Lucas: What we learned at the Red-White Scrimmage
BY MIKE LUCAS
Senior Writer UWBadgers.com
MADISON, Wis. – Before the first shot is taken, freshman Connor Essegian come out. Must be the shoes, right? Neon coral basketball shoe. They were different from what anyone wore here on Sunday at Wisconsin’s annual red-white preseason scrimmage at the Kohl Center.
But what really caught everyone’s attention was the shooting. Must be the Essegian jump shot.
“He can really shoot,” said UW head coach Greg Gard said. “I don’t want to play him in HORSE.”
That’s very understandable given that Essegian ended a high school career — at Central Noble in Albion, Indiana — as the 10th leading scorer in state history. He scored more points (2,526) than Eric Gordon, Shawn Kemp, Steve Alford and George McGinnis. Just to name a few.
Only Damon Bailey, Marion Pierce, Deshawn Thomas, Luke Brown, Romeo Langford, Brody Boyd, Rick Mount, Eric Hunter and Trevon Bluiett have scored more as Hoosier preps than Essegian, a 6-4 slender guard and 185 pounds of Fort Wayne. In high school, he wore number 10. Now he is number 3.
In Sunday’s scrimmage, he shot 6-of-7, 3-of-4 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“Just look at it – the technique – they all come out of his hand looking like they’re going in,” Gard said. “He has a great rotation. He has a very good sense of the game. He has to keep getting stronger, which is not going to happen today or tomorrow. It will build over his career.”
As the Red team players warmed up before the start of the second half, Essegian recovered a loose ball near the score line, took two steps and casually delivered a shot of the “Ab Nicholas Short”. Rustling. He may have unlimited reach, but can he handle the rigors of the Big Ten?
“I saw some things in France in terms of tenacity,” Gard said last week. “You look at him and he might not look the part right now. He kinda looks like that skinny kid. But, man, he competed and he knows how to find the basket.
“He’s made a few plays there in different games where he’s shown some toughness and toughness and some things that get you on the floor and keep you on the floor here. Right now his head is probably spinning from a defensive point of view. And that’s Ordinary.
“And the only way for him to get out of this is to keep keeping Chucky (Hepburn), keep Jordan Davisguardian Tyler Wahlkeep whoever… His teammates are doing a good job of pushing him every day and the coaches are doing a good job of holding him accountable.”
Essegian wasn’t the only player chasing shots during the scrum. The same goes for Wahl (13 points, 5 of 7 FG, 3 of 4 triples) and Hepburn (12 points, 6 of 9 FG). Wahl’s ability to stretch the defense more effectively from the perimeter would obviously help create more space for lanes.
Hepburn looms as an even bigger threat with departures from Johnny Davis and Brad Davison. Last season, as a true freshman, he shot 35% from the 3-point line. On Sunday, he showed his back jumper to be in mid-season form while converting on several post-ups.
“He’s so balanced,” Gard said of Hepburn. “It’s very hard to tell if Chucky is having a good day or a bad day…he won the lottery…you can’t tell. And that’s great and it’s helped us tremendously the year last to hand over the keys, so to speak, to the bus to a freshman.
“Now he had help around him. He obviously had a great player in Johnny (Davis) and a stable and as good leader as I was in Brad (Davison) which helped him to make the transition, but now he knows it’s time to move on and use his personality and his ability to communicate with his teammates.
“The leadership component will be a big part of us.”
Especially the leaders who lead, he stressed. In this context, the Badgers recently heard from Dave Anderson, president of LearnToLead, international motivational speaker and author of 15 books. Over the years, Gard has developed a friendship with Anderson whose message never fades.
Identifying potential leaders for this season’s squad, Gard told his players: “I told them a few days ago, I don’t just watch what you do on the pitch, I listen. Where are the voices Where does leadership develop from?
“I can’t anoint someone as a leader. It’s organic. They will naturally find their way. Find their voice. And leaders always come in different shapes and sizes. more vocal. You can lead by example. That doesn’t mean you have to play 35 minutes a game.
“You can set good examples and be a good role model in other areas that will help our dressing room. Obviously Tyler will have a bigger role in that leadership. chucky hepburn is more comfortable with his voice. Max, for being a newcomer, I identified him right away.”
Max is Max Klemit, the transfer of Wofford. On Sunday, he collected 17 points (7 out of 13 FG). Last season, he averaged 15. Joining him in the rotation will be Kamari McGee, transfer from Green Bay. A year ago, McGee was the team’s leading scorer (11.6). In the scrum, he had 9 points, 3 assists, 2 steals.
“The one thing that really jumps out at these two guys – and obviously they’re different players with different personalities – but they both have college basketball experience,” Gard pointed out. “I’ve always said the best teacher is experience. So they helped with that.”
Carter Gilmore had seven rebounds to lead both teams. He also had seven points. In a sequence, 7 feet to the center Steven Corneillewho ended up with a record six assists, executed a perfect lob inside Gilmore who scored, fouled and finished the game 3-point.
Gard saw this building in Gilmore, who had been looking for his niche for two years. Gard credited a phone call from Gilmore’s mother, UW-Platteville WIAC Hall of Famer Stephanie, with starting a fire under him this offseason. His father, Brian, also played in Platteville (for Bo Ryan).
“I constantly called him publicly the – probably – most improved player on the team,” Gard said. “He’s a lot like Steve Crowl. He put in the work, so he has confidence in what he’s done. And trust that he’s prepared and he’s worked and he’s now feeling good. to be ready for this moment.”
Sunday was a moment, a snapshot for all players. A great picture will crystallize over time.