MADISON - The words that came out of Bo Ryan's mouth, especially considering the season is all but 10 days old, were pretty telling, if not a bit shocking.
When asked if there was any early playing time potential for highly touted freshman Jarrod Uthoff, Ryan was quick to respond.
"He'll play at the University of Wisconsin and he'll play early," Ryan, entering his 11th year with Wisconsin, said. "He's a player. Better than expected."
Uthoff, a lanky 6-foot-8, 200-pound former Iowa Mr. Basketball, is rather unassuming. He seems to just go about his business with a cool basketball player confidence. That's the way that he seems comfortable.
"My expectations are to get playing time," Uthoff said during UW's annual media day festivities. "If I get playing time, if I'm going to get five to 10 minutes a game, I won't redshirt.
"If coach tells me I need to get stronger I will probably redshirt."
Though media members have only been allowed to watch one practice so far this season, it's apparent that Uthoff's redshirt decision may not be much of one at all. He's entirely fluid on the basketball court. He gets up and down. He's confident and comfortable on the low block, he can pull from distance and he can dribble the ball a bit.
Defensively it seems as though Uthoff has the foot speed to meet Ryan's principles. He also anticipates well and is physical when going after a rebound.
His mechanics are top-notch, too. When he releases it's at a very high point, he shoots above his head and he isn't afraid to attack the rim. Uthoff will be especially dangerous in transition.
Sometimes you have to remind yourself that he's a very young freshman that's only eight practices into his UW career. He, like Ryan said, is going to be a player for this Wisconsin team.
"He's kind of picking up the things that Josh (Gasser) did last year," Ryan said. "Coaches like good listeners and fast learners. I've never seen a more conscientious guy. He's extremely conscientious."
More thoughts from practice:
-George Marshall, a point guard from Chicago, was the first person I talked to during media day. I didn't talk to him because he was my No. 1 priority. I talked to him more so because he surprised me. I didn't expect to see a player of his age with such definition about him. He's built like a rock.
-On the court, I liked the way Marshall played. It's immediately apparent that he's comfortable with the ball. He's not overly flashy, but I never felt like he'd be a liability with the ball in his hands as I have in regards to true freshmen of yesteryear. There were certain times when I felt the offense slowed a bit when he caught a pass, but I think that will only get better as Marshall starts feeling more and more confident with the swing offense.
I did notice that he has a habit of fading to his right when he shoots. Since I've only seen him once this season I'm not entirely sure if that is the way he shoots all the time or if that was something funky going on that particular day. I would assume that's how he shoots at all times. It's just something to keep an eye on. I don't think I was seeing things, but I've been wrong about that before.
-A couple things I didn't mention about Uthoff in the brief story above. I'm not quite sure if he's actually 6-foot-8. He is almost exactly the same height as Duje Dukan, who, for what it's worth is also listed at 6-foot-8, but I think both of those heights are a little exaggerated. It's not a big deal, but I think they're closer to 6-foot-7 than they are 6-foot-8.
-I touched on it a little bit already, but I'm really intrigued by Uthoff's shot. It seems to me that he has a little bit of that Nowitzki-like ability to get his shot off whenever he wants. I'm not comparing his overall game to Nowitzki's because that is just a ridiculous notion, but in the sense that he has a quick release and uncanny offensive footwork, I see comparison. He will score for UW. And he'll probably do so this season. It was weird, I actually felt very comfortable whenever he took a shot and I was almost surprised when he missed. He looks that confident out there.
-The other thing that's exciting about Uthoff is the fact that he still isn't physically mature. As he begins to fill out he's going to be an entire load for opposing teams to handle, assuming he maintains his quickness and ability to pull when he wants.
-I was very impressed with Ben Brust. I thought he looked a million times more confident than he did at any point last season. He's so quick out there and his shot, when it's on, is money. I imagine you'll see him rubbing off screens in a Bohannon-esque fashion at times this season.
He's so quick and tight coming out of those sets. He'll get open a lot. He's also very quick with the ball in his hand. It seemed like he had no problem creating his own shot against Gasser. If you're wondering where some of the scoring from a year ago will be replaced, I suspect Brust will play a role. He'll be good for a three or two per game.
