NEW YORK — The Wisconsin locker room seemed dejected as players entered and drooped down in their black fold-up chairs. UW had just suffered its worst home loss since the Kohl Center was built to Ohio State and little did it know that, just a few hours later on Dec. 3, the football team’s College Football Playoff chances would be slashed at the hands of the very same university they had laid an egg against earlier that day.
It was then, as many Badgers sulked, that a freshman point guard — a pesky 6-foot-3, 205-pound guard — named Brad Davison felt he had some things to get off his chest. “Things needed to be said,” Davison recalled.
He had played only seven regular season games up to that Saturday and had come off the bench in three of them. Still, Davison had things to say.
“We’ve got to think about why we all came here,” he told his teammates. “What the Wisconsin on our chest means. What it represents.”
Nearly three months later to the day, it is Davison that is leading the Badgers (7-11 Big Ten, 14-17 overall) into the Big Ten Tournament and their date with Maryland (8-10, 19-12) on Thursday afternoon. He’s popped his shoulder out six times this season and kept playing each time. He’s scored the most single-game points of any Wisconsin player and he has an attitude and work ethic that head coach Greg Gard recently said was “infectious.” Davison’s also never been shy about speaking up when he feels like it’s needed.
Last Sunday, as Davison’s last-ditch heave against Michigan State missed wide and the Badgers fell 68-63 to the Spartans, Davison was promptly met on the right wing by redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ.
Davison put his left arm around Happ, who draped his right arm over Davison’s injured shoulder. As they walked to the handshake line, Happ told Davison “good game” and that he was proud of his freshman guard’s performance. He re-emphasized with Davison the importance of sticking together, and that there are ups and downs in any season.
Last year, when Florida’s Chris Chiozza abruptly ended Wisconsin’s NCAA Tournament run in the Sweet Sixteen, Happ found then-senior Zak Showalter, put his arm around the guard’s shoulder and together they walked to the handshake line in much the same fashion.
As the Badgers left the Madison Square Garden floor last March, Davison was sitting in his basement in Maple Grove, Minn., with a few of his friends. They had their brackets out and as he advanced Florida in his bracket, it didn’t hit him that next year he would be on the same MSG floor alongside Happ.
But just like against Ohio State in early December, when the Badgers returned to the locker room following their loss to Michigan State, Davison addressed the team.
“We’re gonna beat them next week anyways,” he told his teammates.
With a win against Maryland on Thursday, Wisconsin would play MSU on Friday at noon ET. But, even with a win over the Spartans, many computer simulations still give UW a less than one percent chance of winning the Big Ten Tournament and, in turn, keeping its 19-year NCAA Tournament streak alive.
Assistant coach Dean Oliver is not surprised by how Davison has grown into a leader this season. When Wisconsin traveled to Australia to play a five-game trip, the freshman guard led UW in scoring in its final game, an 83-71 victory over the Sydney Kings. And it was then that Oliver first witnessed Davison speak up in the locker room and on the bench when he needed too.
“To want to perform in the moment, to be in the moment, Brad definitely showed that in the summer time in those games,” Oliver said. Back then, Davison was still coming off the bench and competing with Brevin Pritzl, D’Mitrik Trice, Kobe King and Khalil Iverson for minutes. It wasn’t until Nov. 21that he became UW’s starting shooting guard.
Less than a month later, when Trice and King both fell victim to injuries, he was forced into so much action that by regular season’s end he led the Badgers in minutes.
Throughout Wisconsin’s midseason drought, which saw it lose eight games in nine tries, Davison remained vocal. He also remained frustrated with UW’s inconsistent play.
“I’m literally all about winning, it’s really all I care about,” he said after a recent game.
On Thursday, the Badgers return to the same site where their season ended a year ago and will be hoping for a miraculous run to continue their season. Davison will be out on the court this time, not in a basement in Minnesota, and he’s hoping for a different result.
Come next week, UW’s freshman guard has two academic tests, one in Accounting 100 and one in Management and Human Resources.
He hasn’t really studied yet for them, though.
“I’ve dabbled a little bit, but I’ve been more focused on the Maryland test,” he said.
He has another more immediate challenge in front of him — and another few speeches to make.