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MADISON - Given the starting point guard position in the weeks leading up to training camp, junior guard Josh Gasser couldn’t have been more thrilled that his hard work to try and replace Jordan Taylor was going to pay off.
As he sat watching practice utilizing two chairs (one for his behind and one for tightly wrapped and braced left knee), Gasser has come to grips that the fruits of his labor aren’t going to be realized until at least a year from now.
“It sucks,” said Gasser, blatantly. “You can’t really describe it I guess.”
Gasser tore his anterior cruciate ligament during practice Saturday, ending his junior season more than a week before it officially started for No.23 Wisconsin, as the Badgers head into their lone exhibition game against UW-Oshkosh Nov.7 needing to find a point guard.
Registering a steal and going into transition during the team’s morning practice, Gasser made a side step going for a layup and heard the dreaded ‘pop’ in his knee as it gave out as he pushed off. Being examined by head athletic trainer Henry Perez-Guerra, Gasser got the diagnosis almost immediately that his season was over.
“It was a freak thing,” said Gasser. “I kind of knew right away … The physical pain was pretty bad, but it was nothing compared to the emotional and mental pain that happened."
Gasser’s loss is a big blow to Wisconsin’s starting five, as the junior has started 66 games for the Badgers in his first two seasons, averaging 6.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. He averaged 34.1 minutes for UW last season, contributing 7.6 points per game and shooting 45.2 percent from 3-point range.
Arguably an even bigger loss is Gasser’s role as an important defensive asset, as he was named to the conference’s All-Defensive team last season as a sophomore.
“I was really excited to play with (the seniors) and help them reach their goals,” said Gasser. “This is there last go around, and not to be out there with them is killing me.
"Every game there is something that I am going to be missing out on. Obviously there is going to be ups and downs every year. The great thing is to be a part of a team and get to talk with them about it and be a part of it with them, no matter what you are going through. That's probably going to be the hardest part this year."
To a degree, Gasser knows what’s it’s like to sit and watch from the sidelines because of an injury. Badly spraining his ankle the summer before his senior season, Gasser did not play football for Port Washington High School in order to be ready for basketball, but said the situation hardly compares.
After word spread of his injury, Gasser has heard sound advice from a multitude of sources who have gone through the same ACL recovery process: from former UW point guard Sharif Chambliss to Minnesota senior forward Trevor Mbakwe to UW football senior Curt Phillips.
“I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me. It’s been pretty overwhelming,” said Gasser. “(Curt) said do what they (the doctors) tell you. They have experienced it with other athletes and I haven’t, so I have no clue what’s going on. They know what they are doing.”
Gasser will have surgery Tuesday, November 6 and hopes to be a presence at practice and on the bench throughout the season. He also hopes to travel with the team and be a mentor to redshirt sophomore Traevon Jackson and redshirt freshman George Marshall, two soft-spoken guards that will need to step in quickly and help contribute.
“George and Trae can play,” said Gasser. “The thing they may lack is the voice. They don’t like to speak up as much. They haven’t played as much. Defensively that’s one thing we need to find. Ben (Brust) has got to be more willing. George is obviously kind of small, so I am definitely going to talk to Trae in particular and try to get him to step up into that role. Somebody has got to do it. Whoever is going to be the first to step up is going to get a lot of playing time.
“We’re not going to skip a beat with me not out there. The big thing I think we’re going to miss is a vocal guy at the guard position, a leader who has been there and played a little bit. That’s something I can still contribute to even if I am not out there.”