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Badgers men's basketball seniors eager to enrich their legacy in dwindling time together

Badgers men's basketball seniors eager to enrich their legacy in dwindling time together

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Senior rings 2-26

UW coach Greg Gard poses with seniors, from left, Micah Potter, D'Mitrik Trice, Aleem Ford, Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers and Trevor Anderson after the group received their 2019-20 Big Ten championship rings.

It’s not easy to encapsulate a group’s legacy, but Brad Davison took a crack at it earlier this week.

Davison is one of seven seniors on the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team who will be honored Saturday afternoon when the No. 23 Badgers (16-8, 10-7 Big Ten) host No. 5 Illinois (17-6, 13-4) at the Kohl Center.

This Senior Day will be unlike any other for a variety of reasons, starting with the fact it will take place in a mostly empty arena due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

UW senior guard Brad Davison previews the Badgers' home finale against Illinois

There’s also the question hovering over the event of whether this actually is the end at UW for all of the seniors. The NCAA isn’t counting this season against players’ eligibility, meaning any of them could return for one more season. None of the seven have said publicly what they’ve decided, though it appears most, if not all, are ready to move on from the program.

Even the construction of this class makes it rare. D’Mitrik Trice and Aleem Ford are fifth-year seniors who arrived in 2016 as the first recruits of the Greg Gard era. Brad Davison and Nate Reuvers were in the next recruiting class and joined by walk-ons Trevor Anderson, who transferred from UW-Green Bay, and Walt McGrory. The final member, Micah Potter, arrived in December 2018 after transferring from Ohio State.

Other than Trice, who was a reserve in 2016-17 when the Badgers made it to the Sweet 16, none of the seniors has played in an NCAA tournament victory while at UW.

For Davison, there was this timeline to consider when asked the question about a legacy: UW missed the NCAA tournament in 2018 for the first time in 20 years. It bounced back the next season and earned a top-four finish in the Big Ten but lost to Oregon by double digits in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. It navigated a turbulent 2019-20 season filled with tragedy and adversity and made a remarkable run to a share of the Big Ten title. But the Badgers have underachieved to date this season after starting the campaign ranked No. 7 in the nation.

“Man, it’s been an amazing four years, but there have also been a lot of ups and downs and hills and valleys,” Davison said. “We’ve been through a lot on the court and off the court.”

‘A lot thrown at them’

Shooting slumps and occasional defensive lapses have been the biggest factors in the Badgers’ decline this season, not to mention the fact the Big Ten is both deeper and better at the top than it was in 2019-20.

But does UW’s inability to meet expectations — including its own — go beyond that?

There have been questions from the outside about how connected this UW team has been this season. It’s hard to judge chemistry from afar, but something has seemed off about the Badgers for much of the season.

UW senior point guard D'Mitrik Trice previews the Badgers' home finale against Illinois.

Multiple players have downplayed the issue of a team meeting that was held last week following a loss to Iowa, the second consecutive defeat at home for the Badgers. Davison and others have said it was just to make sure everybody was on the same page.

Trice has been part of successful basketball and football teams in high school and the aforementioned UW team that knocked off Villanova, the top overall seed, in the 2017 NCAA tournament. He said this team is “one of the most together groups that I’ve been a part of” and is connected on and off the court.

“I think this group truly and genuinely loves each other and we want the best for each other,” Trice said. “I just think that this is an amazing group, a courageous group.”

The bond became tighter last season, when the Badgers had to deal with both tragedy and turmoil.

What made UW’s Big Ten championship run remarkable was the adversity it faced along the way, starting with an offseason car accident that killed two members of Howard Moore’s family and left the assistant coach on long-term medical leave.

UW was hovering around the .500 mark in Big Ten play when Kobe King, the team’s second-leading scorer and a member of the same recruiting class that included Davison and Reuvers, abruptly left the program in late January. Strength and conditioning coach Erik Helland was forced to resign the following week after acknowledging he used a racial epithet in front of a group of players in early January.

Despite that, the Badgers finally got on a roll and won their final eight games to share the regular-season title with Maryland and Michigan State. They were ready to leap into the postseason when the rug got pulled out from under them: The Big Ten and NCAA tournaments were canceled due to the pandemic.

“Obviously,” Gard said, “they’ve had a lot thrown at them.”

Gard said he had one simple request of these seniors from the beginning: Leave your jersey in a better place.

Through ups and downs, he believes they’ve done that.

“They will leave this place in a very good place from a standpoint of culture and work ethic and the things that this program stands for and has stood for through the years,” Gard said.

UW coach Greg Gard talks about his seniors and previews the Badgers' home finale against Illinois.

The pandemic has created a strange final season for the seniors. There’s the daily COVID-19 testing and limited interactions with family and friends, not to mention playing in the eerily quiet venues that used to be packed with fans.

“I would say the biggest thing that I’ve learned about myself is to make sure I always keep things in perspective and to lead with a heart of gratitude and just realize that wearing this jersey and being in this program is a privilege and an honor and everything else on the outside is just a bonus,” Davison said.

Final chapter

Trice believes what the Badgers went through last season made them stronger, and he’s hoping this team can show the same resiliency during the stretch run this season.

“We want to go down as winners,” he said, “and to finish out this year strong will definitely be the icing on the cake of that and just show the testament of what we’ve been through.”

Reuvers agreed and said the Badgers will be remembered for what they do in March.

UW’s final stretch of the regular season begins with a rematch with the Fighting Illini, who got 21 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists from junior guard Ayo Dosunmu in a 75-60 victory over the visiting Badgers three weeks ago. Dosunmu’s status for the game Saturday is unknown after he sustained a broken nose in a loss at Illinois earlier this week.

The Badgers close the regular season next week with games at Purdue and Iowa. An indefinite stay in Indiana, which will host the Big Ten tournament and entire NCAA tournament, will cap a bizarre campaign.

“We definitely want to finish strong and make a run because nobody’s really going to remember where you finished in the Big Ten,” Reuvers said. “They’re going to remember if you make a Sweet 16 or Final Four run. They’re not going to remember the losses earlier in the year. I think that’s something our team is focused on down the stretch.”

That’s the thing about legacies. There’s still time for the seniors to add to their story until that final buzzer sounds.

“The best thing about still being in the middle of our season is hopefully our best moments and our best memories are still in front of us,” Davison said. “So we’re still focused on that.”


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