Only one team in NCAA basketball spends all summer reveling in the brilliance of triumph. Only one team wins a NCAA championship. Everyone else is left with the painful numbness after defeat.
Now, with the season approaching, the UW men’s basketball team prepares for its first shot at redemption after a loss in the NCAA tournament to Maryland, the eventual national champion.
The Badgers tip off against EA Sports in an exhibition game at the Kohl Center Wednesday night.
Head coach Bo Ryan said the team is ready to face an actual opponent rather than practicing against each other every day.
“Our players are definitely ready to block out somebody else than that same familiar number across from them every day,” Ryan said. “The drill work kind of gets a little monotonous at this time. It’s necessary, but they would like to go against some other bodies. I know that they are anxious. It’s that time.”
Senior sharpshooter Kirk Penney agreed but said the practice has been valuable and should lead to a noticeable improvement.
“It will be great to compete against other guys than teammates,” Penney said. “But at the same time we are just continually trying to learn.”
Last season, the Badgers won a share of the Big Ten championship, but with that in the past, Penney said he is ready for another shot.
“We’re very much looking forward to the season and getting out there and playing,” Penney said. “Last year was just an amazing experience. Right now we’re just focusing on putting out the good stuff for the season.”
Sophomore power forward Mike Wilkinson said he is looking forward to getting in front of the home crowd and experiencing all of the sensations that coincide with that type of atmosphere.
“There is nothing like playing in front of a crowd, especially here in Madison,” Wilkinson said. “They are the greatest fans and students you could ask for. [We will] just go out there and have a good time. That’s what it’s all about; that’s what the games are for.”
Ryan said the team has put last season’s conference championship behind it and is aware of what lies ahead.
“It’s all about what you’re doing now, what’s next,” Ryan said. “They know that we’ve got to play now.”
EA Sports is not exactly deluxe basketball competition, but Ryan said it should be a great chance to get into a routine and work on the intangibles that do not come with practice but do come with a game.
“John Wooden used to teach guys how to put their socks on,” Ryan said. “I think that what I like to get with guys is [to] try to make sure that they know where to report in.”
The exhibition season is also giving Ryan a chance to decide who is ready to contribute to the games. Although the team returns a strong nucleus, it has six freshmen.
Ray Nixon, Boo Wade, Alando Tucker, Jason Chappell, John Emerson and redshirt freshman Andreas Helmigk all shape a strong freshman class, and some may make an immediate impact on the court.
Wilkinson said freshmen contributions will be an integral part of the team’s success this season.
“For us to be successful, the freshmen have to step up,” Wilkinson said. “That’s a big key for any team, really. You have to get contributions out of everybody, and the freshmen are a big part of our team. Hopefully they can pick it up.”
Ryan said he has not talked to any freshmen about redshirting yet, and said he is unsure whether he will redshirt anyone.
“Anybody that comes in and plays for us, we’re hoping they’re players,” Ryan said. “They want to be players. Now that they’ve had a chance to bang and go against some of the older guys, that might change.”