Badgers' Gasser rehabbing knee, targets October return
JUN 26, 2013 5:00a ET
And so, every returning player dispersed for home or vacations, content to put the 2013-14 season temporarily on hold. Every player, that is, except for Josh Gasser, whose routine the past month has read something out of a Groundhog Day movie script.
Wake up. Go to the Kohl Center. Lift weights. Go home. Eat. Go to the Kohl Center. Rehab his torn ACL. Go home. Eat. Go to the Kohl Center. Shoot baskets. Go home. Eat. Sleep.
Repeat the next day.
"I was pretty much here all day, but there was nothing else to do really," Gasser said Tuesday. "There's no one else around. So I was happy to get some work done and get better."
The daily grind of returning to full strength hasn't stopped for Gasser since he suffered an ACL tear in his left knee eight months ago. In fact, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound redshirt junior appears even more driven now that he can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel on his rehabilitation assignments.
"He's highly motivated," Wisconsin athletic trainer Henry Perez-Guerra said. "Most people would disappear for three weeks and go on vacation. He was ready to go. We worked pretty hard over that time, and I think his progress is really very good."
For months, Gasser has targeted the start of fall practices in October as a realistic date to join the team in full-contact workouts. NCAA rules recently were changed to move up the beginning of fall practices by two weeks, and both Gasser and Perez-Guerra believe he'll be ready to participate. Gasser isn't likely to compete when Wisconsin plays five games as part of an August trip to Canada.
"I've never been through this, and I don’t know what to expect," Gasser said. "I just want to be ready by the season. That’s the only thing on my mind. I'd love to be ready right now. I would do anything to be ready, but that's not the case. As long as I'm ready by the season, I'm all right with that."
When Gasser returns, he'll be one of the most important pieces to Wisconsin's team, which features a crowded backcourt that includes Traevon Jackson and George Marshall. Even after sitting out last season, Gasser has played more career minutes (2,184) than any other Badgers player on the roster. He has started 66 of 70 games and averaged 31.2 minutes per outing.
Badgers guard Ben Brust, a senior, has played the second-most minutes among returnees (2,013). Jackson, a junior, is next (1,065), followed by sophomore forward Sam Dekker (780) and junior center Frank Kaminsky (600).
"I've got a lot of experience," Gasser said. "Even though I wasn’t playing last year, I think the younger guys still look up to me to help and even the older guys as me being the leader of this team. I want to have that role. I think I'm suited for it. So I'm ready to do whatever I have to do to help us win."
During his sophomore season in 2011-12, Gasser averaged 7.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists. And as he prepared for what was to be his junior season, he was ready to take over the starting point guard role for graduated senior Jordan Taylor.
In late October, Badgers coach Bo Ryan declared Gasser his starter for the season, noting Gasser's ball-handling and decision-making skills — his career assists-to-turnovers ratio of 1.95 ranks fifth in program history. Ryan also praised Gasser's tenacious defense.
Two days later, on Oct. 27, Gasser tore his ACL during practice, which ended his season. He underwent surgery Nov. 6.
"I just hope to be back where I was before and even better," Gasser said. "I thought I had a great summer, a great fall. I thought I was one of the best players on our team. And usually I don’t have all that much confidence in myself that way. So I must have been doing all right if I thought that."
Wisconsin's training staff is still cautiously bringing Gasser along, spending the bulk of rehab time strengthening his quadriceps and hamstring muscles. He performed dribbling and jumping drills Tuesday without a brace, but those were in controlled environments away from his teammates. He is being held out of full-contact drills during summer workouts and said he would likely wear a knee brace during the season.
Gasser and Perez-Guerra admitted reaching this point hadn't been easy for someone as competitive as Gasser. The two have engaged in their share of disagreements over the past eight months.
"It's like we're an old married couple or something like that," Perez-Guerra said. "If he's not having a great day, then he gets very frustrated. That's OK. That’s all part of the process. I never take anything personally. In fact, I understand because of the drive that he has that we're going to have days like that. Overall, we're still friends."
Added Gasser: "The past eight months have all been pretty low. I don't think I've really been myself the past eight months. I'm ready to get going and kind of be myself again off the court."
Despite not being on the court, Gasser has maintained the respect of his teammates, who understand his immense work ethic and his value to the team. In 2011-12, he ranked third in the Big Ten in 3-point field goal accuracy (45.2 percent) and was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team.
"He's such a good leader," Kaminsky said. "He really is a hard worker. Even with his rehab, you see him, he's drenched in sweat. I can't wait for him to be back because it was so unfortunate when it happened. I think he was ready for a really big season. To see him go down like that was tough. I'm just super excited for him to get back on the court."
As for what type of player Gasser will be upon his return, the answer remains to be seen. Gasser has joked with friends that he may be terrible his first couple of weeks. And he recognizes it will take time to forget about his knee injury and play with the freedom he demonstrated before the setback.
Gasser said he didn't consider himself to be a better player compared to a year ago because he hadn't spent much time on the court. But he did consider himself to be a smarter player. And for someone looking for a spark amid eight months of darkness, it may provide the boost of confidence he needs.
"Everything's slowed down when you're on the bench watching as opposed to on the court," Gasser said. "I think I just learned a lot. Pretty much all I did was watch basketball games when I was hurt. I just love the game. I love learning little tidbits from different players. I think that's going to help in the long run."
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