MADISON | Minutes will be at an absolute premium this fall for the Wisconsin basketball team. With the Badgers returning their top 10 players from a year ago — along with adding potential contributors in sophomore forward Andy Van Vliet and redshirt freshman guard Brevin Pritzl to the mix — the competition to get on the floor could be at an all-time high. And second-year head coach Greg Gard is just fine with that.
“It’s going to be very competitive as we get back into school in September and we start practices late September and early October,” Gard said Tuesday during a teleconference promoting the Maui Invitational. “And that’s exactly what we want. Competition is very good and there will be a lot of guys fighting for minutes.”
To this point, the team has had seven practices this summer. And with such a veteran team, Gard said he has mixed things up to keep it fresh.
“We’ve done a lot of different things,” he said. “We’ve drilled a lot. We’ve played a little. We’ve done a lot of skill work. And I’ve really mixed groups around. Whether it’s been one-on-one competition or groups of five. I’ve really thrown them curveballs every single day that we’ve been in the gym. They’ve handled it well.”
Among those going through the paces is Pritzl. The top-rated recruit in Wisconsin’s class of 2015, the sharp-shooting guard broke his foot last August and underwent surgery that kept him out of action until November. He played four minutes in a blowout win over Sienna, before re-injuring the foot prior to Wisconsin’s game against Syracuse in early December. He wouldn’t suit up again, and didn’t get cleared for full-contact work until last month.
“Rusty,” Gard said when asked on Monday what he’s seen from Pritzl this summer. “I think there is no doubt it’s evident he hasn’t played in a year. He can still make shots. Obviously that part of his game has come back pretty quickly, but it’s missing all the defensive work, all the timing, all the things that go into – the other things that don’t involve shooting – that make you a complete player. And that’s something he’s working back [to].
“Conditioning is still something he’s trying to get back, but in terms of the overall injury itself, I think he’s feeling pretty good and pretty confident. It’s just a matter of trying to make up for lost time in all those other areas.”
Many observers of the program considered Pritzl to be the best shooter on last year’s team, an element the group was missing for large stretches of the season. And now, despite having so many experienced players back, there appears to be a role for a guy that averaged 25.5 points per game as a senior in high school.
“I’ve tried to emphasize with him to be patient,” Gard said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take some time and to not rush and get frustrated with yourself when things don’t go as well, or you don’t quite have the timing or the speed of the game down yet. That’ll come in time.
The main thing for him is to work his way back at the pace that the doctors and trainers want him to, and so far, he’s done that pretty well. It’s just obviously been frustrating for him because he expects to play at a high level immediately, and that’s not going to happen when you’ve missed that much time.”