Josh Gasser on verge of team starts record for No. 5 Badgers
MADISON, Wis. (AP) Good teams need players who enjoy doing the little things on the court to succeed. The guys behind the stars who will dive for loose balls, draw charges and throw their bodies into shutting down an opponent's best scorer.
At No. 5 Wisconsin, that guy is Josh Gasser. And for once, the Badgers' ironman will be the center of attention on Saturday for the start of the team's home game against Northwestern. Assuming that Gasser takes his regular spot in the starting lineup, he will make his 127th career start to pass Alando Tucker for the school record.
''He's been here 15 years, so it's not surprising at all,'' deadpanned fellow senior Frank Kaminsky.
It actually hasn't been that long, though it might feel that way at times for Gasser given the ups and downs during five seasons in Madison.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the milestone is that Gasser is reaching the mark after having sat out a year in the middle of his career with a left knee injury.
Gasser tore the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee just before the start of the season 2012-13 season. He wore a brace on the knee last year, his first season back, when current stars Kaminsky and Sam Dekker emerged as starters to help lead the team to the Final Four.
This season, Gasser is free of the brace and averaging 7.6 points and 2.9 rebounds a game. He hasn't missed a start in the two seasons since the injury and he again regularly draws the toughest defensive assignment.
And he is a master, once more, of drawing charges in the lane.
''Behind the scenes, Josh is a great motivator, a great leader, a great captain,'' Kaminsky said. ''It kind of shows on the court with him diving for loose balls, setting the tone defensively.''
Gasser recalled receiving a congratulatory text from Mike Kelley, a former Wisconsin player also known his defensive prowess. Kelley told Gasser to think back to when he was 10 years old, and if Gasser thought then if he would ever make that kind of impact on the program.
Apparently, there were doubters, though Gasser left high school in Port Washington, Wisconsin as the career leader in scoring and rebounding.
''Coming into here, no one really thought I could make it, though I could I do it, but I just worked my tail off, and did whatever people asked me to do,'' Gasser said Thursday.
''And then obviously the knee injury, coming back from that,'' he added. ''Just being able to help my team and play well, that's something that I'm really proud of.''
But the record itself is something he said that he might dwell on 10 years from now - if he's not playing anymore.
Physically, he has shown that he can bounce back and play through pain. A couple weeks ago during an 82-50 win over Iowa, Gasser left the court for about 3 minutes after holding his left arm in pain.
He was cleared to return after an exam in the locker room. It was the kind of performance that led Kaminsky - the team's resident funny guy - to assign Gasser a nickname.
''Josh is Captain America. Josh is the hero of our team,'' Kaminsky joked.
Gasser's play can get lost at times amid the Badgers' offensive firepower.
Seven-footer Kaminsky draws headlines for his inside-out work and a resume that makes him a contender for player-of-the-year honors. Forward Sam Dekker provides energy up front with athletic slams, and Nigel Hayes boasts impressive baseline and spin moves to the bucket.
With sharpshooter Ben Brust gone from last year's team, Gasser was asked to help contribute more from the outside. A career 40 percent shooter from 3-point range, Gasser is averaging 3.4 attempts from behind the arc this season, up from 2.9 last year.
''If you dug down deep into the foundations of this program, and what was at the core, you'd find Josh's definition in terms of everything he brings,'' associate head coach Greg Gard said. ''Toughness, leadership, work ethic. Does whatever is in the best interest of the team. Doesn't care who gets the credit, as long as we're successful.''