MADISON - Traevon Jackson has cleared one major hurdle in his return to the Wisconsin rotation. How many more he can clear between now and Friday will determine if the senior can return to the court this weekend.
Stating last weekend that the goal was to return to practice this week, Jackson was finally medically cleared and took part in Wisconsin’s practice Tuesday. After a three-day grind in Chicago that netted the school’s third Big Ten tournament championship, the Badgers only worked on fundaments and shooting (no possessions) but it was a start for Jackson, who hasn’t played in over two months.
“I can only take it day by day right now,” said Jackson. “I can’t look too much ahead because it’s still a daily grind and a process.”
Jackson has missed 17 consecutive games since sustaining a broken right foot on Jan. 11 and has seen his tone on playing change dramatically in three weeks.
After initially saying he would play against Michigan State on Senior Day, the senior says he’s unsure if he will return to the rotating when the Badgers (31-3) open the NCAA tournament as the No.1 seed in the West Region, playing 16th-seed Costal Carolina (23-9) in Omaha, Neb.
”I can’t really put a date on it,” Jackson said. “It felt great to be out here though. Honestly, it’s a 50-50 chance. I’m not going to rush it. It’s just a matter of how I feel.”
Wisconsin – which moved up three spots to No.3 in the Associated Press poll – could certainly use Jackson’s experience. He started 84 consecutive games, including all five games on UW’s Final Four run a year ago, and was averaging 9.4 points and 2.9 assists in UW’s first 17 games before fracturing the long bone on the outside of his foot that connects to the pinkie toe. He had surgery Jan.15.
The Badgers have thrived without Jackson (going 16-1 and winning the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles) because of sophomore Bronson Koenig, who has started every game and is averaging 12.2 points during that stretch, which has allowed Jackson not to rush his treatment.
Jackson has said all along that he wouldn’t return if he felt he was a detriment to himself or the team. While he believes his foot is around 90 percent, Jackson next step is getting back into the routine and building confidence in his foot, considering most of his rehab has been running on an underwater treadmill and some on-court running with the team’s athletic training staff.
“I’ll be in shape to play, it just depends on how the flow of the game is going,” said Jackson. “if I’m playing well, I stay in longer. If I’m playing OK, I just come out like any other player. Just being aggressive, playing like myself.”
“I want to be 100 percent when I come back,” added Jackson. “I don’t want to come back hobbling my way in. That’s not the goal at all.”
And because of that, Jackson said he’s come to accept that he might not play again this season if the Badgers’ NCAA tournament run is shorter than expected.
“I’ve come to grips with that,” said Jackson. “Honestly, I’ll be OK if I didn’t play the rest of the season. It’s not really that big of a deal to me to where it’s like I have to play. I want to be 100 percent to help the team out. I don’t want to be a burden to the team.”