January 8, 2011

Catching up with coach Gard

MADISON - Throughout all the football hysteria leading into last weeks Rose Bowl, the Wisconsin basketball team was essentially placed on the back burner. Now, fully entrenched in Big Ten play, the focus will shift towards the hardwood.

There's no better way to get the pulse of the team than chatting with one of the men in charge. After Friday's practice, BadgerBlitz.com caught up with assistant coach Greg Gard.

The following is a transcript of Gard's interview.

Jordan Taylor was talking about Kalin Lucas and the kind of problems he presents. What kind of matchup do you expect, understanding they're not going to be going at it for all 40 minutes?

Gard: Well he's really good. That's the simple way to put it. He's quick, he's fast, he's athletic and his shooting has really improved over his career. I think his decision-making is getting better. They talked about maybe his injury slowed him down a little bit and made his see the game from a better angle in terms of making decisions. I don't know. I don't coach him, but watching him on film he's progressed like a lot of guys have in their program. He was really good coming in and I don't think he's done anything to disappoint.

Jordan, aside from the fact that he got more experience last year when Jon Leuer was out, what has he gained most from that time that he's been able to carry over?

Gard: Confidence. I think that's been the biggest thing. You can just see from the look in his eye that he knows. If he's not successful it's because it's something that he didn't do well enough. That's what his mindset is right now. I can control my own destiny and this team's destiny. I think that's the biggest thing just seeing his confidence grow by leaps and bounds.

He's gotten better obviously skill wise. He's gotten stronger. You look at his picture on the banner when he was a freshman and he's cut like the Heisman Trophy. He's just added on to that. His skills have gotten better and his shooting has gotten better. The biggest thing that Jordan put number one on his list is his confidence. That has come with time and experience and with the success he's had.

I know Bo Ryan talks about the fact that he doesn't worry about the starters or reserves, but when you guys make a lineup change it can be a transition for the guys that go from the first five to maybe the first wave in. I'm just curious if you saw what you wanted or if you liked what you saw from a guy like Mike Bruesewitz or Josh Gasser?

Gard: A lot of the same things. I think you saw more aggressiveness out of Mike. Sometimes just a change of scenery and being able to watch it from the bench and get a feel for it mentally before you get in sometimes helps. Players are different that way. Like all of us, they all learn in different avenues. Some learn by watching it on video or doing it here on the court. Some have to do it themselves physically.

I think it's the same way when guys make that transition mentally. Am I a starter? Am I a reserve? How do I get myself, when I hit the floor whether I'm a starter or reserve, to hit the ground running? Guys approach that differently because they're made up differently.

I think, especially with young guys, if they can have a little different avenue to learn, sometimes it helps their growth process. Mike got the ball in high percentage areas, which helped him because he wasn't doing that before. I think that's been something that's been talked about a little bit more, getting higher percentage shots and touching the lane. If we can, whether it's with a dribble attack or a post feed.

We were able to do that, maybe you didn't see immediate results, but we were able to get into the bonus quickly in the second half. When they started fouling in the last five minutes we were walking to the free throw line. You're able to rack up a lot of free throws that way. That change of scenery might have helped, because, 'Okay, let's get back to some simple things here.'

He was a recipient of some post feeds, too. He scored at least one, if not more, off Jon posting up and hitting him on a cut to the rim, which is a score off a post feed because the ball was in the post. Josh was more aggressive. I think he drove the lane once and got fouled. Those things, maybe they'll give him a little different vantage point or view on things and hopefully help him with his growth.

They'll both be back in at some point, whether it's this year or other points of their career. You have to be able to handle that. It can't be such a weight on your shoulder whether you are starting or not. You can't be really nervous if you are and you can't get down in the dumps if you're not. You've just got to be able to handle those ebbs and flows.

Bruesewitz strikes me as a guy that it doesn't affect him one way or another, but I was curious about Josh.

Gard: I don't think it really affects Josh. He's a pretty tough nut to crack from that standpoint. He's pretty mentally solid in terms of how he approaches things and is pretty calm with his demeanor, which all of our guys are. We don't really have guys that get up and down. It starts at the top with our coaches. That's what we talk about all the time and how he approaches every day. I think it spreads as it starts with him.

What is Keaton Nankivil doing better besides making shots?

Gard: I think he's more active on the glass. He's a terrific post defender and he is our best post defender. He's done a really good job on guys when he's had matchups. I think he's had a really good year. Everybody is always nitpicking on little things, which everybody can always get better, but in terms of what he's done defensively he's been able to help us. He's gotten better as a passer and I think he's run the floor really well. There's always things you're going to get better at and that will never stop because we'll never stop talking about that and teaching that until the day they're done and whenever we have to hang up the uniforms.

I think just overall he's become a better player in understanding everything about the game. How to play away from the ball, how to play with the ball, how to defend on the ball in transition and how to…There's just a multitude of things you can go down where he's had learning experiences that he's gone through whether it's been this year or his career that has helped him. You see him continue to just get better and better and better. I think he's having a pretty solid senior year. We always want more, but I wouldn't want to be without him. I know that.

I get the feeling that Bo gets on him in practice just because he knows how good Keaton can really be. Is there some truth to that?

Gard: I think he sees the unlimited potential. I think he's as athletic as any big we've ever had. He's probably as athletic as any big in the league. His skill set, to be able to shoot it to how he can run and move, the potential there is limitless. Obviously coach sees that and wants to keep pushing that while trying to get the most out of it.

Keaton knows it too. It's just a matter of keeping on working towards trying to get better physically and get better at what you're doing, but also mentally in decisions and hows and whys of the game that go into it and make you a complete player.

The hesitation is out of his shot. If he's open he shoots it, which I think has really helped his percentage. He's not looking at the shot clock…

Gard: As well he shouldn't unless it's a score and time thing late in the game where he needs to pass up one. He's been confident and he is confident and he needs to keep doing that. When he's open, I'll take my chances with him shooting the ball. I think you're odds are in pretty good favor if he's left open and able to square up and knock some things down. I wouldn't want to play horse against him. I know that.

I would imagine he'll get matched up with Draymond Green quite a bit.

Gard: Well they run so many bigs in and out and we will have to too. It's not going to come down to one individual matchup. It won't be Taylor against Lucas and it won't be Nankivil against Green or Leuer against Delvon Roe or any of those other guys. It's going to be Michigan State against Wisconsin. They're going to try to do what they do well, which is defend and rebound and run. That hasn't changed.

They do the same things that they did 10 years ago. It's just different names and different faces. They're really good at what they do and we try to be really good at what we do. We each have our kind of identity so to speak and you play to that identity no matter who's in your program. You just try to make the most of it and they've done a good job of that.

Does it say something to both of your home courts that you haven't gotten a win there in since years and they haven't gotten a win here since before Bo?

Gard: I think it's just a testament to the strengths of the two programs. I've been asked several times over the years to compare coach Ryan to coach Tom Izzo and I think they're almost identical in terms of their mental makeup and how they approach things. They're very business like and they're very demanding.

They expect the most. They keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get the most out of their players and they're both very respected nationally. You see a lot of similarities. Obviously we don't run the same offense and do some of those things, but in terms of the characteristics of the program I think they're both very, very similar in terms of their makeup and their backgrounds.

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