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There's more to Nate Reuvers than just Badgers basketball
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There's more to Nate Reuvers than just Badgers basketball

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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Joe Krabbenhoft isn’t ducking a tough subject. The assistant coach for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team acknowledges the struggles because he knows they’re part of the Nate Reuvers story and can’t be ignored.

But that topic will have to wait because, as far as Krabbenhoft is concerned, there are more important things to discuss first. Reuvers’ senior slump is a bullet point, but it’s well down the list of things Krabbenhoft will remember about the forward’s four seasons at UW.

So he brings up two highlights from on the court, both of which occurred during the Badgers’ run to a share of the Big Ten championship last season. The first, Reuvers’ blocked shot against Minnesota star Daniel Oturu to finish up a flawless display of post defense, helped the Badgers secure a 71-69 victory over the Golden Gophers last March. The other came six days later during a 60-56 title-clinching win at Indiana, where two of Reuvers’ team-high 17 points came on a putback that gave UW a four-point lead with 24.6 seconds remaining.

UW coach Greg Gard and his players preview the No. 25 Badgers' regular-season finale at No. 5 Iowa on Sunday.

Two months later, Reuvers finished off his bachelor’s degree in finance, investment and banking. It took him only three years to get that degree. He’ll have the next one — a master’s degree in supply chain management — wrapped up in May.

Krabbenhoft doesn’t want those accomplishments to get lost in the shuffle, either. Call him old-school, but he thinks the student part of student-athlete is still a big deal. It’s a crucial part of his sales pitch when he’s on the road recruiting players to join Greg Gard’s program.

“It speaks volumes to the kind of kid he is and the kind of future he’s going to have,” Krabbenhoft said. “Ultimately, we lose track of it. Everybody wants to focus on — what — a field goal percentage? A win-loss record at the end of the year? Sure, that’s what people tend to do and that’s a miserable, sad way of living your life. But it’s reality. And that’s what we get caught up in as a society. I get to be around the kid every day and know what he’s leaving here equipped with.”

Krabbenhoft apologizes at the end of his answer for being long-winded but, well, he can’t help himself. He feels compelled to do everything he can to defend one of his guys.

“I love Nate,” he said. “I understand his struggles. Everybody’s kind of talking about it, I get it, that’s normal, it’s expected. Nate’s not mad about it, I’m not mad about it, it’s reality.

“But there’s so much more to him.”

Building equity

The youngest of Paul and Teresa Reuvers’ five children always has been a high achiever with an eye on the future.

One of Nate Reuvers’ goals is to own 10 properties by the time he’s 30. That process began last year when Reuvers purchased a two-bedroom, two-bath condominium in Fitchburg.

His rationale was simple: After living with roommates throughout his career, Reuvers wanted a place of his own for his final season with the Badgers. He looked into one-bedroom apartments on campus and discovered he’d be spending as much money on rent as he would if he bought his own place.

Reuvers views it as a long-term investment. When he eventually leaves Madison, he plans to rent out his condo. It’s the same philosophy he follows when trading on the stock market, one of his main hobbies.

“I pretty much buy and hold a lot of my stuff,” he said. “I haven’t really made changes to my portfolio in a long time.”

The decision to buy a condo wasn’t one Reuvers made lightly. He read books on the subject and asked his father for advice.

Paul Reuvers thought it was a great idea and agreed to co-sign on the deal.

“I think it’s a great investment opportunity for him,” he said, “and that’s the way I looked at and was happy to help him.”

Nate Reuvers was warned that first-time property owners sometimes experience buyer’s remorse. That hasn’t been the case for him. “I pulled the trigger,” he said, “and haven’t regretted it.”

The only second-guessing from Paul Reuvers comes at the end of a season that has been unlike any other due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He wonders aloud whether it would have better for his son to be living in an apartment on or near campus rather than in isolation in a condo located 5½ miles from the Kohl Center.

