For some programs, losing a senior point guard with as much moxie and experience as Traevon Jackson might be catastrophic.
It won’t be easy for Wisconsin to replace Jackson, who is expected to miss at least six weeks with a broken right foot, but at least the Badgers have the luxury of having a capable replacement in sophomore Bronson Koenig.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a backup as well-prepared as Bronson,” said associate head coach Greg Gard.
Gard wasn’t downplaying the difficulty in replacing Jackson as the No. 7 Badgers (15-2, 3-1 Big Ten) prepare for a game against Nebraska (10-6, 2-2) on Thursday night at the Kohl Center.
Jackson, who was injured during the second half of UW’s 67-62 loss at Rutgers on Sunday night and is scheduled to undergo surgery on Thursday, has logged 2,700 minutes in 107 career games. The game against Rutgers was his 84th consecutive start.
“We lose a lot,” Gard said of the affect of Jackson’s injury on the team. “We definitely have to find a way to, player by player, try to pitch in and help out in terms of what we’ll miss with him.”
Koenig, who made his first career start at Rutgers in place of senior center Frank Kaminsky (concussion) and finished with 12 points, knows he’s part of that equation.
Jackson’s teammates and coaches have praised the job he does as a vocal leader on and off the court. Kaminsky, who returned to practice Tuesday after missing the game against Rutgers, called Jackson “the biggest motivator we have on this team.”
Koenig isn’t shy, but he admitted he’ll need to speak up more now that he’s a starter.
“I’m obviously going to have to start being more vocal as a leader,” Koenig said. “I think that’s one area of improvement I need to really start working on is my leadership and being more vocal, but I’m confident that I’ll step into that role.”
Koenig is averaging 4.9 points in 20.5 minutes per game, with 36 assists and only eight turnovers in 348 minutes.
Gard said Koenig shouldn’t feel the need to put a lot on his shoulders.
“I think the one thing is try to keep it simple,” Gard said. “I talked to him a little bit [Monday] about it: ‘Just play. Let it rip.’ He’s prepared for this moment. He’s been on big stages before. He’s won state championships here, he’s played in a lot of big games here as a Badger.”
“He’ll be fine,” Gard continued. “He just needs to get his feet wet a little bit and be comfortable, I think that’s the biggest thing. He’s talented enough, it’s just a matter of playing at ease.”
“It’s very unfortunate that Trae had that injury,” Koenig said. “But when someone goes down like that, people have got to be ready to step up.”
— Bronson Koenig
Koenig admitted earlier this season he was still getting used to coming off the bench, and it’s possible he’ll flourish in the role as UW’s primary point guard because he no longer has to look over his shoulder.
Senior Josh Gasser likely will move to point guard when Koenig is out of the game, but Koenig’s minutes will increase significantly.
One thing Gard wants is to see Koenig be more assertive.
“I think regardless of Trae getting hurt or not getting hurt, [for] Bronson, that was his next step,” Gard said. “He needs to be more aggressive.
“Maybe this will be a thing that will help spark him, too, knowing that, ‘I’ve got to take a step forward.’ “
Jackson’s injury leaves UW extremely thin in the backcourt.
Sophomore Zak Showalter, who is averaging 6.3 minutes in 13 games, will be the first guard off the bench now that Koenig is in the starting lineup and the player that would be the next guard in line, sophomore Jordan Hill, is redshirting this season.
UW has used a big lineup at times this season that includes Sam Dekker, a 6-foot-9 junior forward, at the shooting guard spot. Either way, Gard said it will have to be a group effort to replace Jackson.
“If everybody can give just another rebound, one more assist, one more defensive stop,” Gard said. “It’s not going to be one person exactly filling Trae’s shoes and what he was able to do. It’s going to be a collective group and our identity may morph a little bit in terms of how we play and in terms of just different positions.
“But in terms of our identity as a team, it has to be the same. Everybody just has to take a step forward.”
Kaminsky said Jackson has remained upbeat despite the injury, and Koenig no doubt will pick Jackson’s brain for tips and advice during the next month.
“I’ve learned a lot from him in the past year and a half,” Koenig said. “He’s kind of taken me under his wing and just taught me how to be a point guard for coach Ryan in his system. He’s done a really good job of that.”
Now, it’s Koenig’s turn to run the show and try to help the Badgers remain in the Big Ten title hunt while Jackson is out.
“I think he’s ready for this,” Gard said. “I’m excited to see him play. Obviously, I’ve watched him for a lot of years and know what his potential is, and it’ll be fun to watch him grow.”
This article was written by Jim Polzin from The Wisconsin State Journal and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.