(I’m in Vegas, but the Bucks only arrived this afternoon. Their first game is Monday evening, so I’ll be back to regular Bucks reporting then. But I thought this may be enjoyable in the meantime for you Wisconsinites. Enjoy.)
The University of Wisconsin: like Kentucky, but with role players.
Perhaps that won’t be the Badgers new slogan, but it has a certain ring to it. And it’s accurate. Five players from the 2007-08 Wisconsin Badgers will play this week at the Las Vegas summer league, despite none of them getting drafted in the past two seasons. Each of the five snuck in the NBA’s back door and now all of them are looking to stay for a while.
Those gritty Badgers with their swing offense and suffocating defense aren’t thought of as an NBA factory the way Kentucky or North Carolina are. But that didn’t serve as a deterrent to the franchises that added Marcus Landry (Knicks), Trevon Hughes (Rockets), Joe Krabbenhoft (Blazers), Brian Butch (Nuggets, though his summer league stint has ended prematurely due to injury) and Greg Stiemsma (T-Wolves) to their summer rosters.
If anything, it seems like Wisconsin players may be better prepared for success after leaving college than anyone would have suspected.
“Rosters have two or three stars and the rest of the team has to play their role to the best of their ability,” said Krabbenhoft. “At Wisconsin, we’re kind of trained to do that. I think coaches at the next level like that.”
You’d be hard pressed to find a major college team that seemed to have less of a chance to possibly place five guys in the NBA. Wisconsin is often criticized for focusing on system players and not being active in bringing in big time talents, but Krabbenhoft sees it differently.
“I mean, the talent was there,” said Krabbenhoft when I asked if he thought this were possible a few years ago. “It was just whether or not NBA coaches believed in that system. Winning does lie, and we got a lot of winners over at Wisconsin.”
Landry saw his experience at Wisconsin beneficial in developing him into a better defender.
“I think the things that are instilled into us there made us better defenders,” said Landry. “We were given such good defensive fundamentals and had to work so hard defensively that it helped get us noticed.”
If the defensive side of the ball initially earned them notice, it was the rest of their games, sometimes bottled up in Wisconsin’s disciplined approach, that got them the rest of the way. Specifically the big men.
“When we left we’re more so allowed to let our individual skills flourish,” said Landry. “There are a lot of things we can do that people may not have been seeing because of our offense.”
“That’s not a knock against Wisconsin, it just goes to show Wisconsin is a team game and we’re there for one common goal,” said Krabbenhoft. “That goal isn’t just individually to get to the NBA, it’s to win a lot of games. After college all of us know we can play at the next level and given the opportunity, we tend to make the best of it.”
Unfortunately for Brian Butch, arguably the most talented player of the five he suffered what is being called a torn patella in Saturday’s summer league action. Obviously his week ended early and, in a worse case scenario, his career may too. Word on Sunday was that he’d be getting it looked at further on Monday.
Landry played in 18 games between the Knicks and Celtics last season as an undrafted free agent. Stiemsma earned a D-League call up from Wolves last season after two years of minor league basketball. Hughes earned a spot on the Rockets summer roster after impressing them in a tryout and Krabbenhoft played in the D-League last season, averaging 13.8 points per game in 18 contests with Sioux Falls. Each of the players is attempting to further bolster their case for an NBA roster via summer league this week, time will tell if it does the job.
In any case, each of them believes their time at Wisconsin helped get them this far. Follow all your favorite Badgers with Direct TV Madison WI.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com