Varsity - The Official Digital Magazine of Wisconsin Athletics

Varsity - March 27, 2014

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16 // VARSITY March 27, 2014 BY MIKE LUCAS // UWBADGERS.COM LUCAS AT LARGE D uring last week's pep rally at the Milwaukee Theatre, Mike Kelley and Andy Kowske, starters on the Badgers' 2000 Final Four team, crossed paths with Ben Brust and Josh Gasser, starters on the 2014 Wisconsin team that wants to connect the dots between the past and present and write its own history. "It was just like old times, the band was playing and everybody was pumped up," Kelley related. "I talked with Ben and Josh briefly (afterward) and said, 'Guys, if you can make a Final Four run, it will change your lives.' Ben looked at me and said, 'This is my last chance.' I said, 'I know, buddy, go for it."' Although the 2000 Badgers, a No. 8 seed, fell short of their quest to win a national championship ― they lost 53-41 in the semifinals to nemesis Michigan State, which went on to win the title over Florida ― there will always be an emotional attachment to that special group of overachievers. Beyond bridging the historical gap with a 1941 UW team that wore the NCAA crown, they brought a new awareness to Badgers basket- ball that was not lost on their fans. "It gave them something to hold on to," Kelley said. "Everybody loves that deep tournament run ― to go for it and get it." It's the gift that keeps on giving, too. "Now, 14 years later, people still want to talk to me about it and ask me what it was like," said Kelley, who cited the potential life-chang- ing benefits for the players that wind up getting to a Final Four. "It will open up doors for them, maybe job opportunities." But it can mean so much more to them beyond the tangible re- wards because of the long-term friendships and lasting memories that they're going to have, accord- ing to Kelley, an analyst for Big Ten Network. "We had two early exits that were no fun," he said, "and one magical Final Four run." Kelley was at the BMO Harris Bradley Center for Wisconsin's stirring victory over Oregon on Saturday night. He has been in the building many times before as a ball boy for Marquette, as Wisconsin's point guard against Marquette and as a television analyst for Mar- quette games in the old Big East Conference. "I never heard it that loud be- fore," said Kelley who recalled it be- ing almost as noisy at times in 2006 when the Golden Eagles joined the Big East. "But this was a sustained loud. The crowd was trying to will the team on, every time they need- ed a stop. All 40 minutes that crowd was into it. That was fantastic." Most remember Kelley as a tena- cious defender, the only Badger to have won the Defensive Player of the Year award in the Big Ten. He was also a fierce competitor and the face and/or glue of the 2000 team. Some have made the comparison between Kelley and Gasser, who has the same attributes. "Personality-wise, and with his leadership, I see it," Kelley said. "But he's obviously a far better 3-point shooter and offensive player. I get the comparison. And a lot of people ask me about that. But I really don't think our games are that similar at all; a little bit, but not all that much." Gasser's court presence is some- thing that Kelley can relate to. "If anything, that's where the similari- ties are drawn," he said. "He under- stands the game ― time and score ― and what needs to get done. He's huge for this team in those big moments when they need a stop, a rebound or a big shot." Mark Vershaw, now a member of Tony Bennett's coaching staff at Virginia, was the leading scorer in 2000. He averaged 11.8. Nobody else was in double-figures. Kelley averaged five points. But he had 114 assists to 35 turnovers and he also had a record-breaking 95 steals. He was an old-school point guard. Asked for his appraisal of new- school Traevon Jackson and how he held up against the Oregon ball pressure, Kelley said, "Trae was fantastic. He has such inner confi- dence in his own game and hitting big shots. At the end of the game, he was standing on the free throw line and burying free throws." Jackson converted 9 of 11 from the line, including 6 of 8 in the final 31 seconds. Kelley noticed that some of the Oregon players were talking trash and trying to distract Jackson before each of his attempts. (With one second left, Jason Cal- liste drew a technical for pushing Jackson to the floor.) "Trae smiles, looks them down and buries it," he said. "You can't help but be impressed. Anyone Final Four takes more doing than dreaming Continued on page 18

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