NEW YORK — Through a thick stream of tears and a lump in his throat, Brad Davison extolled the virtues of playing college basketball following the No. 9-seed Badgers’ (8-12 Big Ten, 15-18 overall) season-ending loss to top-seeded Michigan State (17-2, 29-3). He could barely get the words out.
“It's fun,” he said. “It's something I always dreamed of and it’s everything that I thought it was.”
It was hard to ignore the juxtaposition of the freshman’s full eyes and broken words with his message — that something about this moment was fun. But it’s equally difficult to avoid the tantalizing promise of a Wisconsin team that prominently featured three freshmen.
Between Davison and forwards Nate Reuvers and Aleem Ford, rookies constituted half of the Badgers’ rotation. They became critical contributors at a program that has historically relied on upperclassmen to shoulder the load. And now, they’re already setting their sights on a deep NCAA Tournament run next year.
“We're gonna have, hopefully, everyone back. People will be healthy,” Davison said. “This is gonna be a great team next year. I'm extremely excited. ”
Joining the three key freshmen on the court next year will be fellow first-year guard Kobe King, who saw nearly 20 minutes a game through 10 contests before and injury relegated him to the bench, and in all likelihood, a medical redshirt season. He figures to contribute immediately upon his return to the court.
For King and Davison, the offseason priority will be getting healthy. King sat the final 23 games of the season, while Davison dislocated his left shoulder eight times over the course of the season and spent much of the year limited by a clunky brace.
Reuvers and Ford, on the other hand, are almost singularly focused on bulking up over the summer. After getting banged around three times by the overwhelmingly massive frontcourt of the Spartans, they know that they have to be able to hang with the bigger forwards the Big Ten has to offer.
“I gotta get bigger this offseason,” Reuvers said. “I gotta gain a lot of weight … Especially with someone like Nick Ward.”
What won’t need to be improved this offseason, though, is the leadership of Davison. After coming off the bench for UW’s first four games, Davison hopped into the starting lineup and didn’t look back.
It was him that addressed the team in the locker room after many losses, and it was him that told the Badgers to “be special,” night-in and night-out.
It’s Davison’s passion that gives him a natural leadership ability, and it’s also what drives him to leave everything on the court. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and a tight, season-ending loss like Friday afternoon stings particularly badly.
But Davison said that they’ll use that sting to catapult next year’s team into dominance. The locker room in Madison Square Garden was undeniably sullen after the loss, but that one word echoed from locker to locker, from player to player: special.
“Like I said, we're gonna have this taste in our mouth that no other Wisconsin team has ever had, and that gives us an opportunity to be special,” Davison said. “It sucks right now, but in the long run, we're not going to have this feeling again. I know that.”