The Wisconsin Badgers suffered a hit to their depth when starting guard Chucky Hepburn departed the team’s 87-79 loss to the Michigan Wolverines in the second half with a lower-body injury, which has placed his status for Thursday night’s game against the Purdue Boilermakers in question.
Hepburn didn’t practice Tuesday, but Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the guard was at practice Wednesday, making him a likely game-time decision in Wisconsin’s toughest matchup of the year.
If Hepburn is unable to go, backup point guard Kamari McGee, who relieved the starter following his injury against Michigan, would likely step into the starting lineup for the first time as a Badger, and play extensive minutes.
What’s McGee’s mindset heading into a high-pressure situation that deals with significant uncertainty?
“Yeah, I feel like I’m definitely ready. I feel like, for the whole season, I’ve been that “stay ready so you don’t got to get ready” kind of guy,” McGee said. “So whatever coach [Gard] needs, whatever the team needs, I’ll fill that role if it’s needed. We hope everything’s okay. Now, I’ve going to make sure that I’m ready.”
When replacing Hepburn in the lineup on Sunday, McGee acknowledged his role, looking to run the offense as smoothly as possible, but more importantly: maintain the spark that he provides for a longer period of time.
“[My mindset replacing Hepburn was] just to make sure I keep the same energy, keep the game flowing, not let us go down just because we lost the starting point guard. Make sure that I brought the boost off the bench and I kept it,” McGee said.
The backup guard admitted at times that the spark would go down, as is the case with bench players, but sought to change that on Sunday with extended minutes, which could be the case against Purdue as well.
“Normally, I bring a boost off the bench and it may go back down again, but just make sure that I kept the boost up. Don’t let it drop. And make sure we all stay leveled. Even though we were missing one of our brothers, we had to stay locked in and finish the job.”
If McGee earns the start, is he going to increase his role or responsibility, understanding Wisconsin’s depth issues? Nope. The backup point guard intends to continue filling his role, while playing with the swagger that has aided him all season long.
“[I’ll be in the] same role. I’m not going to change anything that I do. I’m not going to try to be Chucky. I’m not going to play hero ball. I’m just going to come in and do what I got to do as a point guard of the team,” McGee said. “[I need to] make sure we get up good shots, good looks, make sure we can get stops, make sure we are together. That’s what I got to do.”
However, unlike other backups, McGee isn’t entering unfamiliar territory, having 21 starts under his belt at UW-Green Bay last season as a freshman, which he believes will definitely aid him as he enters Thursday’s game.
“Definitely. [The starting experience] is definitely a help. I’m not a freshman, so I played college basketball, so it’s nothing different,” McGee chuckled. “I know it’s a different level, but I feel like I’ve played enough games, and I’ve had my games this year where I’ve played big minutes. I feel like I’m more than ready.”
Regardless of his role, McGee plans to continue bringing the energy that has increased his fandom in Madison, looking to provide a spark in that way.
“I’ve always been an energy guy. Whatever team I was on, I’ve always been that guy that brings a spark. Whether I’m starting or coming off the bench, I’ve always been that guy,” McGee said. “Just bringing energy, I feel like it’s fun. People kind of forget like it’s a sport, you’re supposed to have fun. I like to bring that energy so guys are [loosened] up and relax a bit, so we can actually play the game of basketball and have fun.”
The Badgers point guard will have a tough task ahead of him on Thursday, as he could be matched up against either Fletcher Loyer or Braden Smith defensively, but McGee is ready for the task in Wisconsin’s biggest game of the season.