Josh Gasser back in the bracket
MADISON—The best gifts often come unexpectedly.
No warning. No notice.
Wisconsin redshirt junior Josh Gasser has known for months he was returning to the NCAA tournament after a one-year hiatus due to injury.
Yet that knowledge couldn’t diminish the joy he felt Sunday when UW (26-7) received the No. 2 seeding in the West Regional and was sent to Milwaukee to face American (20-12) at 11:40 a.m. Thursday.
“I love it,” Gasser said after the NCAA selection show. “This time last year was definitely the hardest time for me, you know.
“A couple weeks after the injury were tough, but I think the hardest part was watching our guys compete in championship-type moments and not being able to help at all.”
The low point came when UW went one-and-out in the 2013 NCAA tournament.
UW shot 23.3 percent from 3-point range (7 of 30), 25.4 percent overall (15 of 59) and suffered a 57-46 loss to Mississippi.
“Now just knowing that I worked hard to get back and help my team win something, that’s just what I worked for,” said Gasser, who missed last season after suffering a gruesome knee injury in practice. “Now that I’m in this moment, it’s all about trying to take advantage of that and trying to have some fun with it.”
Gasser clearly has enjoyed his return to the court. He recently was named to the Big Ten’s all-defensive team, an honor that he also received as a sophomore in 2012, and led the Big Ten in 3-point shooting (49.2 percent).
UW coach Bo Ryan, who won four NCAA Division III titles at UW-Platteville and has guided UW to 13 NCAA appearances in 13 seasons, said qualifying for postseason play never gets old because the players change from year to year.
Asked if he has enjoyed seeing Gasser rewarded for his hard work, Ryan had some fun with arguably his toughest player.
“Well, he’s doing OK,” Ryan deadpanned. “He could help us in more ways.
“But I say it so many times, it’s not that you want to say it gets old, but Josh feels old at times.
“You ever see him after he tries to take some of those charges and gets up? I think I’m ready to put him in a home.
“But what he brings is just a guy who plays. He just plays. It’s not like he’s playing for anything other than I think he just likes to beat people. I think he just likes to get into them.
“I think he likes to be the one that’s on top. Be the one that when it’s over (say): ‘I got my licks in there. I’m OK. I played my hardest. I tried to help my team win. We did some things.’”
That desire to finish on top extends to Mario Kart, a video game Gasser plays against teammate and close friend Ben Brust.
“It’s competition, which is good,” Brust said. “There is some carry over. …
“Josh was a guy who played as a freshman. I was a freshman. So I got to learn what he was doing to get out there on the floor.
“It was like: ‘OK, so he’s doing this right and this right. I better take notes on what this guy’s doing because it’s obviously working, and he’s getting out there to help the team.’”
“He’s not a guy that’s ever done anything for himself or tried to bring any attention to himself,” Ryan said. “I don’t get to jump him very often, so when I do get a chance, I make sure I jump on that and take advantage of it.
“But just to me, if he’s playing with me on a team, I’m playing harder. I just think it has that effect with the team.
“For me, he’ll just be one of the guys that you always remember for his grit and toughness.”