'We are going to be back'
By ZACH HEILPRIN
ARLINGTON, Texas - They’ll be back.
That was the overwhelming message emanating from the University of Wisconsin locker room after their 74-73 loss to Kentucky on Saturday night in the Final Four.
“This is a sour taste,” said junior Frank Kaminsky, who confirmed after the game he’d be returning for his final season. “We are going to be back next year. We are going to be better than ever. We will all be ready. It is going to be a long road to get back to here, but I know we will make it.”
Kaminsky was sad to see this year come to an end and not just because it meant their run for a national title came up short. It also meant saying goodbye to seniors Ben Brust, Zach Bohannon and redshirt junior Evan Anderson. Each of the three played a role in getting the team to Arlington, though it was easier to see for some more than others.
Brust leaves as the school’s all-time leader in 3-pointers for an overall career (235) and in an NCAA tournament career (24). His outside shooting leaves a significant void.
But Bohannon and Anderson also leave a void on the practice court. While the public rarely saw what roles they played, what they did on the scout team over their time in Madison can’t be overlooked.
That said, the returning nucleus, including four of five starters, should net the Badgers a top 10 preseason ranking next year and possibly top 5.
With Kaminsky, they get one of the most versatile big men in the country back in the middle of their lineup. He’ll be looking to further develop his game and not allow what happened on Saturday night, being held to eight points and five rebounds, happen again.
Dekker, who also confirmed afterwards that he would be returning for his junior season, has arguably the highest ceiling of any of the players on the roster. A year ago, when Ole Miss knocked the Badgers from the tournament in the second round, it was Dekker that said they never wanted to feel like they did after that game again. The message was flipped on Saturday night but the idea behind it was consistent with what he said last March.
“This is where you grow up and realize (it’s) time to get better, time to get hungry again,” said Dekker, who led UW with 15 points. “We want to be in this position again next year.”
Josh Gasser, who didn’t want to look ahead so quickly after a tough loss, returns with another year away from the torn ACL that cost him all of the 2012-2013 season.
Traevon Jackson is back after a season in which he earned honorable mention All-Big Ten and All-West Region honors.
Reigning Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year, Nigel Hayes, could move into the starting lineup depending on how UW coach Bo Ryan decides to set it up. And he’s certainly hungry after coming so close to a title as a freshman.
“We know what it takes to get here,” said Hayes, who played a season-low seven minutes against Kentucky. “Next year we know what we have to do so we don’t feel like this again.”
The other freshman contributor, Bronson Koenig, played one of his better games of the season against the Wildcats. With Jackson in foul trouble in the first half, the La Crosse native scored 11 points. Like his other teammates, he talked about getting back to this point and even further next year.
“We’re going to be really hungry in the offseason,” Koenig said. “Our goal is to win a national championship.”
Duje Dukan also returns after bookending his junior season with his highest scoring outputs – 15 against St. John’s in the season opener and eight points and five rebounds against Kentucky.
After spending this season working on the scout team, bigger roles will be possible for freshmen Vitto Brown and Jordan Hill, along with the return of sophomore Zak Showalter, who redshirted. Add in freshman Riley Dearring, who also redshirted, and incoming forward Ethan Happ, and Wisconsin has the makings of another conference contender and the experience to go deep into the tournament again.
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin