to point it out and offer advice.”
Essegian confirmed that he’s weighing in at 197 pounds, with a goal of 200 pounds for the season.
Reflecting back on last season, the guard understood the disappointment, as the Badgers failed to meet expectations, but also pointed out the silver lining and the opportunity that came with playing pressure-free at the end of the season.
“NIT wasn’t somewhere we wanted to be at all,” Essegian acknowledged. “That’s not Wisconsin’s standard. We know where we should be in the staff tournament every year, and so to kind of be in that tournament, it kind of gave us motivation to make sure we don’t get back to that point.”
“But it was something also where it gave us another opportunity to be able to play basketball together, let alone kind of use as a learning block, get a couple more games, and kind of get momentum going for the next season.”
As for personal growth, Essegian pointed to his efficiency as the main area for improvement after shooting 40% from the field and 36% from deep.
“I’d really like just to be able to shoot better from the field, kind of up my percentages a little bit, just be more efficient.”
The Badgers guard had strong stretches of play, but also cold shooting nights that dipped his percentages and limited his minutes, given his issues defensively.
However, going into Year 2, Essegian understands the demands of Big Ten basketball both physically and mentally, which has increased his already-high confidence ahead of the upcoming season.
“Having a year last year to kind of put under my belt and see that I can compete at this level kind of helped me a little bit mentally just to know that I can do it. And so just to be out here and kind of knowing the work that I put in this offseason, it kind of helps a lot just to be able to know I’ve done the work that I did. And so now it’s kind of showing.”
The Badgers guard is looking good ahead of the 2023 season, and could be improved in all facets of his game, with the added weight aiding him in matching up better defensively against bigger opponents.
With a number of familiar faces around him, Essegian could be ready for a Year 2 leap, which the Badgers would surely welcome as they try and re-cement their status as an NCAA Tournament regular.