Long recovery from knee injury carries Port’s Gasser back to role as backcourt leader
Patrick is Josh Gasser’s middle name, but it might just as well be Grit.
Nearly 17 months removed from an ugly knee injury that sidelined him for a year, the former Port Washington High School standout is again an integral part of the University of Wisconsin’s nationally ranked men’s basketball team.
Regaining his role as a starting guard for the Badgers has been testament enough to Gasser’s response to a daunting setback, but he’s gone one further.
Not only did the redshirt junior lead the Big Ten Conference in three-point shooting (.462) and free-throw shooting (.872) during the regular season, he was named to the all-league defensive team for a second time. He also received honorable mention for overall all-conference recognition.
“Honestly, those things are nice, but ultimately I didn’t have a lot of individual goals coming into the season,” Gasser said.
“Getting the defensive award did hit me a little different this time with of all the things I’ve been through the past two years. Because of the injury, I wasn’t really sure I would be able to play again or how much I could help my team.”
Even more rewarding, Gasser said, has been his team’s success.
Although the Badgers came up short in their bid for a Big Ten title — sharing the runner-up spot behind champion Michigan — they posted the league’s best overall record (25-6 entering last weekend’s conference tournament in Indianapolis) and spent most of the season ranked in the top 10 nationally.
Despite a loss to Michigan State in the semi-finals of the Big 10 tournament of the weekend, the Badgers’ season continues Thursday when they take on the American University Eagles in the NCAA West Regionals at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee.
“At this point, we’re just trying to play as many games as we can,” Gasser said.
“We’ve done well, but we still want to go as far as we can in the tournament and hopefully come away with some hardware.”
For Gasser, filling a key role on a team that will return to the NCAA tournament for the 13th consecutive year this week is no miracle. But it is beyond a dream come true.
“I feel like I’ve been through it all with my injury and playing in a difficult environment like the Big Ten for three years now,” said Gasser, who has averaged 9.4 points and 3.7 points per game.
“Six months ago, if you had told me that I would be playing 35 minutes a game and feeling this good, I would have probably said you were lying.
“All things considered, I’m pretty happy with where I’m at.”
Underscoring Gasser’s importance as a backcourt leader was his return as a starter when the Badgers opened the season in November. He hasn’t been out of the starting lineup since.
Coach Bo Ryan regularly gives the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Gasser the job of defending the opposing team’s top offensive guard. He’s responded by putting the clamps on standouts such as Michigan State’s Gary Harris and Virginia’s Joe Harris.
Ryan has seen plenty of Gasser’s toughness firsthand to know it’s the real deal.
“Josh just likes playing. He just likes competing,” Ryan told reporters after a recent Wisconsin win.
“Not all basketball players enjoy contact. Josh enjoys it. He doesn’t mind when people bang into him.
“He can give it, and he can take it.”
It’s been a long road back for someone who spent a year watching games from the sideline and toiling through countless hours of rehabilitation with strength and conditioning coaches.
During a practice in October 2012, Gasser came down awkwardly on a drive to the basket, twisting his left knee with devastating results. In addition to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, he sustained damage to the lateral collateral and medical collateral ligament and a torn meniscus.
The injury came just days after Gasser had been named the Badgers’ starting point guard. Since then, he’s made steady progress but has yet to return to full form.
“I feel good,” Gasser said. “My knee is coming along well, and at this point I pretty much am what I am.
“I’m just going to continue to help the team any way I can, and after the season is over, I’ll get back into rehab and try to get some of that explosiveness back in my leg.”
Gasser’s lost season short-circuited a promising career, one that started with him becoming the first freshman in Wisconsin history to record a triple-double and being named to the all-conference defensive squad as a sophomore.
His recovery has been aided in no small part by the support of family, friends and fellow Badgers, Gasser is quick to note.
He rooms with teammates Ben Brust, Zach Bohannon and Duje Dukan on a fifth-floor apartment in Madison. Down the hall are teammates Sam Dekker, Zac Showalter, Frank Kaminsky and Jordan Smith.
It’s all one big, usually happy, family.
“We spend so much time together with workouts and practice and games, and then you finally come home, and you’re with them again,” Gasser said.
“Fortunately, we’re all pretty good friends. One of the best things about playing college basketball is developing these kind of relationships.”
The support of his parents Pat and Joan Gasser and other family members — “at least 20 for the conference tournament” — has also made him appreciate his responsibility as a student athlete, Gasser said.
That responsibility includes maintaining solid academic standing. “It’s tough to focus on studies when you spend so much time thinking about basketball, but I’ve done well,” said Gasser, a business marketing major.
With a respectable showing at the conference tournament, Wisconsin clinched a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. But Gasser said the Badgers aren’t concerned about the seeding process.
Through it all, Gasser has learned to keep things in perspective. For every moment in the spotlight, there are many more less glamorous moments behind the scenes — ones he fully embraces.
“I don’t take anything for granted,” Gasser said. “This season, I haven’t once said I don’t want to go to practice.”
Image information: PLAYING WITH A BRACE and the memory of a serious knee injury hasn’t kept Port Washington’s Josh Gasser from re-establishing himself as one of the leaders of the
Wisconsin basketball team this season. Photo courtesy of University of Wisconsin Athletics