Freshman guard Chucky Hepburn spent a lot of minutes working with junior forward Tyler Wahl and sophomore guard Jonathan Davis during the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team’s practice Monday.
UW hosted its local media day earlier in the day, and all 17 players, three assistant coaches and coach Greg Gard were available for questions. Media members were invited to stick around and watch the team’s ninth preseason practice.
Gard opened his news conference by touching on all the unknowns about his team, which includes eight new players. One thing is known for Gard — he’s excited to go to practice every day.
“It’s a group that attacks every day and has gotten better, I think, through the eight days,” Gard said. “We obviously know it’s a work in progress. And every day is a new day. They’re learning, constantly, something new. But it’s been a fun group to work with.”
Here are three observations from practice:
Finding their footing
It’s evident that it’s a young team whether looking at the roster or watching practice. There are only two returning starters in senior guard Brad Davison and Wahl to go along with five returning sophomores and one redshirt junior. The other eight are new faces, and five of those are freshmen.
Gard said a lot of practice time has been spent learning UW terminology and drills. He stopped a drill in the middle in order to explain how to do it properly on three occasions Monday. He noticed multiple players performing the drill wrong — typically freshmen — and would reteach it before restarting.
Members of the freshman class and even some of the sophomores had issues with footwork as well. The team conducted a drill in which two players were going against each other up and down the court. At the midway point, the defending player was supposed to set his feet to draw a charge.
Davison, Wahl and Davis had no difficulty, but freshman forwards Matthew Mors and Markus Ilver had problems getting their feet set before the opponent charged at them.
Hepburn also had some miscues with his footing during a fast paced three-on-three drill that led to him losing the ball.
Hepburn gets big opportunities
Gard hasn’t set a starting five. Practice is still in its early stages, but pairings in practice could indicate good things for Hepburn. In drills that had partners, Hepburn often was paired with team leaders. Davison and Hepburn were partners during warmups, and in drills when the team was practicing plays Hepburn was often paired with Wahl or Davis.
A three-on-three portion that featured Hepburn, Davis and Wahl as a team offered a glimpse at what they can accomplish together.
Hepburn was effective at getting himself into position and finding Wahl or Davis to score. Davis also found Hepburn underneath the basket, where he spun away from senior center Chris Vogt to get the basket. Defensively, Hepburn was loud and able to predict where his opponent was going.
Yes, it was only a three-on-three pressure situation, but Hepburn was impressive on both sides of the ball.
It’s already been established that Wahl is going to be a leader this season, which was only made clearer by his presence at practice. Whether shooting, defending or helping one of his younger teammates, Wahl had a sense of confidence around him.
He was loud defensively and got in his teammates’ faces. There were a number of times Wahl either pulled aside someone to instruct them or a teammate asked him a question.
He pulled aside Mors right before the whistle blew during the three-on-three drill. Mors was playing offense to Wahl’s defense, but Wahl showed Mors the proper body positioning on a play.
“He’s just a calming presence,” Mors said. “He’s been so great in helping me get adjusted to how we play here.”
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