MADISON - Senior guard Traevon Jackson can’t speak specifically to the medical aspect of his injury. The only thing that matters to Jackson is that he will play against Michigan State on March 1 Senior Day.“I’ve prepared,” said Jackson. “I feel that I’m prepared, that I’ll be in shape. All I need to be is in shape. I’ve been playing basketball my entire life, so it won’t take that long to get the feel back for the game.” Addressing the media for the first time since he injured in right foot in the second half of Wisconsin’s 67-62 loss at Rutgers Jan.11, Jackson, who underwent surgery Jan.15, his initial rehab process was scheduled to begin 2-3 weeks following surgery with a return date between 4-6 weeks. He recently ditched a scooter that was designed to keep his right foot off the ground. He is walking without crutches and can walk without a protective boot, although he still wears it for precautions. Jackson has yet to be medically cleared, but he will travel with the team to Maryland Tuesday – his first road trip since the injury – and plans to practice this week. If he is medically cleared by physicians, Jackson will return exactly seven weeks following his injury.
Whether or not Jackson achieves his goal is still unknown, but he’s kept himself busy and active by doing aggressive pool workouts and has done some dribbling and shooting.“(The hardest part is) just mentally, staying engaged with the team, trying to be a part of this still and not feel like I am kind of here” said Jackson. “That’s been the toughest part, but it’s been great. It’s been great to be around (the team). It’s a lot of fun. It’s taught me a lot.”
When he does come back, Jackson will be joining a team that is red hot. Winners of 10 straight since the Rutgers loss, its longest conference winning streak since the 1940-41 national championship season, the Badgers are one win away from a share of its first conference title in seven years, which they can clinch a share of against the Terrapins in College Park.The Badgers have won eight of those games by double digits, have scored at least 65 points eight times and limited opponents to no more than 55 points the last five games. A large part of that success has been because of sophomore Bronson Koenig, who has impressed in his 10 starts as Jackson’s replacement. Scoring in double figures eight times on the winning streak, Koenig is averaging 12.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and only 1.0 turnovers per game. He has made 43.8 percent of his shots overall (39 of 89) and 47.1 percent of his three-point attempts (24 of 51). “We knew he was talented,” said assistant coach Gary Close of Koenig. “I think any time you go on a (10 game) streak, whether you are fully healthy or losing your point guard, in this league is a testament to the players. Losing (Jackson), too, just adds to the mix. I think it speaks volumes with how good Bronson is and how calm and comfortable our guys are with him.” Having the great good fortune of having his Kohl Center locker right next to Jackson, Koenig has soaked up Jackson’s advice on leadership and being more aggressive. In the first 17 games of the season, Koenig had only attempted five free throws. In the 10 games since, Koenig is 24 or 28. “He’s a senior leader, and I’m going to be really happy for him when he does come back,” said Koenig. “It’s going to be nice to have that extra depth and nice for somebody to give me a break, too.” Having started 84 consecutive games for UW before the injury, Jackson was averaging 9.4 points per game, led the team with 49 assists and ranked sixth in the Big Ten in free throw accuracy, shooting 85.4 percent. The numbers appear modest, but Jackson certainly picked his spots. He scored a career-high 25 points – 17 in the second half alone - on 7-for-12 shooting (3-5 3FG and 8-8 FTs) against Duke, poured in 11 of his 13 points in a hard-fought home win over Purdue and tied career-highs with 8 assists and 3 steals, while also scoring 13 points, in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game against Oklahoma. Those moments don’t include the four game-winning or game-tying shots he’s made over the final minute of his career. “Trae gets criticized a lot, we hear it, and I think it comes unwarranted,” said Dekker. “The things he does for this team are a lot of times not even on paper. Just the attitude he brings to the court, his hustle and his work ethic are the things you need and the stuff he says in the locker room brings us together. Trae is a vital part of this time. Without him last year, I don’t think we do what we did. I’m glad to have him on my team.” No matter how head coach Bo Ryan chooses to use Jackson, the Badgers will add a player who was a Big Ten honorable mention selection a year ago right before tournament time, which could be just the recipe for Wisconsin to improve its sagging bench. Outscoring its opponent only once in the last 10 games, the bench has contributed five points or less six times and more than six points only once in the last eight games. That’s resulted in all five of Wisconsin’s starters playing at least 34 minutes in each of the last three games, including only 22 minutes against Illinois, 19 minutes against Penn State and 17 minutes against Minnesota. Each of those represented a new season low. Outside Jackson’s injury, Wisconsin has been fortunate to avoid further injuries or in-game foul trouble that would take a starter out for a considerable stretch. “It’s going to be definitely tough (jumping back in), but I know how mentally tough he is,” said Gasser. “He’s going to come back. If he’s not physically 100 percent he’s going to be mentally 100 percent and give everything he’s got. That’s essentially all that matters and that can take you a long way. “I know he’s been working his tail off, and he’s going to continue to do that to get himself ready to go and help the team. He’s not going to want to play if he can’t help the team.” Missing his first significant time since suffering a hip flexor injury in middle school, Jackson is anxious to return to help his team win championships. “This is truly a blessing to be able to have this time, to be able to come back and be a part of the great run we have,” said Jackson. “We have a great group of guys in there and a great team. I just want to help us win championships.”