Nobody at the University of Wisconsin recognizes Matt Ferris. At least that’s what he says.
The men’s basketball team junior walk-on says he doesn’t get the kind of attention some of his teammates do, but he’s fine with that.
In fact, Ferris is fine with most things, including going from as he calls it “a top dog in high school, to one of the last guys on the bench.” And calling himself a top dog may be an understatement.
In high school, the Appleton native was a star three-sport athlete. I would know, I played against him. Well, more like I lost to him. In his senior year as the quarterback for Xavier High School, Ferris threw for 3,949 yards and 50 touchdowns — both state records. He was named the AP and Gatorade Wisconsin Football Player of the Year, a title that is immortalized by a banner that now hangs in Xavier’s gym.
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A few months later, he was named conference basketball player of the year and lead his team to a conference championship — all the while, maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
With a record-breaking football season, the Division 2 football offers came in, but basketball was off his radar. That was until current UW men’s basketball head coach Greg Gard went to watch Matt play. Gard emailed Ferris telling him that he was looking to fill walk-on spots for the following year’s Badgers team.
Less than a week later, Ferris found himself on a visit to Madison for a Wisconsin game. Following the game, then head coach Bo Ryan told the Appleton native if he came to UW, there would be a spot for him on the team.
And just like that, Ferris was in the midst of giants — both figuratively and literally — like eventual NBA first-round draft picks Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky and the rest of what Ferris referred to as “the best class of Wisconsin basketball.”
In his first year on the court for the Badgers, Ferris became a part of arguably the greatest season in Wisconsin basketball history.
“It was pretty nuts,” Ferris said. “But then I remember thinking, if this is my first year of college, how much better could it get.”
In his second year, Ferris’ role had to change, as it did for the rest of the team as well. Those giants were gone and the hierarchy on the team was reset with new leaders and new opportunities for guys to step up as role players, and Ferris was now one of the more experienced players on the team. That’s how Ferris found his role.
“During practice times, [I] try to give the scout team all that I can handle, help them in whatever roles, Ferris said. “During games [I] try and encourage the guys and try to bring a little excitement to the fans.”
He also has a leadership role off the court, where he tries to make the younger players as comfortable as possible. He’s embraced that, but it’s not all fun and games.
Ferris and the rest of the team’s days run from 7 a.m. until around 4 p.m. when they end practice, and then there’s still time needed for recovering, extra shooting and of course that little thing called school. And those are just regular days. On game days they have shoot around, team meal, warmups, and then travel if the games are away.
“Game days are an eight-hour day, it’s a full time job,” Ferris said. “At the end of the day you’re exhausted and then have to write a ten page paper for a class and you really gotta dig deep inside yourself.”
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And just like every other student, Ferris said, there are days when he doesn’t want to get up, days where the thought of working out, going to class, going to practice and everything else that goes on behind the scenes doesn’t look too appealing.
Ferris doesn’t see basketball in his future in terms of playing, “unless the Milwaukee Bucks are giving me a look,” Ferris said jokingly. So what gets him out of bed? What makes him push through it? Ferris finds tremendous reward in the bonds he has forged with his teammates as well as the experiences they go through together.
Ferris isn’t guaranteed any playing time, or to win any games. He’s not guaranteed anything except that every morning when he wakes up, his best friends will be there ready for another amazing experience together — and he’s just fine with that.