In 2005, Wisconsin headed to the Caribbean for a five-day stay in St. Thomas. Between fishing and sun tanning, the Badgers managed to win the Paradise Jam Tournament and used that momentum to start the season off 14-2.
In 2006, Wisconsin visited Rome, Florence and Lake Como during a 10-day tour of Italy, besting three European teams, and traveling to South Padre Island, Texas during the season for a pair of games in the South Padre Invitational. Needless to say, a 30-win season and the school's first-ever No.1 ranking were landmark achievements.
Wisconsin is hoping for a similar jump start to its 2008-09 season when the Badgers travel back to the Paradise Jam tournament this weekend.
"(The early trip) really helps, especially for the younger guys," senior Marcus Landry said. "This being there first trip away from school for about a week, it helps them and prepares them for later on when we get to tournament play and having three or four games in the span of a week."
Unlike the last trip to St. Thomas when the Badgers only had to deal with Norfolk State, Eastern Kentucky and Old Dominion, Wisconsin, because of the change in NCAA rule to allow teams to play in exempt tournaments every year, will have to deal with a tournament field that includes No.2 Connecticut, Miami (FL), San Diego and Valparaiso.
"We're going down to a tournament where there are just a lot of good teams period," UW Head Coach Bo Ryan said. "There'll be size, there'll be quickness (and) there'll be strength. The caliber of teams in this thing, this might be the toughest one that (the Paradise Jam has) had. We've just got to get down there and mix up with those teams and see what happens."
"There are a lot of good teams in this tournament," Landry added. "For the most part, nothing is going to come easy. It's obviously a great place to be in the Virgin Islands during this time being cold here. For the most part, it's a business trip and we have to go down there and take care of business and have fun."
Leuer Bulks Up
After getting worn down by the college basketball grind last season, sophomore Jon Leuer knew that he needed to eat up in order to make it through the 2008-09 season. After seeing the scales drop under 200 pounds during last season, Leuer went on the "Brian Butch" diet, eating everything he could get his hands on while still maintaining his workout regiment.
A season later, Leuer's weight is listed at 225 pounds and the forward is feeling more comfortable banging with the big boys in the paint.
After scoring seven points in the opener, Leuer registered a game-high 19 points and did the majority of his scoring in the post, going 8-for-10 from the floor and 2-for-2 from the three-point line.
"It's easy to play with guys who distribute the ball like we do because you never know who is going to score and we are all unselfish," Leuer said. "We know if we cut hard and be assertive, we're going to get good shots."
It was a huge confidence booster for Leuer, who was off of the map at the tail end of last season. After scoring a career-high 25 points in the conference opener at Michigan last season, Leuer scored only 16 points in the team's final 23 games of the season.
"I am just trying to be more assertive (this year)," Leuer said. "Some spots opened up and I was able to get some easy ones right away, which got me in my rhythm. That's a big part, getting in a rhythm. It was a fun game being out there with everyone being unselfish. I thought we executed really well tonight."
Markolf to play this year
With the game well in hand, freshman Ian Markolf became the third true freshmen (joining Jordan Taylor and Robert Wilson) to see minutes for the Badgers this season. Markolf made good use of his short time, hitting a short jump shot at 2:09 and kicked out a pass to Morris Cain on UW's next possession, registering his first assist.
"Ian's big and he's strong," Ryan said. "Sometimes younger guys might be developing at a little different rate. I don't think he's going to grow anymore and he's worked hard in practice. He got his chance to get in there and get a few minutes. How much more depends on how guys develop and how the battles go in practice with the bigs."
Quote of the Night
"We didn't care who was scoring and never have. I like the fact that we moved the ball, made hard cuts, touched the post, didn't get too screwy with our decision making and that's what you look for in games like this … I am just glad our guys stayed to the task." – Bo Ryan
Who: Wisconsin (2-0) vs. Iona (1-0)
When: Friday, November 21 at 7:30 pm CT
Where: St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
Series Record: First Meeting
Player to Watch: The Gales, hailing from New Rochelle, New York, are led by senior forward Gary Springer, who averaged 10.9 points in 25 games last season for Iona. In his team's season-opening 59-46 victory over Hampton, Springer scored 22 points, going 7-for-10 from the floor and 8-for-10 from the line, while grabbing seven rebounds.