Shared sacrifice

The University of Wisconsin will celebrate six senior basketball players Saturday afternoon

At approximately 1:10 p.m. Saturday, about 20 minutes before the Badgers tip-off with Purdue, the University Wisconsin men's basketball program and a sold-out Kohl Center crowd will pay tribute to six seniors: forwards Mike Wilkinson and Zach Morley, center Andreas Helmigk and guards Clayton Hanson, Sharif Chambliss and Latrell Fleming.

No two stories in this senior class are quite alike.

"Six guys and they are going to be coming together Saturday from six different angles," UW coach Bo Ryan said.

A quick synopsis:

Wilkinson was recruited by former coach Dick Bennett and redshirted in 2000-01, the year that Bennett retired in midseason and was replaced by interim coach Brad Soderberg. Ryan took over the following season, Wilkinson's first on the floor.

Hanson was originally recruited by Ryan as a scholarship player at UW-Milwaukee, but when Ryan was hired at Wisconsin, Hanson vacated that scholarship and walked-on at UW, where he paid his way his first three seasons. After Devin Harris left early for the NBA, Hanson adopted his scholarship this year.

Morley was recruited by some mid-major Division I schools out of high school, but he wanted to play at a higher level. So after honing his skills with two years in the junior college ranks, he ended up in the Big Ten at Wisconsin.

Chambliss spent three years at Penn State and was that team's leading scorer his sophomore and junior seasons. He transferred to UW prior to the 2003-04 season and, in accordance with Big Ten rules, had to sit out a transfer year and could not receive a scholarship. Late last season, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee but he has played all 26 games this season.

Helmigk came to UW from Klagenfurt, Austria, where he was a member of the Austrian National Team. He came to UW the same year as Hanson (2001-02) and redshirted due to a knee injury. Though he has only had three years of competition, NCAA age restrictions mandate that this is the final year of competition for Helmigk, who turned 25 in December. The Badgers tried unsuccessfully to appeal for another year for Helmigk.

Fleming also came to the UW in the fall of 2001, a highly touted point guard prospect the Badgers hoped to team with Harris. In September 2001, though, Fleming was diagnosed with a heart condition, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest, often without prior warning. His basketball career over, Fleming has stayed involved with the team over the years while working on his double major in legal studies and sociology.

"Some of those guys made sacrifices," Ryan said. "You paid your own, that's a sacrifice. You transfer that's a sacrifice. You don't go right away to a four-year school because you want something else, that's a sacrifice.

"We're here as facilitators for everybody to live out their dreams. I'd say these guys have done it in different ways but this is the dream they're working on right here. It's their last go around. And it's a unique group."

Wilkinson said: "Once everyone gets here it's all the same cause, all the same reasons they are coming to play hard, they are coming to have fun, they are coming to enjoy it, and to win. I'm sure they've all had fun doing it. And I know I've had fun being there with them."

In the four years Wilkinson, Hanson, Helmigk and Flowers have been on campus, the Badgers have won 87 games, a four-year program record. They won a share of the Big Ten title in the spring of 2002, won it outright the following year and won the program's only Big Ten Tournament title in 2004. Saturday, with a win over Purdue, they can give the program three consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time in school history.

Wisconsin has come incredibly far since Wilkinson's and Hanson's freshman season on the floor, when the Badgers opened the campaign 1-4, including a grueling 1-3 stretch at the Big Island Invitational in Hilo, Hawaii.

"That was a long tourney," Wilkinson said. "We didn't play so well."

But after going 6-8 in non-conference play, the Badgers came together and went 11-5 in the Big Ten for a share of the league crown.

"We grew up as a team and as people all together," Wilkinson said. "It really showed once we hit the Big Ten season."

This season the Badgers are 19-7 overall, 10-5 in the Big Ten, with a chance to wrap up third place in the conference with a win Saturday. This despite having to replace four of five starters from last season, including Big Ten Player of the Year Devin Harris, who left for the NBA after his junior campaign, and Boo Wade, who left the team for personal reasons this year.

"Everything we do we've done as a team," Wilkinson said. "We've had a lot of great games, a lot of fun and we've never ever looked at it as more than just a game, going out there and playing it.

"Everyone that's come here has grown up on the floor as a basketball player and as a person. Just being part of that has been amazing."

Saturday's ceremony will be a typical senior day event, Ryan said. The players will be announced with their families 20 minutes prior to game time. After the game families and friends of the players will gather in the Nicholas-Johnson Pavilion

"They didn't come here for one day," Ryan said. "They came here for the experience of the whole competitive nature of the sport. The idea is play as well as you can so you can go as far as you can."

What: Wisconsin (19-7 overall, 10-5 Big Ten) v. Purdue (7-19, 3-12)
When: Saturday, March 5 at 1:32 p.m.
Where: Kohl Center (17,142) in Madison.
Broadcasts: ESPN Regional will televise the game live; the Wisconsin Radio Network will broadcast the game live.
Series notes: Purdue leads the all-time series 97-60. Wisconsin leads 42-34 in games played in Madison. UW has a six-game home winning streak versus Purdue. The Badgers beat Purdue 77-68 at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind., Jan. 5, snapping a 29-game road losing streak to the Boilermakers.

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