Despite losing Devin Harris and two other starters, Wisconsin men's basketball coach Bo Ryan and his players believe that the 2004-05 Badgers may be deeper than last season's version.
The reason is simple: there are more healthy bodies on the practice floor—and players that are not redshirting.
Last year, star forward Alando Tucker played just four games before a second foot injury forced him to take a medical redshirt. Fellow sophomore forward Jason Chappell also took a redshirt as the result of a foot injury. Former McDonald's All-American Brian Butch chose to take a redshirt as a true freshman and former honorable mention All-Big Ten guard Sharif Chambliss was sitting out a transfer year.
Butch is off the redshirt. Chappell is fighting through a minor injury but should return to practice soon.
The spotlight, however, is firmly placed on Tucker and Chambliss, who were both cleared for practice when it began last Saturday.
Thursday was the first day this school year that Wisconsin players were available to the media. Practices remain closed to the media until Nov. 1.
Chambliss said he does have some limitations. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound combo guard tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in mid-March, near the end of Wisconsin's season. After rehabbing with team trainer Henry Perez-Guerra and strength and conditioning coach Scott Hettenbach, Chambliss was able to take part in preseason workouts on a limited basis and can take on nearly a full practice load.
"I'm still rehabbing the injury," Chambliss said. "Certain drills they don't want me to have too many reps because they don't want the tendonitis to build up. But other than that everything's going good. It feels good to be back practicing."
Tucker, an explosive, 6-foot-5, 210-pound forward, on the other hand, has no limitations. He began scrimmaging with teammates during the summer and was more than ready to go full bore once practice rolled around.
"We limited everything in the summer and the preseason so I can go full out during practice," Tucker said. "That was pretty much the plan. They didn't want to pound on my foot during the summer and the preseason, so they limited me to doing half of the things so now, at this point, I can be going full out with everything that everybody else is doing."
Tucker could not be happier to be back on the court.
"It's always frustrating when you want to play and you can't because it seems like you're limited," he said. "Now I can do everything full out. I release my anger right out there on the practice court right now."
"It's like you have so much energy that you can't let out," Tucker said, referring to sitting out last season. "Now, this is the time I can let it out. I've sat out, I've watched a lot of things, I've learned a lot of things. I've actually slowed my game down a little more. I can pick points on offense and defense and I think I've just matured more on the mental aspects.
"I haven't lost anything as far as jumping ability and quickness. That helps so much."
Tucker said that the trainers slowly worked him into drills during the summer and helped him build strength.
"Great trainers, great doctors, they kept my confidence high because we've been doing the right things so far and I haven't felt any pain since the end of last season," he said. "The main thing was making sure it doesn't reoccur but I'm not worried about that."
In addition to returning from the injury, Tucker is transitioning from the "4" to the "3", a minor move in Wisconsin's swing offense.
"We have him out there because of some things that he learned toward the end of the year," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "He actually could have played some 3 towards the end of his freshman year also…Probably in what we do, for a person to make that kind of move isn't anything for anybody to dwell on too much because he still has to play the game the way it's supposed to be played. I don't think it's going to change his game much."
Tucker said he had to work on getting his shot off quicker playing the 3 because of the quicker players that will be guarding him.
"It also gives me an advantage because playing in the post for a year I actually can post up the smaller guys and use my strength," he said.
He could also flex between the two positions.
"I'll move in and out depending on the matchups but I think ultimately I'm more effective when I'm on the perimeter," Tucker said. "Even though I can use my strength and quickness against the bigger guys, if I'm able to create and make moves, penetrate and kick, I think that's pretty much more of what my game's evolved around."
Chambliss could also play two positions, serving as either a shooting guard or a point guard. The "2" will likely be his primary spot, however. He has had much bigger transitions to deal with in the past year between the injury and his transfer from Penn State.
"I understand why they make transfers sit out a year," Chambliss said. "That helped a lot just to get involved in the team and everything."
"How'd you like to have on your scout team a guy who had played in the Big Ten for three years? He was a good addition," Ryan said. "You can't beat his attitude. You can't beat his work ethic. You can't beat his attention to detail. The only thing that's a question mark is always when you are recovering from ACL surgery that it's going to still take a little time."
"At the time of the injury, obviously my head was down a little just for that to happen at the end of the year," Chambliss said. "But like Henry said and I talked to a whole bunch of other people and they said if it was the time for that to happen, that was the perfect time for it to happen. I had a great support staff and I felt like my teammates supported me. They are just like family."
Tucker, Chambliss return to forefront
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