By TOM LEA
When three of Wisconsin’s five starters hail from the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’ one can only imagine the connections between UW and Minnesota basketball.
Jordan Taylor said he has been playing either with or against Minnesota’s Rodney Williams since he was eight or nine years old. He also mentioned that he played with Williams and fellow Badger Jared Berggren on the same AAU squad for two or three years during high school.
Mike Bruesewitz, UW’s vocal junior forward, remains best friends with Minnesota walk-on Chris Halvorsen and chats with him a number of times per month.
“He was my high school teammate so when I go back home I’ll go see those guys,” Bruesewitz said. “I’ll go up to the ‘U’ and see those guys and they’re always hanging out with the basketball guys.
“So I get to know those guys.”
Bruesewitz grew up in St. Paul and went to Henry Sibley high school. Taylor grew up in Bloomington and went to Benilde-St. Margaret’s high school during his prep days.
Tubby Smith never heavily recruited either Taylor or Bruesewitz.
“He had just gotten there,” Bruesewitz said of Smith’s recruitment of him. “Plus they had Royce White (now at Iowa State) and Rodney Williams. Those guys were kind of the same position as me. They thought they were a better fit for their system. That was that. I don’t have any hard feelings at all.
“I’m happy with where I am and I was happy since day one stepping on campus.”
Taylor echoed those same sentiments.
“Not a bit,” he said when asked if there were any hard feelings. “Not at this point. Maybe back when I was 17. I’m sure it did (then). I don’t remember.
“But at this point I’m happy with where I am.”
Taylor turned into an All-American point guard — one that is on pace to shatter the NCAA’s all-time assist-to-turnover ratio — during his time at Wisconsin and Bruesewitz has become one of the better rebounding forwards UW has.
They both know most of the Minnesota roster — Bruesewitz plays open gym with several of the Gophers players during the offseason — and both continue to share solid relationships with them.
When Taylor found out Trevor Mbakwe, a long-time friend of his and Minnesota standout, tore his ACL early on this season he reached out to him. That’s the type of bond they have.
“I hit him up right when it happened and I was hoping it wasn’t an ACL,” Taylor said. “I was talking to him and he said he didn’t know. I heard it was and I kind of told him that it would all right. He’s such a freak athlete that no matter what happens to him he’ll be back and probably better than ever. I’m sure he’s just trying to stay positive.
“It’s tough, but he’s a tough kid. He’ll be all right.”
The friendships run deep between the two squads and they will continue to do so. But according to Bruesewitz, that’s all pushed to the backburner two, sometimes three times a year.
“I know those guys and I’ve got to give great respect to them,” Bruesewitz said. “But when Thursday night comes they’re not my friends anymore.
“I’ve just got to take care of business.”
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