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Another championship? Senior-laden UW men's basketball team thinks that has a nice ring to it

Another championship? Senior-laden UW men's basketball team thinks that has a nice ring to it


While handing out Big Ten championship rings to his returning players earlier this week, University of Wisconsin men’s basketball coach Greg Gard also delivered a reminder.

“There’s more out there for you to get,” he said.

The Badgers officially started practice for the 2020-21 season on Wednesday afternoon and, by all accounts, it’s a group that appears hungry to pick up where it left off in March.

Senior point guard Trevor Anderson offered a glimpse of where the team’s mindset is at when he posted a picture on his Twitter account of the Badgers posing with the Big Ten trophy in the locker room at Indiana on March 7.

That turned out to be UW’s final game of the season and that backdrop helps explain the hashtag Anderson chose to include with the photo: #unfinished.

But …

“We aren’t going to teleport back to March 7 and become that team right away,” Gard said. “We have to basically wipe the slate clean and start over.”

In his next breath, Gard all but admitted that it won’t require some elaborate sales pitch to convince his oldest players they have to move on from the past.

The team’s core features six seniors, a group that includes Anderson, D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter and Aleem Ford. Toss in sophomore forward Tyler Wahl, and UW returns seven of its top eight players from a team that won its final eight games to finish 21-10 overall and in a three-way tie for first in the Big Ten at 14-6.

“We know we’ve got to start this season like it’s a fresh one, like it’s a new one,” Trice said. “We can’t look back at the past and say we’re just going to pick up how we were at the end of last season. We have to have the same mindset that we had at the end of the season last year. So, just coming in with the same mindset, but knowing that nothing’s guaranteed, nothing should be taken for granted and we’ve got to come out and be hungry from the start and I think (Wednesday’s first practice) was a testament to that.”

The only significant departure from last season is wing Brevin Pritzl, and the De Pere native won’t be easy to replace because he provided, among other things, shooting and a high basketball IQ. The coaching staff often referred to him as the team’s glue guy.

But expectations are enormous inside and outside the program because of what is back: UW returns 79.7% of its scoring, 83.6% of its rebounding, 86.1% of its assists and 77.5% of its minutes from last season and welcomes a 2020 recruiting class that already has made an impression on the older players.

The Badgers will enter the season as one of the favorites to win a conference that once again should be loaded. UW hasn’t won back-to-back Big Ten titles since 2001-02 and 2002-03, Bo Ryan’s first two seasons.

“I think this group is mature enough to know we move on and you take the experiences — good, bad and everything in between — and you apply those to how you build this year’s team and the journey starts over,” Gard said. “Do we have a lot of experience? Yes. Have we gained a lot from last year? Do we have a lot of confidence and a swagger about us and believe that we can be really good? Yes. But you still have to go produce every day.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic ended the 2019-20 season prematurely, it stopped the red-hot Badgers in their tracks just as the postseason was set to begin. At the time, Gard tried to get them to focus less on the missed opportunity and more on how they couldn’t have written a better script by ending an emotional season with a sensational stretch run.

While that sounded nice, it didn’t ease their pain.

“I don’t think I’ll ever necessarily be over it,” Davison said, “because it’s one of those things that you never really get closure on.”

In March, ESPN released the results of a simulated NCAA tournament that had UW winning it all as a No. 4 seed. While fans rejoiced, Davison said the computer model only made him feel worse.

“I woke up and I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Davison said. “So that kind of flipped my mindset to, ‘All right, I’m done thinking about last year,’ because we want to make that a reality and the only way we can do that is by flipping the switch to maximizing what’s in front of us and not necessarily dwelling on the moments that we’ve missed in the past.

“We’re locked in, (with a) tunnel vision on what’s coming in front of us to hopefully achieve some of those goals that we didn’t have the chance to achieve last year, and having everyone back just adds more fuel to the fire.”

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