-During his press conference Ryan talked about the importance of touching the post. That's obviously not the first time he's talked about the subject, but it was apparent it was a focal point during Monday's practice. I truly think you're going to see Ryan Evans down low a lot this year.
He looked as though he was more confident than he's ever been down low. He seemed stronger in his upper body, more decisive with his low post moves and he even had a bit of touch on some of his baby hooks and turnarounds in the post. I'm definitely going to keep my eye on Evans throughout the preseason and non-conference portion of the schedule. To me, his development will be key this season just because he's lengthy and has proven to be an asset defensively.
In addition to his low post presence, I liked the way Evans worked the pick and pop game. He was aggressive attacking the rim, moved well without the ball and set solid screens. If his offense has improved, as I suspect it has, he'll be a key contributor this year.
-Freshman big man Frank Kaminsky is exactly that. A big man. Though he looks the part, it was obvious to me that he isn't quite ready for the physicality of college basketball. He's going to have to get stronger up top before he's ready to contribute. He was pushed around a bit by both Evan Anderson and Jared Berggren on occasion.
I do like the way he's confident with his shot, even though he releases in front of his face. There was one play he pulled from three in transition. Though he missed, I didn't hear Ryan say anything about the shot. That means he was so upset he kept quiet or he didn't think it was a bad shot. I suspect the latter.
He also proved to have a solid mid-range shot. He looks to be a prototypical Wisconsin big that can do a little bit of everything. Defensively, his footwork when defending the post will need work. I just don't see any way Kaminsky doesn't redshirt. But obviously the choice is his.
-Traevon Jackson is thick. He definitely has a strong upper body. I don't know why I was under the impression he was taller than he is, but I was kind of taken aback by the fact he's only 6-foot-2. I had him pictured as a forward more than a guard.
In talking to Jackson it was apparent he hasn't put much time into thinking about a redshirt. In my opinion, I think it would be good for him to take one. His shot, though effective, is not pretty. He form starts low and his release is somewhere right around his face. It's almost got a Shawn Marion feel to it. I think that's going to need work. I just don't see him playing much this year, but again, I've been wrong before.
-I thought it was interesting how Jordan Taylor deferred the ball to Gasser several times before crossing the midcourt line. I wouldn't be shocked to see Gasser run the point more this year than he did a season ago. I also wouldn't be shocked to see Taylor post his man up more than he has in the past.
Thirdly, I definitely wouldn't be surprised to see a three-guard set quite a bit this year. If I had to guess starters today I would probably say it would be Taylor, Gasser, Evans, Mike Bruesewitz and Berggren. But I wouldn't be shocked if we saw Gasser and Taylor joined by Brust or Rob Wilson, too. If that were to happen I would think Evans would come off the bench.
-Speaking of Bruesewitz…..the junior was just as aggressive and full of energy as I remembered. The kid was all over the glass and all over the defensive side of the ball. He didn't do a ton offensively, but he'll once again be an asset to this team.
-Freshman walk-on Jordan Smith looked a bit timid out there. He has such a good-looking shot, but I don't think he's entirely comfortable with the offense yet. And that's to be expected considering we're only 10 days into practice. Time in the weight room and more reps will do wonders for Smith.
-I mentioned Evan Anderson a minute ago. He still needs to get better with his footwork defensively. There's too much reaching, arm-barring and holding going on. If he were to play extensive minutes this year he's going to rack up the fouls quickly unless his footwork comes a long way. I think he's going to be a contributor during his career and maybe even this season, but he has a lot of work to do to get to that level.
-The fact that Zach Bohannon has played on the division one level for a couple of seasons is very obvious. He's incredibly active on both sides of the floor. He's going to be a huge asset for this team this season even though he won't play a minute during games. As long as he keeps the mindset that practices are his games, he's going to make people better. I like his game and mindset.
-I didn't focus a ton on Rob Wilson during Monday's practice. But I know defense is still going to be a main priority for him.
-A lot of times Ryan likes to finish practices with free throw shooting. He told his guys before they shot that they had to make 4-of-5 shots. If they didn't the entire team had to do sit ups. Wilson and Berggren missed each of the first two shots. After doing their sit-ups, Evans, Dan Fahey, Gasser, Bruesewitz and Taylor made five consecutive throws.