'Smooth' looks forward to final home game

Senior center overcame language barrier, learned new style of play in coming to Wisconsin

Other seniors took more circuitous routes to Wisconsin. But none of the six who will be honored prior to the Badgers' men's basketball game with Purdue Saturday traveled further to be where he is today than Andreas Helmigk — the laid back, happy-go-lucky big man who brings a smile to the face of everyone on the team.

Coming to the United States from Klagenfurt, Austria, the past four years have not only been an incredible basketball experience for Helmigk but also a life-changing one.

"The whole experience has been great — being a part of the team, being a part of the program," Helmigk said. "When I look back in a couple of years and I'm just going to be proud of being a part of the history we made and hopefully we continue to do something in the next couple weeks. I'm honored to be able to have come here and learn as much as I did. Not just about basketball but also about myself."

For ‘Smooth', as his teammates call him, things at UW have not always been easy and learning English was the first of several difficult things he had to encounter.

"The first couple months I was struggling a little bit," Helmigk said. "I was out with Charlie Wills at the [Memorial Union] Terrace or something and he told me later, he was asking me a yes/no kind of question and I was totally answering to something else. But after the first five or six months I started to understand better."

On top of the language barrier, Helmigk also had to adjust to the different style of basketball in the United States. Senior guard Clayton Hanson, who is one of only two players to have been with Helmigk since his first day on campus, remembers how tough it was for the Austrian when he first stepped on the court with his teammates.

"I just remember he flew in and we were here playing in the summer and he just got so beat up the first three days he was here," Hanson said. "He had to have wanted to go back home. The first day he had three stitches, the next day he did something like broke his nose and the day after that he twisted his knee. I thought he was ready to go home after that but he stuck it out and it's been great all along."

Helmigk is often the guy who goes overlooked among the seniors because of his mild nature and his limited playing time over the years, but he fits in perfectly with a group of seniors who are as diverse as it comes in college basketball.

"It's kind of unique in that sense," Hanson said. "Andreas [Helmigk] and I were the only two guys that came in four years ago. Zach went to junior college, Sharif [Chambliss] transfers in and Mike [Wilkinson]'s the fifth year guy — yeah, we've all taken different paths, yet here at the end of the season we're all working towards the same thing."

"Look at our seniors," head coach Bo Ryan said. I'm not saying there isn't a normal one in there. You can go all over the country and you find me five seniors that have ended up in a place any differently than our five seniors. You won't find it."

Senior forward Zach Morley agrees with his coach and points out the one thing that will always unite the unique group.

"All our paths have been different," Morley said. "Basketball brought us together and that friendship we developed will stay forever."

Helmigk has no doubt he'll always remain friends with his teammates down the road and believes that he and the rest of his teammates want nothing more than to finish their last home game on a strong note.

"I don't want to leave this playing without knowing I couldn't have done better or we couldn't have done better," Helmigk said. "I'm going to give everything. I'm not leaving this place on a losing note."

"It's definitely bittersweet, but it's not the last game ever," Helmigk added. "We have a couple more weeks. But it's the last game at the Kohl Center and it definitely makes me kind of sad. But it's not the last game in a Wisconsin uniform."

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