Thank you, seniors! (2013 edition)

(Cross-posted from another site I write for.)

For the most part, I like to remain emotionally neutral in public. It hasn’t always been that way, but as I have grown older I have found that not letting the world see you get too emotionally high or low very often beats the alternative. Plus, I’m not a big fan of attracting attention to myself so blending into the crowd generally always seems like the preferred option.

But remember, I said for the most part. Plus, this isn’t exactly “in public,” so buckle up: I’m again going to talk about the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team, but in that inevitable way that comes each spring: Finding a way to say goodbye/pay tribute to the team’s seniors.

It’s always hard to say “goodbye” to guys whom you have watched grow up over the past four (and in some cases, five) years. College sports always will have that emotional advantage over their professional counterparts. Pro athletes get paid to play for/represent a team and oftentimes leave for another city; by and large, college athletes play for/represent their school because that’s where they want to be.

The 2012-’13 Badgers definitely had some major questions to answer at the beginning of the season and, while they haven’t answered all them fully, they have definitely proven themselves as a team with moxie that believes they can beat anyone and does not back down from challenges. Led by B1G Coach of the Year Bo Ryan, these guys flew under the radar, as usual, and finished fourth in a conference regarded by just about everyone as the nation’s finest.

The Badgers head into today’s B1G Tournament quarterfinal match-up with Michigan knowing they will make the “Big Dance” — but their showing this weekend in Chicago definitely will impact their seeding and the location to which they will travel. This conference has proved time and again this year that anything can happen, so don’t run out and place any bets based on my predictions. That said, I truly believe the Badgers will knock off Michigan, advance to the semis against (probably) Indiana and make it to Sunday’s finals to face Michigan State. Like I said, don’t wager money on my account; I’m just a super-fan.

I began to draft this post prior to Senior Day on March 3, but with two conference road games remaining it just seemed too premature. I have tried to write this several times in the past 10 days, only to each time stop because it didn’t feel right. However, time is running out, there’s no time like the present, and any other cliche you can muster.

Before I plop myself on the couch to watch Indiana-Illinois, I just wanted to say a few words about each senior. Thanks to each and every one of you for the effort and dedication you’ve shown the UW program. The public only sees you on game days, but I have a pretty good sense of the number of hours you put in on the practice court, watching film, lifting weights and so forth, not to mention all the time spent in the classroom and on academics. Win or lose this weekend or in the NCAA tourney, you’ve done this state proud!

JD Wise: As a walk-on, you didn’t see much court time, and admittedly I know the least about you, your game and where you come from. But what I do know is that the guys who do play, the guys who put up the numbers on this team, speak glowingly of you. I’m especially happy that you (and Dan, too) got to play some minutes late in conference play this season, and I’ll always remember your rainbow-swish three-pointer versus Nebraska!

Dan Fahey: The greatest “hold-back” guy in program history! And that’s high praise, coming from this former hold-back guy! The team’s “personality” and amazing leaper, I wish that you could have seen more minutes. But, I know that the starters are better for having practiced against you every day for the past four years. I hope you get to see the floor during the NCAA tourney!

Jared Berggren: As a man whose last name is tough to spell, I am ashamed to admit that it took me until this season to have confidence in my ability to spell your last name correctly. The school’s all-time blocks leader, you’ve been a great player on the court for the past four years and you’ve provided us with a number of thunderous, posterizing dunks this season alone. I just wish you had realized three years ago that you had the ability to drive and dunk over anyone in the country!

Mike Bruesewitz: After Joe Krabbenhoft graduated, I wondered aloud who would replace him as the team’s tough guy, the scrapper who loves diving for loose balls only slightly more than he loves getting scrapes and bruises fighting for a rebound. I didn’t have to wait long for my answer. I have enjoyed watching you play hard for the past four years, and I now wonder who will take your title as the tough guy. (No worries, I have a few contenders in mind.) Of course, I need to mention the hair. It goes so well with your personality and you take the ginger thing so in stride that I can’t help but love you. How about bringing home some hardware to Madison this spring?

Ryan Evans: I saved you for last for a reason. It seems that every couple years and for whatever reason, a Badgers player becomes a lightning rod for fan criticism. Unfortunately you’ve been “that guy” for the past three years, but as I wrote last year, you’re a great example of a Bo Ran-coached player. A couple people have asked me this season if I believe you “peaked” last year and have regressed.. My answer is absolutely not. You’re an excellent defender and a great rebounder. You just have a sense of where you need to be on the court. Sure, you’re jumper is flat and the free-throw problems don’t help, but the Badgers are by far a better team with you on the floor. But, perhaps most importantly, you seem like a great kid. I recall having a two-hour drive home from a meeting about a year ago, and looking forward to hearing you interviewed on the radio. At the last minute the host announced you had to cancel because you had to attend a group-project meeting for a class and didn’t want to keep people waiting. That’s what I will remember about Ryan Evans.

On Wisconsin!