Even a year removed from shoulder surgery, the mental pain of being limited for two seasons still stings. Berggren was a highly-touted big man out of Coon Rapids, Minnesota, but it was hard to flex his muscles when he was competing with only one arm.
Berggren hurt his right shoulder as a true freshman during the fall of 2008 when he was diving for a loose ball in practice. He redshirted that season but the injury still lingered entering next season, limiting him to 4.1 minutes per game.
"I tried to practice hard and play hard and my shoulder would pop out," said Berggren, who set career records for points, rebounds and blocked shots during his high school career in Princeton, Minn. "I'd be thinking about that instead of thinking about blocking a guy out and going for a rebound. I just became tentative and hesitant."
He had surgery to correct a right torn labrum, but he didn't trust his shoulder during last year's Sweet 16 season. He averaged 6.9 minutes and 2.4 points per game playing third fiddle behind Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil.
Berggren was mostly 100 percent last season, but the hesitation in his game was still there. Knowing his predecessors were gone and that he would have to shoulder more of the load, Berggren started to put responsibility on his shoulder, knowing it would respond normally.
"It does feel good now and I don't think about it when I am playing," Berggren said. "I am healthy and confident with it. I am not hesitant to extend out for a rebound or block shots or dive on the floor for loose balls. Knock on wood, it feels good and hopefully it stays that way."
Berggren is second on the team in points per game (12.0) and rebounds per game (5.4) and has played his best basketball over the first month and a half of the season. He scored a career-high 21 points in 21 minutes against UMKC (one of five double-digit scoring nights), grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds against Bradley and had a complete game against No.5 North Carolina with 14 points, five rebounds, three steals and one block.
"That's exactly what I've saw from him five-six years ago," said associate head coach Greg Gard, who recruited Berggren out of high school. "That potential was there and that's exactly what Coach Ryan saw when he went up there. It just takes time for kids to develop and I don't want to say it's starting all over when you get to college, but it's a huge jump, especially for big guys. They can't operate quite the same way. It's great to see his hard work is paying off and he is reaping the rewards for him fighting the last three years."
There were times when it was obvious that Berggren was not ready. When Leuer went down with a wrist injury two years ago, Ryan spent the majority of the next practice trying to turn Berggren into an All American. Sluggish on his feet and hurting with his shoulder, Berggren ended up not playing the next game at Northwestern because he was a liability.
The perimeter shooting also wasn't his strength in his school, seeing as he estimating spending 90 percent of high school down on the low block.
Both are starting to come around. Against North Carolina, Berggren utilized the shot fake to drive to the bucket for easy points. After shooting 8-for-23 (34.8 percent) his first two seasons, Berggren is 12-for-33 (36.4 percent) from the perimeter this season.
"It's something that I've worked hard on over the past couple of years and something we work hard on in practice and our individual workouts in the spring," Berggren said of the 3-point shot. "It's something where hard work makes shots, because I feel comfortable shooting from there."
In two seasons behind seniors Leuer and Nankivil, Berggren learned how to be a master of the pick-and-pop, pick-and-roll and keep his feet under him for a solid legal screen. He also learned the post game and how the swing offense works to the benefit of a player with range and post-up abilities.
"I obviously expect more of myself this year in an expanded role and I hope to contribute by showing what I am capable of," Berggren said. "I've waited by turn behind Jon and Keaton the last couple years and now I feel like it's my time to step up."
Every game is a new challenge. Tonight against Green Bay (4-4), Berggren will draw the assignment of 7-1 Alec Brown, who leads the Phoenix with 14 points and 7.5 rebounds and had 18 points and 8 rebounds against Wisconsin last season. Consider it just another point of growth.
"It takes awhile for a big man to develop confidence in your ability," said Gard. "To be able to do it in practice is one thing but to be able to do it when the lights are the brightest and there are people coming after you, that's another sign that he's going in the right direction."
It's just scratching the surface for a player that made the smart decision of redshirting to benefit his game. Compared to last year, Berggren feels he's more confident, more aggressive and isn't questioning whether or not to pass the ball to more experienced player. Needless to say, his worries are behind him.
"For me, I am just thinking it's about time I started performing and putting up the numbers I felt I was capable of doing the first three years. I am stepping into my role a little bit, feeling more confident every game and producing some good news. I am hopeful that I can keep improving every day, working hard and being more consistent. The more experience you get, the easier the game becomes.
"Big Ten championships, national championships, that's the goal. We expect to achieve that. That's what we hope for and that's what we are going to try and get."
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