On the other hand, maybe it doesn’t matter. Reuvers was going to live alone either way and the thing he misses is hanging out with his friends and teammates in normal college settings.

This is how a typical day goes for Reuvers: virtual class, practice, some downtime in the locker room with his teammates and the 10-to-15 minute drive back to his condo, where he either studies or relaxes.

What he misses most, he says, is that he “can’t go out with the boys at night” to blow off some steam in a stress-filled season.

‘We don’t know’

Ah, yes, that season, which continues Sunday when the No. 25 Badgers (16-10, 10-9 Big Ten) face No. 5 Iowa (19-7, 13-6) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

If UW was going to pick up where it left off last season — and build on that success — it needed its best players to take a step forward. That hasn’t happened for the most part, including with Reuvers.

“It’s just been a frustrating season,” he said.

Reuvers had trended upward his first three seasons with the Badgers. After originally planning to redshirt as a freshman in 2017-18, he was called into action sooner than expected and showed some moxie while battling players that were older and bigger than him.

The following season, once again spent as a sidekick to Ethan Happ in the frontcourt, Reuvers flashed upside and appeared poised to make the sophomore-to-junior jump that’s been seen over the years with UW big men.

Anyone hoping for a Frank Kaminsky or Jon Leuer-like leap may have been underwhelmed by Reuvers’ junior season, but there was significant progress. He led the Badgers in scoring at 13.1 points per game, grew as a defender as well and was an All-Big Ten third-team pick.

But Reuvers, one of 10 players named to the official All-Big Ten preseason team, hasn’t been nearly as productive on either end of the court this season. He’s averaging 8.7 points and is sixth on the team with 3.3 rebounds per game.

Reuvers got off to a decent start to the season and went 9 of 18 from 3-point range during UW’s seven non-conference games. However, he’s 5 of 37 (13.5%) from beyond the arc since the start of Big Ten play and also has had trouble finishing near the rim.

Whether it’s Reuvers, his father, Gard or Krabbenhoft, the reasons for the dropoff are difficult to explain.

Was an abnormal offseason caused by the pandemic to blame? It certainly didn’t help. UW players were sent home last spring shortly after the team’s 2019-20 postseason ended before it began and missed out on individual workout sessions that typically focus on skill development. Most of the veteran players didn’t return to campus until late summer because, with the virus still wreaking havoc and with restrictions in place on how the Badgers could practice and train as a team, Gard believed they were safer at home.

Reuvers, for his part, was happy with his work in the offseason. He worked with his trainer outside in parks until gyms were allowed to open back up in Minnesota and even bought some weights that he set up in his parents’ basement.

Still, post play on both ends of the floor has been a glaring weakness for the Badgers in a conference where the three teams at the top — Michigan (Hunter Dickinson), Illinois (Kofi Cockburn) and Iowa (Luka Garza) — have dominant big men. Even Purdue’s Zach Edey dominated Reuvers and teammate Micah Potter, finishing with a career-high 21 points in the Boilermakers’ 73-69 win over the Badgers on Tuesday night.

“We don’t know,” Paul Reuvers said when asked to explain his son’s decline. “All I can tell you is he knows he’s a better player than this. He worked his tail off all summer, just as he had every other summer. I still remember talking to Joe Krabbenhoft before the season that Nate was set up for a big year.”

Paul Reuvers and his wife have done what parents are supposed to do in times of adversity: be encouraging. Leading up to Senior Day last week, with his son feeling down because of his play, Paul tried to offer some perspective and reminded him of the two commemorative basketballs he’ll be taking with him from his time at UW.

One is for reaching 1,000 career points, the other for becoming the program’s all-time leader in blocked shots.

There are the two degrees he’ll have and the relationships he’s built.

“Fighting through adversity will make him stronger in the end,” Paul Reuvers said in a follow-up text message after being interviewed for this story, “but it doesn’t make this year any easier for him or the team.”


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