Long recovery from knee injury carries Portās Gasser back to role as backcourt leader
Patrick is Josh Gasserās 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 Wisconsinās nationally ranked menās basketball team.
Regaining his role as a starting guard for the Badgers has been testament enough to Gasserās response to a daunting setback, but heās 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.
āHonestly, those things are nice, but ultimately I didnāt have a lot of individual goals coming into the season,ā Gasser said.
āGetting the defensive award did hit me a little different this time with of all the things Iāve been through the past two years. Because of the injury, I wasnāt really sure I would be able to play again or how much I could help my team.ā
Even more rewarding, Gasser said, has been his teamās success.
Although the Badgers came up short in their bid for a Big Ten title ā sharing the runner-up spot behind champion Michigan ā they posted the leagueās best overall record (25-6 entering last weekendās 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 Badgersā season continues Thursday when they take on the American University Eagles in the NCAA West Regionals at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee.
āAt this point, weāre just trying to play as many games as we can,ā Gasser said.
āWeāve done well, but we still want to go as far as we can in the tournament and hopefully come away with some hardware.ā
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.
āI feel like Iāve been through it all with my injury and playing in a difficult environment like the Big Ten for three years now,ā said Gasser, who has averaged 9.4 points and 3.7 points per game.
āSix 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.
āAll things considered, Iām pretty happy with where Iām at.ā
Underscoring Gasserās importance as a backcourt leader was his return as a starter when the Badgers opened the season in November. He hasnāt 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 teamās top offensive guard. Heās responded by putting the clamps on standouts such as Michigan Stateās Gary Harris and Virginiaās Joe Harris.
Ryan has seen plenty of Gasserās toughness firsthand to know itās the real deal.
āJosh just likes playing. He just likes competing,ā Ryan told reporters after a recent Wisconsin win.
āNot all basketball players enjoy contact. Josh enjoys it. He doesnāt mind when people bang into him.
āHe can give it, and he can take it.ā
Itās 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 Badgersā starting point guard. Since then, heās made steady progress but has yet to return to full form.
āI feel good,ā Gasser said. āMy knee is coming along well, and at this point I pretty much am what I am.
āIām just going to continue to help the team any way I can, and after the season is over, Iāll get back into rehab and try to get some of that explosiveness back in my leg.ā
Gasserās 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.
Itās all one big, usually happy, family.
āWe spend so much time together with workouts and practice and games, and then you finally come home, and youāre with them again,ā Gasser said.
āFortunately, weāre all pretty good friends. One of the best things about playing college basketball is developing these kind of relationships.ā
The support of his parents Pat and Joan Gasser and other family members ā āat least 20 for the conference tournamentā ā has also made him appreciate his responsibility as a student athlete, Gasser said.
That responsibility includes maintaining solid academic standing. āItās tough to focus on studies when you spend so much time thinking about basketball, but Iāve done well,ā 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 arenāt 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 ā ones he fully embraces.
āI donāt take anything for granted,ā Gasser said. āThis season, I havenāt once said I donāt want to go to practice.ā
Image information: PLAYING WITH A BRACE and the memory of a serious knee injury hasnāt kept Port Washingtonās 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