As optimism for the Wisconsin men’s basketball season continues to steadily decline, things just took an even more drastic turn. Starting point guard Chucky Hepburn suffered an apparent right knee injury on Sunday against Michigan.
The injury occurred in the second half, and he did not return to the court at all. Hepburn’s status for Wisconsin’s final home game against Purdue Thursday is undecided.
Despite this season’s issues, Chucky Hepburn has continued to shine as the lead scorer. Averaging 12.1 points per game, the sophomore point guard from Omaha, Nebraska shouldered a major load in the midst of a rocky year.
Last season, the Badgers finished with an impressive record of 25-8 while clinching the Big Ten regular season title, earning a final spot of 14 on the AP poll. Former Badgers Johnny Davis and Brad Davison led the team to such a high record by way of their scoring and leadership. Davis was selected with the 10th pick in the NBA Draft, while Davison left to play overseas, leaving the Badgers with a major void to fill.
Throughout the course of his freshman year, Hepburn became a fan favorite. The Badger faithful were drawn to his high energy, athleticism and shot-making. Thus, he entered this season with high expectations. The pressure for Hepburn to constantly perform at an extraordinary high level puts him in the spotlight when the team performs poorly.
After the close loss against Northwestern, Hepburn was criticized for his decision-making after missing a crucial fadeaway toward the end of the game.
“First off, I consider him to be a leader, I trust him with everything he does. He works hard and does the right things,” freshman Connor Essegian said in a press conference.
Essegian and teammate Steven Crowl supported Hepburn despite his poor performance that night.
“In hitting my free throws I was there half of the time and the other 50 I wasn’t so I got to work on that,” Crowl responded in the same press conference in an effort to take the heat off of Hepburn.
Hepburn walked off the court with a disappointed look on his face, as his last few possessions cost the Badgers the game. Despite his occasional mistakes, it's obvious that his coaches and teammates are inspired by his dedication.
“You just gotta play on,” Hepburn remarked when asked about his possessions against the Northwestern Wildcats.
On Valentine’s Day, the Badgers struck gold as they stole a huge win from Michigan, 64-59. Essegian racked up 23 points with multiple drives and consistent shooting. With this victory, it gave Badger fans and players hope for the remainder of the season.
“We have to establish an identity on defense,” said Hepburn in regards to getting back to the intensity and high performance of the start of the season.
“Once we establish our defensive side, the offensive side will come too,” he added.
It’s clear that Hepburn and Coach Greg Gard are mostly on the same page on and off the court, despite some of Gard’s frustration with Hepburn’s decision making. The Badgers have only two more regular season games until the Big Ten Tournament, starting March 8.
With Indiana and Purdue gaining national recognition for their impressive seasons, it begs the question: Who can overcome them? Only time will tell, as March awaits with tough obstacles and challenges. The future of this team’s season rides on leadership, teamwork and a bit of Hepburn’s magic.