Brad Davison stood just behind midcourt at the Badgers’ annual Red-White scrimmage, waiting for the ball. His teammate stepped to the sideline to inbound the ball with no defenders in sight. As soon as the whistle blew, Davison called out at full volume and the ball came right to him. There was no risk of a five-second violation, no members of the Red Squad anxiously waiting to bounce on a lazy pass — just a lone White Squad freshman standing alone at midcourt. But he yelled nonetheless.
It was a fleeting moment, not one that will ever make a highlight reel or a hoop mixtape. But it was emblematic of what the UW coaching staff sees in their young guard: great instincts and natural leadership.
Davison, a four-star recruit, came to the Badgers as one of three high-profile freshmen, alongside three-star guard Kobe King and lanky four-star forward Nathan Reuvers. Reuvers graded out as the top recruit of the three, but it was Davison that quickly grabbed the attention of head coach Greg Gard.
The Osseo, Minn., native flashed his playmaking ability during the team’s five-game trip to Australia, leading the Badgers in scoring in the team’s final game against the Sydney Kings. Davison registered 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 2-of-4 from three-point range. Though he won’t often be called on to do so, Davison can fill up the scoring column when he heats up from long range.
And while the starting guard spots are firmly clenched in the hands of sophomore D’Mitrik Trice and redshirt sophomore Brevin Pritzl, Davison will likely be first off the bench in relief of the two. He doesn’t quite have the court vision and tight handle that Trice brings or the 30-foot range of Pritzl, but he does bring a soft blend of the two. He’s well above average from beyond the three-point line and can provide reliable, if unexciting, ball-handling.
Where Davison will really excel on the court is on the defensive end, where he gives off shades of a late-career Zak Showalter. The young guard is adept at baiting opposing players into offensive fouls and has a nasty habit of sticking his hands in passing lanes. If Davison has a defensive weakness, it’s his tendency to help one pass away from his man, but his remarkable quickness and ability to read passes mask most potential mistakes.
But despite his inspiring basketball ability and skillset, none of that is what intrigues Gard and his fellow coaches the most. Davison is uncommonly vocal for a freshman, constantly shouting out defensive assignments and sets. During the Red-White scrimmage, it didn’t matter who was on the court alongside him, whether it was Pritzl or junior forwards Khalil Iverson and Charles Thomas — it was Davison that took over the leadership role.
And it isn’t just his voice that makes Davison an important figure on the UW roster. He has the aura of a leader; he’s constantly cheering on and consoling teammates, fist-pumping after a made basket and clapping encouragingly after a missed play.
Former Badger guard Josh Gasser summed up Davison’s outlook in Madison succinctly: “Man, @BadgerMBB fans are gonna love this Davison kid very quickly,” he said in a recent tweet.
Gasser, incidentally, is also the obvious parallel for the Badgers’ newest guard. Though Davison falls short of Gasser’s ability in most categories, the two bring a stunningly similar style of play that has long been critical to the UW philosophy. Like Gasser, he’s a relentless defender that can provide occasional — but timely — offense and has a natural understanding of the intricacies of basketball. His tireless energy is a firestarter for an offense that will be prone to long droughts, and his teammates recognize what he brings to the table.
“Brad is just a natural born leader, and he'll do whatever it takes to win. That's something we noticed from day one,” King said. “We definitely feed off him.”
Gard agrees, but while he sees the merits of the Gasser comparison, he’s hesitant to force his new player into the shadow of an all-time Badger great.
“[Gasser and Davison are] similar, but I’m also very cautious not to say that somebody has to step into somebody else’s shoes,” Gard said. “Brad Davison is his own person. He’ll grow in this program. He’ll have some ups and downs in this program. He’ll be a very good player here.”
What Gard does see in Davison, however, is the instinctive leadership qualities of Gasser that powered UW to an average of 29.25 wins per season, two trips to the Final Four and a berth in the National Championship game during his tenure.
“He’ll be a very good leader,” Gard said. “He’ll take on what he earns, but he does have all the traits of some very good leaders that we’ve had here.”
“Where that goes, time will tell.”