Micah Potter remembers what it was like to be a rookie on a college campus.
“Being a freshman coming in,” he said, “the lights sometimes can be bright and you’re kind of intimidated by the older guys.”
Potter, who began his career at Ohio State but is now a fifth-year senior with the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program, is doing everything he can to make sure that isn’t the case for his newest teammates.
The Badgers began initial preparations earlier this month for the 2020-21 season, a season that is up in the air because of the COVID-19 pandemic. NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said earlier this week that a decision will be made by mid-September about whether the season will start on time.
Even with that uncertainty hovering over them, the beginning of summer workouts was a welcomed first step for Potter and Aleem Ford, the only other UW veteran on campus.
For UW coach Greg Gard, it was his first chance to begin working with one of the program’s more unique rosters in recent memory.
The Badgers, who return almost their entire rotation from a team that earned a share of the Big Ten title last season, are experienced. The heart of the team is a group of seven seniors that includes Potter, Ford, D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers, Trevor Anderson and Walt McGrory.
But there’s also plenty of youth on the roster. The group of seven incoming freshmen includes five players on scholarship — Lorne Bowman, twins Johnny and Jordan Davis, Ben Carlson and Steven Crowl — along with walk-ons Carter Gilmore and Justin Taphorn.
That accounts for 14 of the 17 players on the roster. The remaining players — Tyler Wahl, Joe Hedstrom and walk-on Carter Higginbottom — are sophomores.
“And that was intentional,” said Gard, who is set to begin his fifth full season as UW’s coach and his 20th season in the program. “Through my whole career, you look back and a really good group of seniors walk out, you usually have a large group of freshmen coming in. You always say, ‘Man I wish this group of freshmen could have spent nine months under the wings of the older guys.’
“I felt was important to help transition them and prepare them. Regardless of how much they play or how much they don’t play, it’s being around those guys every day, the work habits, the culture, the language, the locker room, just how they go about their business every single day. And each is a little different. But the older guys understand what it takes to win a championship. I think that’s invaluable for younger guys to be able to watch.”
During a Zoom call this offseason, Gard stressed to the seniors the important role they’ll play while serving as a bridge between the present and the future of the program.
“He talked to us about how we got the culture back last year of how we want Wisconsin basketball to be,” Potter said. “He said we want to put these freshmen in a situation to continue to improve it going forward. He put the (onus) on us to really work with the freshmen on showing them how things are done, how to do things the right way and in a championship-winning way.”
Gard gave his veterans the option of remaining at home or returning to campus early to join the freshmen for summer workouts. Ford and Potter took the latter option, while the rest of the returning players are planning to return to Madison by the start of the fall semester.
According to a team official, the decisions on whether to return now or later was based on each individual’s situation and how much access the player had to gyms and workout facilities at home.
That makes Ford and Potter a tag-team welcoming committee, if you will. Both players said they embrace the opportunity to be mentors to the freshmen.
“The relationships you build with people off the court is the best way to be a mentor, letting them know that you’re someone they can turn to,” Ford said.
Potter and Ford said it was particularly important to make the freshmen feel comfortable because of the odd situation they found themselves in during their first few days on campus. After players reported, they were tested for COVID-19 and had to quarantine while awaiting their results.
“This is the first time a lot of these guys are away from home and they had to quarantine, so they did nothing but sit in their room the entire time,” Potter said. “It’s a hard situation for a lot of them, so being able to be a guy who can kind of explain things and be there for them is important.
“Whatever I need to do is what I want to do to help get them used to being on campus.”
Ford’s first impression of the freshmen as a whole was positive.
“I think it’s a really good group,” Ford said. “They’ve been working. They ask questions, they want to learn. I can tell that they’re excited to be here. I’m excited to see what they bring.”
When everyone returns to campus, there will be more veteran voices for the freshmen to hear. The payout from that mentorship process could pay dividends for years to come.
“Hopefully, that will wear off on them,” Potter said, “so they can carry that tradition and that work ethic into the future for the freshmen that come in below them.”
Get to know the Wisconsin Badgers' 2020 basketball scholarship recruits
6-2, 180, Guard
Detroit, Mich. (St. Mary’s)
Four-star recruit by ESPN … ranked No. 94 in the ESPN 100 for 2020 … standout at St. Mary’s High School is a two-time Class A All-State honoree in Michigan, earning first team honors in 2019 and honorable mention in 2018 … averaged 23.1 points and 5.1 assists per game during his junior season … averaged 22.5 points and 4.9 assists per game as a sophomore ... in AAU, member of EYBL where he excelled at the Nike circuit, averaging 13.5 points and 3.6 assists through his first six games.
