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Jonathan Davis and Tyler Wahl make their debuts as Badgers men's basketball's newest leaders

From the Check out the State Journal's complete coverage of Big Ten basketball media days series
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INDIANAPOLIS — Jonathan Davis was handed a purple tie when he was getting ready for his Big Ten Conference media days appearance Friday. He refused to wear the tie because it wasn’t school colors.

The sophomore guard doesn’t dress up a lot, so he put effort into his appearance before talking to the media. Fifth-year senior Brad Davison, junior Tyler Wahl and Davis were in suits and ties as they sat together at the podium for interviews.

This isn’t Davison’s first time representing UW at a media event, but this was a whole new experience for Wahl and Davis.

“I think this day is good for them because neither one has been here before in terms of this atmosphere,” UW coach Greg Gard said. “Those two guys have been waiting for this opportunity, to walk into a leadership role and find their voices on the team.”

Davison and Wahl arrived at their station first — Davis had to run to the bathroom. Before Wahl even could sit down in his chair, his teammate Carter Higginbottom FaceTimed him to wish him luck and see the scene.

Wahl panned the camera to the building full of reporters before hanging up. Davis arrived and questions started.

The Badgers lost five seniors to the transfer portal or graduation. They added eight new players, with only three returning upperclassmen. Davison, Wahl and Davis are the only three returning players who played substantial minutes.

Davison always has been in the leadership role and he’s good at it, but even he said it’s time for Davis and Wahl to shine.

“Both of them do a great job of not only leading by example and giving their all in the weight room and on the court, but also with their voice,” Davison said. “They really stepped up. They’re holding other people accountable, encouraging other people. For me, I just kind of have taken a step back and let them do their thing.”

Wahl said it started in the spring. The seniors were preparing for graduation and it was really just Wahl, Davis and a few other underclassmen around campus. They didn’t have to be in the gym, but they were and encouraged others to join them.

Gard said it was inspiring to watch them take ownership of their leadership. It continued once they got to the summer workouts and fall practices.

“The hard work that we’re putting into the summer just kind of follows from the leadership of us three,” Wahl said. “I think we’ve done a great job. We got a lot of young guys and we’ve kind of been leading by example.”

Wahl and Davis are quiet guys, so most of their leadership has been by others watching them. Gard said he often sees them pausing in the middle of a conversation with a younger player to find their words.

They have the underlying similarity of quietness, but Gard said they’re different kinds of leaders. Davis is very direct. He doesn’t need a lot of words to call it like he sees it. Wahl has been in the program a year longer than Davis, so he has experience guiding others and is a bit more gentle with his guidance.

“I think the most favorite part is watching them walk into something that they have no idea what they’re getting themselves into, and figure it out and kind of swim on their own,” Gard said. “I could talk about leadership, I could talk about what it’s going to take, but they need to, they need to walk it, they need to experience it for themselves.”

Davison is a very vocal leader who has been on the team since 2017, so it’s easy to defer to him. There were multiple times Davison passed a question to Wahl or Davis when it wasn’t directed to a particular person. The younger pair often looked to Davison for reassurance.

It was clear who the new leaders on the team were when it was time for UW’s Big Ten Network appearance. There are only three chairs — one for Gard and two players. Wahl and Davis represented the players and left Davison on his own at the podium.

“The standards you set as a leader on the team goes a long way,” Davison said. “That’s one thing that’s our calling card at Wisconsin: it’s not one guy’s team, not one guy is the leader. We have a group of people here that care about our program. That’s spearheaded by these two.”

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