MADISON, Wis. — Ben Brust is drawing a diagram of his slanted driveway in the Chicago suburbs, trying to explain where the origin of his spectacular shooting range began. There is a sidewalk that extends from the driveway and winds beside grass in the front yard. And here, where the sidewalk nearly meets driveway, he sketches an "X."
This is the spot, truly, where he credits his development nearly a decade before he became one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in the University of Wisconsin’s basketball history. Back when Brust was a skinny pipsqueak competing athletically with older brothers Jonathan and Stephen, Brust didn’t have much of a choice if he wanted to play hoops in the yard.
Either step back to shoot or don’t shoot at all.
"I couldn’t get by my big, older brothers," Brust said. "So I had to learn to shoot back here where they couldn’t get me. I credit that to learning how to shoot from deep. The sidewalk rule. The one square of relief rule is what I call it."
Nowadays, opponents know better than to give Brust any room from long range.
To date, Brust has buried 197 3-pointers and has climbed to fifth in program history in that category. He also is quietly closing in on the program’s all-time record for made 3-pointers in a career and needs 31 to break the mark.
Tim Locum, who played at Wisconsin from 1988-91, holds the record with 227. Brust’s next opportunity to ascend the 3-point ladder comes Sunday, when Wisconsin (18-5, 5-5) plays host to No. 9 Michigan State (20-3, 9-1) at noon.
Wisconsin has eight regular season games remaining and is guaranteed at least one game in the Big Ten tournament and likely one in the NCAA tournament. At minimum, then, Brust would need to average three made 3-pointers over 10 games to tie the record. But if Wisconsin can extend the season and play 12 games, the likelihood of him breaking the mark grows significantly. He would need to average 2.5 made 3s per game. This season, he is averaging 2.52 made 3s per contest.
The fact Brust, a 6-foot-1, 196-pound senior guard from Hawthorn Woods, Ill., has even put himself in this position is a testament to his work ethic. As a freshman, he played a total of 45 minutes and made only two 3-pointers.
"When he came in as a freshman, I didn’t know if he could get on the floor for us," Badgers associate head coach Greg Gard said. "Because he needed to figure out what the other end of the floor was about defensively, and he’s done that. He needed to figure out the toughness he needed to play with in terms of diving on the floor, sticking his nose in, doing some of those things. . . .
"Ben Brust’s strengths as a freshman weren’t defense, toughness, sticking your nose in. It was don’t play H-O-R-S-E with him."
Brust said he used his freshman season as a learning opportunity, watching how Badgers standouts Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil and Jordan Taylor played the game. He saw the level of defense necessary to compete in coach Bo Ryan’s system and was determined to get on the floor.
When the Badgers watched film breakdowns from previous games in scouting sessions, Brust had plenty to write about the team and nothing to write about himself, which motivated him further.
"I got sick of writing nothing down for me," he said. "Not that I wanted to mess up, but I wanted to have things to learn from. That kind of got me going freshman year."
Badgers guard Josh Gasser, who is Brust’s roommate, said he knew his friend was capable of contributing in a big way even when he spent that first year on the scout team.
"You could see how he could fill it up in a variety of ways, especially from behind the arc," Gasser said. "Not only from 3, but he’s shooting them from about 30 feet. He had range from probably when he could start shooting a basketball. I always saw it. He just needed to kind of clean up the extra parts of his game."
When Brust returned for his sophomore season, he became the team’s sixth man and a valuable offensive weapon. He buried 58 3-pointers and twice tied the program record by making seven in a game.
He’s been committed to improving.
Wisconsin assistant Lamont Paris, regarding Ben Brust.
But Brust was not content with simply being labeled as a spot-up shooter, and he found those other areas to improve. As a junior, he set the school’s single-season record with 79 made 3-pointers and led the team in scoring (11.1 points per game), but he also averaged 5.1 rebounds and recorded five double-doubles. This season, he ranks second on the team in points (13.3) and third in rebounds with 4.7 per game.
"Quiet as it’s kept, he’s added something every year," Badgers assistant coach Lamont Paris said. "His ability to put the ball on the floor. He’s always cut pretty hard. But he does a good job of catching the ball around the basket. He’s improved as a finisher around the basket. That was always an area that he needed some improvement (on). So he’s gotten better at that. And rebounds weren’t always easy to come by last year, and he was in there getting his fair share. He’s been committed to improving."
Brust, for his part, said he wasn’t even aware of the 3-point record on the horizon and instead opted to focus on achieving team goals in what remained of his senior season. But all these years later, he hasn’t forgotten where he got his start. And he continues to use those lessons on a driveway to fuel him on the court.
"I remember when my brother Stephen came home from college for winter break," Brust said. "We used to go out there in weather like this and shoot outside. He always used to tell me if you can shoot out here with negative wind chill and wind blowing around, you can shoot in a gym where it’s still and calm."