When looking for the prototypical player in a Bo Ryan-coached system, you need someone who is willing to put the team above individual statistics, willing to work tirelessly on his defense and, most of all, plays as hard as he can every minute he is on the floor.
When searching for that player, look no further than Ben Brust.
At first glance, Brust doesn’t strike you as a Big Ten basketball player with his wiry 6-foot-1 frame, but it quickly becomes apparent that he fits into Ryan’s system perfectly.
The Hawthorn Woods, Ill. native plays with a tenacity that makes up for whatever he might lack in height, flying around the court and always making his presence felt. He is third on Wisconsin’s roster in rebounds — behind only 7-footer Frank Kaminsky and 6-foot-8 forward Sam Dekker — has played less than 30 minutes in a game only once this season, and though Ryan can ride him for his defense from time to time, there is never doubt about his effort. Oh, and he shoot the lights out of the gym on any given night.
All of the hard work came to fruition for the senior as he became just the 38th player in Wisconsin history to reach the 1,000-point mark. Fittingly enough, Brust broke the 1,000-point ceiling with a timely three-pointer in a win over Indiana Tuesday night.
Obviously, Brust was proud of his accomplishment but, in typical fashion, was quick to credit players past and present for his success.
“I know there have been some great players at this program and I was lucky to have good players when I got here to set an example for me, how to get the job done here,” he said. “I’m happy to get to that and I also have to thank my teammates for helping me get there along the way.”
A majority of those 1,000 points have come from behind the three-point line and often times those long range shots are so far behind the line, he is “shooting from Janesville” as the Wisconsin coaching staff likes to say.
Brust is fifth in the UW record books for three-pointers made in a career with 206 and has a fair chance to break the all-time record of 227 set by Tim Locum, who played at Wisconsin until 1991.
The senior is efficient from long range, almost always making half of his three-point tries, so when the shots aren’t falling it’s easy to notice.
Brust has hit a rough patch lately. In his last 12 games, Brust has made more than two three-pointers in a game only three times and has shot better than 33 percent from deep just twice — his season average from the three-point range is 37.2 percent.
The good thing about having a strong of track record is his coach and teammates will always have confidence in him, no matter how much he is struggling.
“Ben always thinks the next one’s going in,” Ryan said after Wisconsin’s win over Indiana Tuesday. “As long as he keeps playing defense and doing what he does and taking care of the ball, the shot will fall. You can trust me on that one.”
Brust said the basis of that confidence comes from his teammates’ support of him when he is going through a slump.
“Having teammates that come up to you all the time telling you, ‘just keep taking them – we trust you,’ just gives you confidence,” Brust said. “No matter what’s happening, you keep going based off having your teammates’ confidence in you.”
The struggles continued for Brust Tuesday night at home against Indiana. The guard was regularly getting open looks on the perimeter, but just couldn’t get anything to go down. By the end of the first half his stat line looked like this: 0-5 from the field, 0-4 from three, no free throws, no points and one rebound. Not a typical Brust line. But that all changed in the second half.
With his team down one and with just more than 16 minutes left in the game, Brust knocked down a three-point shot and the Kohl Center erupted. On the next Wisconsin possession, he gave it another go. Swish.
Brust would end up nailing three shots from beyond the arc and finish 3-for-5 from three-point range in the second half. That’s the Brust Badger fans are used to.
“I knew it was only a matter of time. I knew it was going to start, so I was like, ‘Can it just start now?’ Looking at 3-for-10, I know I can do better than that. It’s definitely good to get a couple to go down, and I think it kind of ignited this team.”
But, whether the shots are falling for him or not, Brust has earned the trust and confidence of his team by playing four years of basketball the Wisconsin way. And chances are if Wisconsin starts to go on an offensive run, Brust had a hand in it.
“If you look at how a lot of our runs started this year, it starts with a Ben Brust three or one of those little turn-arounds in the paint,” Dekker said. “So, we still see Ben as our best shooter on the team. I think he’s up there as one of the best three-point shooters in the nation. He can spark an offense at any time.”