MADISON, Wis. - When Josh Gasser's left knee buckled underneath him, Traevon Jackson was hoping the junior point guard was just grabbing his ankle. Ankle injuries are never good, but knee injuries can be even worse.
"It's terrible, I would never wish that on anybody," Jackson said Monday after practice. "Especially Josh, because he's one of the nicest guys on our team."
In the end, Jackson and the Badgers' initial hopes were dashed. Gasser ended up tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, and will miss the entire 2012-2013 season. And just like that, the Badgers needed a point guard again. Gasser was originally named to replace Jordan Taylor, who exhausted his eligibility after last season, but Gasser's injury forced the Badgers to try Jackson and George Marshall at point guard instead.
And with just under a week until the start of the regular season, Jackson and Marshall are still battling for the job. The Badgers will host UW-Oshkosh for an exhibition game Wednesday and head coach Bo Ryan has yet to name a starter, so both Jackson and Marshall will have to rely their own skill sets to propel themselves into bigger roles.
As for what they bring to the table, defense has been Jackson's calling card for a while. That could be a big plus for the 6-foot-2 guard, especially since Gasser was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team last season. The Badgers will still miss Gasser's defense, but Jackson said he doesn't take defense lightly either.
"You've got to take it personal when someone scores on you," Jackson said. "I don't like getting scored on."
But Jackson has also demonstrated a little more offensive prowess during preseason practices. Jackson scored 16 points during Wisconsin's annual Red-White scrimmage, topping Marshall by two points on the day. Jackson said he worked on improving his offensive game during the offseason, but he never thought it was that bad to begin with.
"I'm like 'Man, no that's not the case,'" Jackson said. "I haven't gotten that many opportunities. When I get comfortable, when I just have that confidence, it's helped a lot."
On the other hand, Marshall enters the season with a year's worth of scout-team hype behind him. Marshall redshirted and played regularly against Taylor during his first year on campus, and he said those day-to-day battles helped him grow as a player.
"It helped me out a lot," Marshall said. "I learned a lot from Jordan, I was really close to him. Just going up against him every day, he was a lot stronger and brought out a lot of toughness in me. He would always give me different pointers, different advice for the coming years."
Marshall wowed a lot of fellow players, coaches and media members while he was impersonating a member of Wisconsin's next opponent in practice, but the redshirt freshman said he knows none of that really matters now. He'll have to perform well as a cog in Ryan's swing offense if he wants to start at point guard, which is a lot different than wheeling and dealing in some other coaches' system for a day or two.
"Even though I was getting the praise, I knew it wasn't in the game or with the lights on," Marshall said. "I just took it as an opportunity to get better, going up against Jordan, going up against the first five, going up against that great defense every day."
Marshall said he still needs to get stronger and make better reads on the floor, but he and Jackson both agree that in the end the coaches will start whoever gives the team the best chance to win. It might be Jackson for his defense or Marshall for his agility and scoring touch, but they'll both keep pushing each other for the job as long as they can.
"It wouldn't be right not to go in there and try and compete every day, trying to get that starting job whether it's open or not," Jackson said. "You've just got to have that mentality, and that helped a lot."
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