Gard: “We are ecstatic to have Lorne join our Badger family. He’s the ultimate competitor, both on the court and in the classroom, and we can’t wait to begin working with him. It was evident early on that Lorne is exactly what we look for and he’s only continued to improve. Lorne plays at his own pace, always under control, giving his team whatever it needs in the right moments with a skillset that can turn from scoring guard to playmaker in an instant. He has a great ability to get the ball where it needs to be and can also create shots with his tremendous pull-up game. Lorne displays natural leadership, both by his extreme work ethic and also through his communication on and off the court. Lorne and his family are a pleasure to be around and represent everything that being a Badger is about.”
6-9, 205, Forward
Woodbury, Minn. (East Ridge)
Four-star recruit by ESPN, 247Sports and Rivals … ranked No. 88 in the ESPN 100 for 2020 … Carlson currently has 1,299 career points, 745 career rebounds, 109 career blocks, 115 career assists and 83 career steals, making him the top rebounder and shot blocker in East Ridge High School history … as a junior, led East Ridge to the Minnesota Class AA state tournament while averaging a double-double (16 ppg, 11.3 rpg) … two-time all-SEC conference player … an AP scholar with honor, Carlson is a member of National Honors Society with a 4.1 GPA.
Gard: “We are very excited to add Ben to our program. His commitment to academic excellence is extremely impressive, even on a national level. He has challenged himself year in and year out to become as well rounded a student as possible and he’s looking forward to continuing to develop at our prestigious university. On the court, Ben has a tremendously diverse skillset that should ultimately allow him to be effective in the post, off the dribble and from the perimeter as a shooter. His skills, combined with his great athletic ability, has us excited to begin working with Ben to help him reach his goals as a Badger.”
6-9, 210, Center
Eagan, Minn. (Eastview)
Three-star recruit by 247Sports and Rivals … his junior season, led Eastview High School to the Minnesota Class 4A state tournament while averaging 19.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, shooting 39% 3FG from beyond the arc … scored 630 points as a junior and 470 points as a sophomore giving him 1,100 career points entering his senior season … first-team South Suburban All-Conference in 2019 and second-team in 2018 … plays travel basketball for D1 Minnesota, the same program as current Badgers Nate Reuvers and Tyler Wahl.
Gard: “Steven has so many of the characteristics that we look for, both on and off the basketball court. He has excelled at a high level both on the court and in the classroom. From the first time we saw him, Steven has continued to grow and develop as a player. He has a great feel for the game and he will be able to utilize all those skills as he continues to develop. Steven has the ability to score both inside and out, which will add him to a long list of big men who have come through this program over the years. We are excited to add Steven to the Badger basketball family.”
6-4, 185, Guard
La Crosse, Wis. (Central)
Four-star recruit by Rivals … conference player of the year averaged 23 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists per game as a junior for La Crosse Central, earning unanimous first-team all-state selection and first-team all-conference honors … La Crosse Tribune Coulee Region Player of the Year in 2018-19 … as a sophomore, averaged 22.7 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists per game and earned first-team all-conference and first-team all-state honors … along with brother, Jordan, helped lead Central to the WIAA Division 2 state tournament each of their three years on the varsity team, winning the state title in 2017 with current Badger Kobe King … on the football field, Davis is also a standout three-year starter at quarterback, passing for 6,572 yards and 56 touchdowns, while rushing for more than 2,000 yards and scoring another 34 touchdowns on the ground.
Gard: “Johnny is the ultimate competitor. He’s proven that on the basketball court, on the football field and in the classroom. Johnny’s ability to play and guard multiple positions is extremely valuable in today’s game. He brings a tremendous toughness and competitive spirit to both ends of the floor. His experiences as a high school quarterback will serve him well as he makes the transition to a collegiate basketball player. He has grown up watching Wisconsin Basketball and takes pride in wearing our colors. We’re excited to get to work with him and to help him reach his potential as a Badger in the years to come.”
6-4, 185, Guard
La Crosse, Wis. (Central)
Three-star recruit by 247Sports and Rivals … as a junior, averaged 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals per game at La Crosse Central, earning first-team all-conference honors and named the team’s defensive player of the year … his sophomore season, averaged 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals per game, garnering first-team all-conference honors … along with brother, Johnny, helped lead Central to the WIAA Division 2 state tournament each of their three years on the varsity team, including a title in 2017 with current Badger Kobe King … on the football field, Davis is also an impressive wide receiver for the Red Raiders, posting 358 receiving yards with 5 TDs through three games before suffering a season-ending injury … hauled in 49 receptions for 873 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior.
Gard: “We are thrilled to welcome Jordan to our program. His commitment and work ethic on the basketball court and in the classroom is exactly what we look for in a Wisconsin student-athlete. Jordan brings a certain level of toughness to the basketball court that has been developed on the football field as a star receiver. He comes from a winning culture at La Crosse Central and knows what it takes to compete for championships. He has known Badger Basketball his entire life and his commitment shows how much pride he has in representing Wisconsin.”