What are the odds Wisconsin, Virginia Tech or Tennessee make it to the Final Four?
According to FiveThirtyEight.com, about 4, 21 and 10 percent, respectively.
If the Badgers, Hokies or Volunteers wind up in Minneapolis in a couple weeks, however, there is a 100 percent chance a strength and conditioning coach with ties to Rock County or Walworth County helped get them there.
For Wisconsin, that man is Erik Helland, an Edgerton native who is in his sixth season with the Badgers after a long stint on the strength and conditioning staff of the Chicago Bulls.
Helland went from winning six rings and working with players like Michael Jordan to joining the Badgers in time for two trips to the Final Four while helping mold future NBA players like Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky.
“This is the fun time of year for everyone,” Helland said Monday, one day after the Badgers found out they were a No. 5 seed and heading to San Jose, California, to play 12th-seeded Oregon in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday. “Everyone puts the work in—players, staff, coaches—throughout the year, and now you’re just trying to put the exclamation point on the season.”
Helland, who was promoted in 2015 to UW’s director of strength and conditioning to oversee the strength and conditioning programs and facilities for all UW athletic teams, said his job working with the basketball players changes throughout the course of a season.
It is easy to notice offseason work, such as when sophomore Nate Reuvers bulked up from 215 pounds to 240, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article in November.
But by this time of year, Helland is working to keep players like Reuvers as fresh as possible.
“For the guys playing heavy minutes, it’s really all about recovery,” said Helland, who lives in Stoughton but gets back to see family and friends in Edgerton often. “The stress load accumulates, so you’re keeping their work capacity up. You’re just trying to counteract the stressors.
“They’re not going overly aggressive (in the weight room), but they’re maintaining as much as they can. And guys that are a little dinged up, you’re working around whatever they’ve got going on. It’s a reactive thing at this point.”
David Jackson and Garrett Medenwald surely know all about that.
Jackson, a Janesville, is the assistant athletics director for strength and conditioning with the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team.
Jackson and his twin brother, Jim, played for Janesville Craig, including as part of the 1991 team that reached the state tournament. They eventually wound up playing together at Virginia Tech.
David has been a part of the Hokies’ staff since 2007. Fourth-seeded Virginia Tech opens NCAA Tournament play against 13th-seeded Saint Louis.
At Tennessee, Garrett Medenwald came to the Vols along with head coach Rick Barnes in 2015. Medenwald had worked with Barnes’ teams at Texas.
A native of Green Bay, Medenwald graduated from UW-Whitewater in 2013, earning a bachelor’s degree in Health, Human Performance and Recreation while minoring in Athletic Coaching Education.
Edgerton a strength coach hub
Several Edgerton natives who interned with Helland are now coaches at the Division I level.
Brendon Ziegler is the assistant athletics director/director of sport performance at Cal State Bakersfield. He was hired in 2011, after spending several years at Oregon State, as the Roadrunners’ first strength and conditioning coach.
Tyler Dobratz is in his second season with the Chattanooga Mocs in Tennessee. Dobratz, who played tight end at University of Dubuque after graduating from Edgerton, is the assistant director of athletic performance and works with Chattanooga’s men’s basketball, women’s golf and men’s tennis teams.
Another Edgerton grad, Kyle Johnson, is an assistant director of speed, strength and conditioning at Coastal Carolina.
And Helland also mentioned a couple of Edgerton coaches currently working in the NBA's G League. Nick Papendieck, who worked with Helland with the Bulls, is now the strength and conditioning coach for the Wisconsin Herd, the Milwaukee Bucks’ G League team. And Chris Hart is an Athletic Performance Coach for the Grand Rapids Drive, a team affiliated with the Detroit Pistons.
Helland said he helps his proteges if they call looking for advice, but he also values the perspective they can give him.
“If you look at an issue from one perspective, you’re limiting yourself,” Helland said. “To chat with a colleague, even if they are younger, is valuable. The strength is taking that information and adapting.
“They’re all awesome guys and good coaches. It’s pretty neat that there’s quite a few of us from Edgerton now.”