Gasser bounces back through aches and pains
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON--Josh Gasser embarks on a journey to the unknown each day he rises.
Some mornings his surgically repaired left knee is only mildly annoying, a dull ache combined with stiffness.
Other mornings, more than Wisconsin’s redshirt junior guard prefers, the stiffness and pain serve as jarring reminders the major ligaments in his left knee exploded during a practice before last season.
On those days Gasser knows his ability to play basketball at the level he demands will be compromised.
“That is pretty much what they tell me—you’re going to wake up in the morning and it will feel different each day,” Gasser said. “You’ve just got to hope those days we have games it feels good.
“I’m going to do everything in my power—and the training staff is going to do everything in their power—to get me as healthy as possible for games.
“If it means I take less reps at practice, that’s what it means. I hate hearing that, but that’s just the way it’s got to be sometimes.”
As fourth-ranked UW (12-0) prepares to return to action at 1 p.m. Saturday against visiting Prairie View A&M (2-9), Gasser’s overall numbers suggest his comeback is complete.
He has averaged 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, shooting 41.9 percent from three-point range, 47.5 percent overall and 85.1 percent from the free-throw line. In addition, his defense on the opponents’ best wing players has been outstanding.
“I’m pretty impressed with how he is doing right now,” said trainer Henry Perez-Guerra, who estimated the duo worked together 30 hours per week in the spring and summer to prepare for the season. “He had a big injury.”
Don’t be fooled, however. Gasser isn’t fully recovered and isn’t expected to be until next season.
Perez-Guerra, in his 21st season at UW, believes Gasser will need until sometime next spring or perhaps even into the summer before he feels as good as he did before the injury.
UW associate head coach Greg Gard noted expectations for athletes returning to form after suffering anterior cruciate ligament injuries have risen in the wake of Adrian Peterson’s recovery.
Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings’ star tailback, needed less than nine months to return to the lineup in 2012 and rushed for 2,097 yards en route to being named league MVP.
“I think it will be an ongoing process,” Gard said of Gasser, who damaged all the major ligaments in his knee. “He may not be back completely feeling normal until a year from now.
“Not everybody bounces back like Adrian Peterson does. Typically you don’t bounce back that quickly.
“His body will tell him when it is time to back off a little bit or when he feels good. That will be the barometer we’ll go by more than anything.”
Fans see Gasser hitting big shots, grabbing key rebounds and taking charges. If they’ve watched closely this season they’ve also caught Gasser grimacing when he feels pain in the knee.
What they haven’t seen, however, is Gasser putting in extra hours almost every day, whether UW has a game or practice, just to get onto the court.
When UW hosted UW-Milwaukee on Dec. 11, Gasser spent 12 hours in the Kohl Center. That is more than his daily average—he had class work to do—but he routinely spends six to seven hours in the Kohl Center on days UW practices.
He generally arrives at 1:30 p.m. for a quick lunch and then pre-practice treatment with Perez-Guerra.
That includes massage therapy, heating treatments, the standard taping all players get and then exercises designed to get Gasser’s quadriceps and hamstring firing.
“It is mainly just to get things heated up and get him loose and get his muscles thinking about what he is ready to do,” Perez-Guerra said.
Gasser added: “I do that before every practice and every game.”
After practice and games, Gasser ices the knee for at least 30 minutes, then gets a heating treatment and then takes an ice bath.
“They are pretty long days, but it feels good when I’m done,” Gasser said. “It has been good. I will have pain in the back of my knee and that will finally go away. And then I’ll get pain in the front of my knee.
“It is always something. One thing (disappears) and another thing pops up. But I guess I’d rather have that than everything all at once.”
The pain sometimes plays tricks with Gasser’s mind.
“Some days stuff just creeps into my head,” he said. “I don’t know why it happens.”
One example: concerns about what might happen if he plants hard and explodes to the rim or lands awkwardly.
“There’s nothing I can really do about it,” he said. “It just comes with the territory.”
After UW displayed mental and physical toughness in consecutive victories over Virginia and Marquette in a span of four days, UW coach Bo Ryan was asked to express his level of satisfaction.
His answer turned into a testimony to the grit displayed by Gasser and its effect.
“The guys saw what he went through last year and you can’t tell me that there is a guy in that locker room that didn’t take notice of the hours and the discipline and all the work that Josh put in,” he said. “He never missed anything. He was always around, always encouraging the guys last year through the spring, through the summer.
“We have some other guys out there that have a lot of grit, but you have to start somewhere and that is where it starts.”
Gasser continues to display that grit, off the court and away from the spotlight, and will need to do so for months to come.