The Shot

The Wisconsin Badgers were set to play the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln Jan. 27, earlier this season.

With tipoff nearing, there was a sense of the historic moment looming, the passing of the torch from one Badger great to the next. Less than a quarter in to play, Brad Davison let one go from behind the arc and as UW fans have become so accustomed to, it sailed in.

The shot marked the 271st career three-pointer for Davison — breaking Bronson Koenig’s record. The Wisconsin legend witnessed it all and was seen with a wide-smile courtside.

This was not the first time the two-star guards have clashed in the record books at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Davison had tied Koenig’s single-game record for threes, knocking down 8 in an outing back in 2020 in the same location.

That night Davison was met with praise from coaches, teammates and Bronson who joined Davison for a post-game celebration at the Madison’s Nitty Gritty. The achievement was a call for celebration not only for Davison’s shooting stroke but for his commitment to the Wisconsin brand of basketball.

Whether it’s diving on the ground for a loose ball or pumping up the crowd at Kohl Center, Davison’s dedication has been on display for years.

The story of Davison as a shooter is a great one, but it makes us forget about his impact in other areas on and off the court. The intangibles of leadership and commitment Davison possesses make him a culture driver at Wisconsin and a key factor in the Badgers’ hot start to the 2021-22 season.

To fully understand the arc of Brad’s “Last Dance,” his time at Madison needs a deep rewind.

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Maple Grove to Madison

The Minnesota product was a dual-sport talent — a quarterback on the gridiron and a point guard on the hardwood. In Davison’s final year at Maple Grove High School, he earned a finalist nod for both Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball and the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year in football. What made his recruitment unique was the pressure put on him to choose between his two passions.

After showcasing his talents in that year’s state tournament, it was reported an opposing coach hinted to Davison, “he’d be one of the great quarterbacks at Minnesota.” The decision to stick with hoops was a simple one for Davison — he just wanted to follow in the footsteps of his older sisters Stephanie and Angie, who had played basketball at Northern Iowa.

He ranked as the twentieth best point guard in the nation, according to 247Sports. Fielding offers from Butler, Stanford, Georgia Tech, Michigan and Minnesota, among others, none compared to Wisconsin. By the end of the recruiting process and Davison was off to Madison.

The departure of four seniors from the 2014-15 National Championship run presented an opportunity for incoming prospects like Davison. Third-year coach Greg Gard was tasked with the challenge of redistributing the load the seniors left into a cohesive offense. A recruiting class including Kobe King, Nate Reuvers, Aleem Ford and Brad Davison offered the solution.

The Ups and Downs

The 2017-18 season marked a breakout year for Davison, earning Big Ten All-Freshman First Team honors while posting 12.1 PPG and 2.5 APG as the second option behind center Ethan Happ.

Davison’s individual success was on display in his 30 point breakout performance against No.2 Michigan State and lent optimism to the future, but was overshadowed by the growing pains of the new roster. For the first time since 2002, Wisconsin went unranked by AP polls all season.

The offensive load was split between Happ and the committee backcourt, which consisted of Davison and sophomore guard D’mitrik Trice. This proved ineffective as the guards combined for under 5 assists per game and the Badger’s relative offensive rating was second-worst in the Big Ten.

The pain of losing motivated the young core to reach a new level during the off-season.

Davison’s selflessness and effort have been showcased throughout his career at UW. A moment that epitomizes this development came during the 2018-19 season in a matchup with NC State. A Wisconsin come-from-behind win (79-75) was defined not by a shot or dunk, but by the 5 charging fouls Davison drew — including the last — which sealed the victory.

The following season, Davison’s junior campaign, would be his first year without star Ethan Happ. The rest of the team rose to the challenge as Wisconsin led one of the most balanced attacks in college basketball.

All starters averaged double-digit points and Wisconsin was tied for first place in the Big Ten with Michigan State and Maryland. On the brink of the Big Ten tournament, the unexpected happened — the COVID-19 pandemic.

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An all-senior starting lineup entered the 2020-21 season seeking a “last dance” in March. But the stagnant offense and weak inside presence set Wisconsin up for a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Big Ten, a far cry from the contender they were pre-COVID-19.

It was enough for a tournament bid though, with UW winning a first round upset against UNC led by Davison’s 29 points and five 3-point shots. The momentum swing between games was enough to scare number one seed Baylor for the first few quarters, but the Badgers were not able to make it out of round 32.

The idea of Wisconsin basketball without Reuvers, Potter and Trice stirred up doubt from both media and fans, with everyone expecting a rebuilding year reminiscent of 2016-17.

Reborn 2021-22 Season

In the aftermath of the national tournament, Davison spent three weeks on the Florida Coast, reflecting on his career and the decision to stay for one more season. Realizing the opportunity he had for one final season, this time with a packed Kohl center, Davison let Gard know it was time for another run.

Entering the 2021-22 season, Davison, now a fifth-year senior, had started in more games than the rest of the roster combined — 124. So far the young core of Johnny Davis, Steven Crowl, Tyler Wahl and Chucky Hepburn have made huge strides — this season’s start has been the Badger’s best since making the NCAA Final in 2015.

This season, Davison has embraced a larger offensive role while still bringing his effort on the defensive side. His off-season work shines though as he developed into a three-level scorer.

Posting a career best 15.1 PPG is due in part to his much improved inside scoring. This has kept opposing defenses honest with Davison, opening up space for his other teammates to attack.

It should be noted Davison’s 2.6 3s per game trails only Koenig’s 2.9 per game in the 2016-17 season.

Legacy

Wisconsin’s new roster has brought a level of excitement that we haven’t seen since the days of Decker and Kaminsky. The foundation of this has been the team-first culture led by Davison and the willingness of his younger teammates to buy in. Many will remember him as the 3-point king, but his hustle, sacrifice and leadership have made Brad Davison a Badgers icon.