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March 2, 2013
Walk-ons leave different legacy
MADISON - J.D. Wise climbed on to the podium in the Kohl Center media room Friday afternoon and sat down in front of a crowd of media members and television cameras. It was a new experience for Wise, who had never sat for a group interview during his four years on the Wisconsin basketball team.
Not surprisingly, he wasn't completely sure where to look or what to do with his hands as the reporters waited to see who would ask a question first.
"Do I just, like, look into the distance?," Wise said once he sat down. "I've never been up here before."
It was likely the last group interview Wise will give at Wisconsin, because he and fellow seniors Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Dan Fahey are about to play their final game in the Kohl Center Sunday afternoon against Purdue. But while Berggren, Bruesewitz, and Evans anchored Wisconsin's frontcourt during their careers, walk-ons Wise and Fahey will leave behind a much different legacy.
Fahey and Wise never started a game for the Badgers. They've combined for just 25 points in their careers and 77 minutes of playing time in 44 games.
That pales in comparison to the 2,259 points and 7,350 minutes the other three seniors posted during their careers. But ask the rest of the Badgers and they'll say Wise and Fahey's contributions were just as important as anyone else's.
"I have nothing but respect for both of those guys, because the job they do is something I could not," Bruesewitz said Friday. "They come in every day and they work their tails off, and they bring energy, they bring a little bit of flair, a little bit of style, a little bit of swagger that this team definitely needed."
As unofficial "captains" of the scout team Fahey and Wise are responsible for playing against the starters in practice. They don't play as themselves, but as shades of Wisconsin's next opponent. They're responsible for learning another team's system and players' tendencies, hopefully imitating them well enough so the starters can play well against the real thing.
But Fahey and Wise do more than that. They cheer their teammates on from the bench, and keep them motivated when the cameras aren't on. Fahey is known for springing out of his seat and spreading his arms out wide to hold the team back after Evans or Berggren throw down a dunk, and it's that kind of energy that the rest of the team appreciates about the duo.
"They bring so much energy and enthusiasm to this team, whether it's before games in the locker room, or in the weight room in the morning in the middle of the summer when guys are tired and it's 7 a.m. and people want to go to bed," Berggren said. "They're guys that have worked as hard as anyone in the program, and a lot of people don't see it."
But Fahey and Wise aren't the only walk-ons to leave a lasting influence on their team. Fahey and Wise said they learned from older walk-ons like Brett Valentyn and Wquinton Smith how to act once they were in the program. Fahey and Wise's contributions during team meetings carried just as much weight as any scholarship player's, and that's been the same since Fahey joined the team as a preferred walk on in 2009 and Wise made the team after an open tryout in the same year.
"I feel like other teams look at the walk-ons like they're second-class citizens. That's never how our program's been," Wise said. "From the first day I saw Brett Valentyn be one of the most vocal guys on the team. It really set a bar for what they expected from walk-ons here, and I just tried my best to emulate those same traits."
But while Berggren and Bruesewitz are guaranteed to see the floor against Purdue on Sunday and Evans will play if his strained knee cooperates, Fahey and Wise aren't guaranteed to see the floor for much more than a curtain call. So the Badgers will work hard to give the team enough of a lead where Fahey and Wise can see some extra minutes in their last game at the Kohl Center.
"That's what we want to do every day is to get a big lead and make them have a chance to get in the game and show what they can do," Berggren said. "They work just as hard as everyone, and they deserve to be out there too."
But even if the game doesn't play out how they want, Fahey and Wise said they enjoyed playing for the Badgers and bringing everything they could to the team.
"I haven't played many minutes on that floor, but it's been an investment over the years and I've put in a lot of time and effort," Fahey said. "Just being able to hear the crowd one last time and having my family there and everything, it think it'll definitely be an emotional experience."
"[I have] no regrets whatsoever. I think Sunday will be a great ending to it," Fahey said.
Wise walked over to the podium as Bruesewitz was finishing his interview, and leaned in next to other reporters as the fiery senior spoke about what Fahey and Wise brought to the team. The duo spent their careers in the gym and out of the headlines, but Bruesewitz made sure to praise his teammates before Wise took his spot in front of the cameras, with the cardinal red background framing him for an interview that was four years in the making.
"They set a very high bar for walk-ons here. Hopefully some other guys will follow in their footsteps, because they've done a great job of following some of the guys that came before them," Bruesewitz said.
"Without them we're definitely not the same Wisconsin Badgers, that's for sure."
For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.