Coach Greg Gard is growing more and more ornery by the day as the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program continues to wait on word on whether the Badgers will have Micah Potter to start the season.
As of now, the junior forward will be required to sit out until the end of the first semester. The NCAA earlier this month denied a waiver filed on Potter’s behalf by UW, but the school has followed up by filing a request for reconsideration to the organization.
Potter joined the Badgers last December after transferring from Ohio State. He didn’t play last season after deciding days before the 2018-19 opener that he wanted to transfer and finished out the first semester at Ohio State before moving to Madison.
As UW waits on the NCAA, it doesn’t help Gard’s mood that, day after day, players from around the country are being granted immediate eligibility without missing any games. Saint Mary’s sophomore guard Logan Johnson, who played 32 games last season at Cincinnati, is among the players whose waivers have been approved by the NCAA; the Badgers open the season against the No. 20 Gaels in a week at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“He’ll sit longer than anybody else in the country,” Gard said of Potter, who appeared in 59 games, with 16 starts, in two seasons with the Buckeyes. “There are so many that have played last year. I’m watching all these waivers get approved at 30-some games, 20-some games, and they’re immediately eligible. We don’t always know the underlying reasons, but I know the reasons behind (Potter’s decision) and I’ve seen how he is day in and day out and what he does academically. …
“Not many things make me raise my blood pressure. This is one that is.”
Gard said he doesn’t know a timeline of when the NCAA might act on UW’s latest appeal. It’s possible that ruling could come after the start of the season.
“We won’t quit until we exhaust every single option if we do get told no,” Gard said. “We’ll continue to push it because we think it’s the right thing to do and it’s the just thing to do. In the day of student-athlete welfare, all the things that are being done, this one, the right thing to do is to allow him to play.”
Potter wasn’t allowed to play in UW’s closed scrimmage against Iowa State on Saturday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The silver lining was that it gave Gard a glimpse of what life might be like without Potter the first 10 games of the season.
Gard and Cyclones coach Steve Prohm reached a gentlemen’s agreement not to release a box score from the game. Prohm, according to Gard, wasn’t happy that a box score leaked out from Iowa State’s 77-68 overtime loss to Minnesota the previous weekend in Ames.
“You do these things for your own internal benefit,” Gard said. “He was on that same page in my line of thinking that we’re doing this for our teams’ benefit and we’ll keep all that necessary information private and within the two teams that played. I think I said to him, ‘What happens in Cedar Rapids stays in Cedar Rapids.’”
Still, some details are known from the scrimmage. UW won both halves, outscoring the Cyclones by two points in the first half and 18 in the second half. The Badgers made 13 3-pointers and attempted 25 free throws, both of which are encouraging signs considering the only other look at UW this season was a sloppy Red/White Scrimmage that featured atrocious perimeter shooting and too much settling for jump shots.
If UW does indeed have to go without Potter until late December, there are legitimate depth issues both overall and especially in the front court.
But Gard said he was pleased with what he saw from redshirt freshman center Joe Hedstrom. The 7-footer was going to play against Iowa State at some point, but he got thrown into the action in the first half after UW junior Nate Reuvers picked up two fouls.
“It wasn’t all perfect, but he did some good things,” Gard said. “I was put in a position where I had to play him a little sooner than I planned to in that first half and we were just fine.”
One of the things Gard likes about this team is its versatility. He said he’s played 6-8 junior forward Aleem Ford in the “5” spot at times during practice, a sign that Gard isn’t afraid to use smaller lineups if necessary.
“The day of position-less offense has led to position-less defense, where you’re switching a lot of things,” Gard said. “This group, with the experience that’s there and the mobility and flexibility allow for a lot of different combinations to be on the floor.”
Gard could tell his players were getting antsy at going against each other in practice for several weeks. He brought in former players each of the past two Thursdays, using a scout team lineup last week that included assistant coaches Joe Krabbenhoft and Alando Tucker along with Bronson Koenig, Mike Wilkinson and Potter.
The scrimmage against Iowa State provided another opportunity for the Badgers to see how they measured against an unfamiliar opponent. They’ll also host UW-La Crosse in an exhibition game on Friday night at the Kohl Center.
“It’s always important to see yourself against somebody else,” Gard said.