MADISON – It was still several weeks before Christmas, so Jackson Bax didn’t exactly know of anything specific he was going to put on his list. He probably didn’t need anything, because whatever he opens will fail to compare to the walk-on opportunity the University of Wisconsin gave him at the start of the season.
“I’m glad everything worked out,” said Bax. “I was looking to play other places because I didn’t know if Wisconsin was going to be an option for me. After realizing that there wasn’t other places I wanted to play, I came here hoping there was going to be an opportunity. I can’t believe that it actually happened.”
A first-team all-conference selection as a senior at Frankfort (Ill.) Lincoln-Way East High School, Bax had hopes of playing basketball in college. He looked at Amherst and Williams on the East Coast and Washington University in St. Louis. He also tried to walk-on at Northwestern but that opportunity also fell through.
Instead of pursuing basketball, Bax happily enrolled at Wisconsin because he was impressed with the school’s academics, the campus and the way of life. He didn’t pick the school because of the Badgers, however, as he was the furthest thing from a diehard.
“I watched them when they were on national television but never truly followed them,” said Bax. “Now that I’m on the team, I’m obviously going to follow them everywhere.”
Bax received an email from the athletic department looking for players for an open tryout on Oct.21. His father saw an announcement on the school’s website touting the tryout, too, although Bax didn’t need much coaxing.
“I always knew that if there was this opportunity that I was going to come,” said Bax.
It was the first time the Badgers held a tryout since 2009 when J.D. Wise joined the roster. Approximately 40 players were allowed to try out for roughly 90 minutes to impress Wisconsin’s three assistant coaches.
While the Badgers were hopeful to find a point guard of some kind, the biggest key in selecting a prospect was the person’s character and academic standing.
“We’re not taking a guy because we think he’s going to be starting for us,” said assistant coach Lamont Paris. “We did need somebody for the scout team to help handle the ball, but the biggest part of it was personality and how they were going to fit into the locker room. That’s a big deal for us, especially for a walk-on.”
Bax fit those criteria. While he averaged only 10 points and four assists last season, his role on his high school team was more facilitator and organizer compared to scorer, something that intrigued the UW coaches.
So when then-associate head coach Greg Gard called to tell him to come to the Wisconsin basketball offices, Bax thought it was to schedule another workout.
“I thought I had a pretty good chance at making it because there were a couple guys it was coming down to,” said Bax. “I thought there was always a possibility, so it was a nice surprise.”
Bax defines his game with his organizational leadership. He’s tried to do his part getting the scout unit into the correct sets, use his court vision to help teammates correct mistakes and, most importantly, be competitive.
For a team full of youngsters, Bax was exactly what the staff was looking for to boost the roster.
“I want to compete with the other guys and make them better,” said Bax. “All the guys did a great job of accommodating me. They all came up to me as soon as I got in the locker room and introduced themselves. I felt a part of the team as soon as I walked in.”