Former Badger rivals return to Madison, relive college battles

Malcolm Brogdon might have only played Wisconsin one time when he was a student-athlete at the University of Virginia, but the two schools played a similar style of basketball. 

Image By: Katie Scheidt

As he went through drills and joked around with his teammates early Tuesday afternoon at the Nicholas Johnson Pavilion, D.J. Wilson seemed at home.

Sure, there was learning for him to do, as is the case with all NBA rookies, but the first-year Milwaukee Bucks forward looked relatively integrated into his new team when they practiced at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

You’d never be able to tell he was playing in enemy territory.

“We got the best of them when it counted at the end of the tournament,” said Wilson, who led Michigan to a Big Ten Championship over Wisconsin last season. “So I don’t have any hard feelings.”

Practicing on the same hardwood as the Badgers, Wilson was reminded of the gritty conference battles he used to play against Wisconsin.

The Wolverines bested the Badgers in two of team’s three games last season, and while there is surely no love lost between the two sides, there’s undoubtedly a mutual respect for the smart, fundamentally sound style that each team tries to play.

“We just knew it was always gonna be a battle,” Wilson said. “They’re a team that always seem like they never make mistakes, they never commit fouls, never get into foul trouble. And they always stay on their P’s and Q’s. So we knew when we played them we had to limit our mistakes, our turnovers, and execute on both cylinders and both ends in order to beat them.”

But while Wilson is now at the pro level, he still takes much of his Big Ten basketball education to heart.

The conference is known for its emphasis on defense and physicality — and its slow pace as well — and Wilson believes those two tenets of the conference have smoothed his transition to the NBA.

“It’s an adjustment,” Wilson said. “But it’s not as big as an adjustment.”

Wilson also mentioned the different ways certain conferences officiate games, recalling a contest last season versus UCLA that featured “a lot of tick-tack and hand check fouls” from Pac 12 referees.

But Wilson isn’t the only Bucks’ player who developed a defensive pedigree in college.

Second-year guard Malcolm Brogdon, who was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year for the 2016-’17 season, formerly played on a Virginia team whose style of play often drew comparison to the Badgers.

“It taught you to be in a stance for an entire shot clock possession, and how to always be ready,” Brogdon said of his college experience. “How to not be reacting to the offense but be anticipating, and learning how to guard your own man in your alley.”

As Brogdon looks to improve upon his stellar rookie campaign, Wilson will continue adjusting to the new, harder level he’s now playing at.

Given the price that the Bucks paid to get him — the 17th overall pick — they clearly have faith that he is up to the challenge.

“There’s really no nights off,” Wilson said. “You have 82 games against the best players in the world.”

There’s no real telling how he’ll fare, but as Wilson practiced in a room adorned with posters of the very players he considered rivals just a year ago, the message was clear.

The Big Ten wasn’t a bad stop on his journey.

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