Three minutes. That’s essentially what about 50 guys went through hell and back for last Wednesday night when they flooded the Nicholas Johnson Pavilion to try out for a walk-on spot on the Wisconsin Badgers Men’s Basketball Team. I was one of them.
The three minutes I’m referring to is how much playing time Jackson Bax, who made the team back in 2015, got in total between games against Sienna, Rutgers and Michigan.
But I couldn’t resist. I needed to see if I have what it takes to be an NCAA Division I athlete. And now at least I can confirm what my friends told me all week: I do not.
As the day drew closer, my expectations grew larger. You know that feeling when you know something’s not going to happen to you, but you fantasize as if it will anyways? That was me thinking about getting one of those grey Under Armour backpacks, getting access to the training facilities and maybe — just maybe — clocking in a few minutes against a Big Ten rival.
When Sept. 25 finally arrived, it was hard to think about anything other than the tryout. I even skipped my Astronomy 104 lecture, literally for no reason at all, because I couldn’t get my mind off it. Sorry, Professor Marche.
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Walking into the Nicholas Johnson Pavilion — the Badgers practice arena — the first thing I saw was massive posters of every active player on the back wall. I’m sure the thought I had was the same as everyone else: “Make room for me.”
The same thoughts raced through my mind as the assistant coaches, players and then the man everyone was there to impress, Head Coach Greg Gard, came onto the court.
Some were throwing down tomahawk dunks, some were trying to discreetly only dribble with their right hand. But it was clear from the start, everyone was there to work hard and — even if they didn’t make the team — experience something not a lot of people get to at a big school like University of Wisconsin.
Lefty Pendarakis, a freshman here at UW, was one of many there to show off his talents.
“I played basketball all four years in high school, and play pretty often here at the Shell, so I figured I’d at least show up and try,” Pendarakis said.
When I asked him about his favorite Badgers, he named off Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, citing his attendance at one of the Final Four games back in 2015 as a reason why.
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Moments like those, even as the last man off the bench, is what everyone was fighting to be a part of. And any of the 50-something guys there would have ran through a brick wall if it meant they got picked.
That intensity came to a head the moment drills started, which included a 3-man weave, dribble pull-ups, coming off screens and some other basic workouts. It was clear that not many people had done a full-speed basketball workout in years, not to mention at the speed these coaches were used to seeing.
We were all struggling to catch our breath, and that’s right when Assistant Coach Alando Tucker, who also has the record for most points ever scored by a Badger, got five-on-fives going.
After we got broken up into teams, we started “king of the court.” If you don’t know what that means, it’s a system where if you win on Court 3, you move up to Court 2. If you win there, you move to the “King’s Court,” where you play the team that just won, and therefore got to stay. If you lose on the King’s Court, you go all the way back to Court 3.
The King’s Court is where all the coaches are, watching the best of the best battle it out for a roster spot. Humblebrag here — our team did win a game on the King’s Court, only to be bounced in the next one.
King of the court went on for a good 45 minutes, until Coach Tucker — who was essentially in charge of the tryout along with assistant Dean Oliver — listed off ten guys they wanted to get a better look at in one final game.
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To my shock and delight, Tucker said my name.
While the actual final ten battled it out for the walk-on spot, I asked Tucker about what they’re looking for, and what that person can expect as a member of the team.
“We’re looking for somebody that actually has a little experience playing, and can step in day one and challenge the guys on this team,” Tucker said. “They need to embody the Wisconsin idea by being a great student and a leader in the community. It’s a commitment. You have to balance it with school. Whoever’s chosen is going to have to sacrifice nights out with friends. It’s about dedication.”
Tucker didn’t tell me who the newest member of the Wisconsin Badgers was going to be, so maybe there’s still a chance for me. If I am picked, it’ll be a sad day for Aleem Ford, because I want No. 2.