MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Day by day. That’s the approach by coach Greg Gard and Wisconsin this season.
If figuring out how to replace three-time All-Big Ten performer Ethan Happ wasn’t enough, Gard also has to pick up the pieces of a program rocked to its core in May.
Assistant coach Howard Moore and his family were involved in a fatal accident in Michigan. Moore’s wife, Jen, and 9-year-old daughter, Jaidyn, were killed, as was the driver of the vehicle that collided with the Moore family’s SUV.
“The Moore family tragedy is life-altering,” Gard said. “We’re still dealing with that on a day-to-day basis. That’s not going to end when somebody graduates or somebody moves on. We’re all going to carry that with us for the rest of our lives.”
Moore suffered serious burns and his 13-year-old son, Jerell, escaped with minor injuries. Moore had plans on returning to coaching this season. But a month after the accident, Moore was back in the hospital after being found unconscious in his home. He is on medical leave.
Gard turned to Wisconsin’s all-time leading scorer, Alando Tucker, who had been helping the Badgers during summer practices, to move into an interim assistant role. Tucker obliged and now the staff is trying to help the young players stay focused.
“There’s no quintessential example of something that happened like this before that we know of, so there’s no manual to prepare for it,” Tucker said. “Every day, it’s how do we navigate this space of influencing 18- to 22-year-olds to keep them focused on what they need to do? But at the same time, keep them empathetic of the situation, keep them inspired? … So from that lens, I think every day we’re kind of pulling each other through.”
For the first time in four years, Happ will not be roaming the paint for the Badgers. Happ left Wisconsin as the program’s all-time leader in rebounds (1,217), blocks (154), double-doubles (52) and triple-doubles (2). The team must more immediately make up for 17.3 points and 10.1 rebounds per game from a year ago.
“Whenever you lose a guy the caliber of Ethan Happ, with the amount that we gave him the ball and the amount that we played through him because of how incredible he was, it’s obviously a great challenge,” junior guard Brad Davison said. “It’s going to take a collective effort to fill that void.”
Davison, Wisconsin’s second-leading returning scorer (10.5 points per game) is expected to help along with D’Mitrik Trice. Trice, 6-foot junior, could emerge as Wisconsin’s top scoring option this year after averaging 11.6 points last season. Trice is a career 37.8% finisher inside the arc and that will need to improve.
The program also had to say goodbye to full-time starter Khalil Iverson and role player Charlie Thomas. Iverson ranked second on the team with 4.5 rebounds per game a season ago and shot a team-best 54.3% from the field. The 6-foot-5 guard scored in double figures in seven of the final nine games.
MICAH MUST WAIT
Former Ohio State big man Micah Potter was poised to fill a major role for Wisconsin this season but that will have to wait. The NCAA denied a request for the junior forward to play during the fall semester after transferring two days before the season opener last November.
The 6-foot-9 Potter, who has not competed in regular-season games since the 2017-18 season, will be eligible to play beginning Dec. 21 against Milwaukee.
“All we can do is focus on what’s true right now and that’s the fact that I’m not going to be eligible,” Potter said. “The biggest thing (I can do) is give them a body in practice to go up against that has Division I level experience at a game level and Big Ten experience.”
Potter appeared in 59 games with 16 starts for the Buckeyes, averaging 4.1 points and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 46%.
LEARNING ON THE FLY
The only incoming 2019 freshman for Wisconsin is Tyler Wahl. The 6-foot-7 wing has enough size to play both forward positions. Wahl could be thrust into an immediate role.
“You watch him, he can guard multiple positions,” Gard said of Wahl. “He’s got a toughness to him that allows a freshman to play right away. He’s not bashful.”
Wahl might turn out to be one of the most important freshmen in the Big Ten this season because he fills a positional need for the team with Potter sidelined for the start of the season.
ABOUT THAT SCHEDULE
After a trip to the NCAA Tournament a year ago and a 23-11 season (14-6 Big Ten), the Badgers will find out right away how good they are: They play No. 20 Saint Mary’s in the season opener Nov. 5 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, then host in-state rival Marquette on Nov. 17 before the Legends Classic in New York that could include a game against No. 24 Auburn. The first week of December includes games at North Carolina State and at home against Indiana before the meat of the Big Ten schedule in the new year.