PORT WASHINGTON’S Josh Gasser has earned a starting role and turned in a record-setting performance during his freshman season with the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team. Photo by David Stluka
Record-setting peformance for Badgers keeps Port’s Gasser on roll in surprise-filled rookie season
For a kid from Port Washington just hoping to contribute to the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team this season, Josh Gasser has done pretty well for himself.
The freshman guard continued his impressive rookie campaign by leaping into the UW record book last Sunday afternoon in Evanston, Ill.
Gasser highlighted his team’s 78-46 rout of Northwestern by posting the Badgers’ first-ever triple-double.
In 30 minutes of play, he had 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists — a feat that drew national media attention. He also joined another elite group by becoming the first Big Ten Conference freshman with a triple-double since Michigan State’s Magic Johnson in 1977.
“It was an amazing feeling. I felt pretty good early in the game, but I never thought I would do something like that,” said Gasser, who earned a scholarship to UW-Madison on his way to Wisconsin Gatorade Player of the Year honors his senior year at Port High School.
“I had a few rebounds in the first few minutes and hit my first three-point shot, and it just kept going from there.”
Gasser was one assist shy of reaching double figures in three statistical categories when he came out of the game with eight minutes left. But when his teammates began whispering that he needed one more productive pass to make history, coach Bo Ryan put him back in.
That was an unusual gesture from a coach not known for padding his players’ numbers.
“Coach Ryan is not about individual stats at all, but we were playing so well as a team and the game was pretty lopsided, so he agreed to do it,” Gasser said.
“It was the best 40 minutes of basketball we’ve put together all year.”
Gasser got his 10th assist on a three-point basket by Brett Valentyn with 2:56 to play.
Ryan was suitably impressed with the triple-double, which he told reporters was “a tremendous accomplishment.”
Gasser’s feat was especially eye-opening because he hasn’t been piling up prolific numbers this season. Through 18 games, including 14 as a starter, he’s averaged 5.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists.
Gasser is shooting 40% from the field and 83% at the free-throw line but averages only five field-goal attempts per game. That’s because, he said, his role isn’t as a scorer.
“We’ve got plenty of scorers on this team,” Gasser said. “My job is to go out, play defense and move the ball.”
Gasser has also done a solid job of protecting the ball, a major reason he’s become one of only three Wisconsin freshmen to ever start for Ryan. He averages less than one turnover per game.
Upon arriving in Madison, Gasser said, he quickly learned the cardinal rules to earn playing time in Ryan’s system: play hard on defense all the time, don’t get careless with the ball and don’t commit ticky-tack fouls.
“If you get lazy, you come out of the game,” Gasser said.
Gasser, who leads Big Ten freshmen in minutes played, made a big splash in his college debut, scoring a career-high 21 points against Prairie View A&M on Nov. 14. But he didn’t have another breakout game until last Sunday.
It came against the first high-major program that offered Gasser a basketball scholarship.
“Most of the teams we face play really tough defense, but Northwestern had a softer zone,” he said. “That gave me a little more chance to move around and get involved in the offense.”
There was also a little inspiration from the crowd of 7,100 attending the game.
Gasser’s parents Pat and Joan were among his family members in a group of several dozen Port Washington fans who rented a bus and traveled to Welsh-Ryan Arena. Dressed in Badger red, they arrived an hour before the game and made sure their favorite player knew they would
“It was really exciting to be there,” said Pat Gasser, who’s missed only three or four of the Badgers’ games so far.
“Just to see Josh play is great, but then to see him get the first triple-double in team history was really cool.”
Pat Gasser, an assistant coach with the Port High boys’ varsity basketball team, is more than pleasantly surprised by his son’s quick emergence as a key member of the Badgers squad, which improved its season record to 15-4 with Sunday’s win.
“Our expectations were that he would get to play a few minutes each game,” he said. “To see him become a starter this soon and play well is beyond anything we could have imagined.”
The hometown backing isn’t lost on Josh Gasser.
“Each of the players gets four tickets for each game, and usually that’s not nearly enough for everybody who wants to be there,” he said. “The way everybody has supported me has been great.”
Just as important, Gasser added, has been the reception from his teammates. Standouts such as senior forwards Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil and junior guard Jordan Taylor made him feel welcome from his first day of practice — and are quick to acknowledge his contributions, he said.
“I’ve had my ups and downs, but they’ve always encouraged me,” Gasser said. “They’ve helped me learn from my mistakes and made me a better player.”