MADISON, Wis. — For a fleeting moment that surely felt like much longer, Mike Bruesewitz wondered if he would ever play basketball again. He lay on the court with a horrifying gash across his right leg, bone protruding through a pool of blood, just days before he was supposed to begin his senior season at the University of Wisconsin.
If this was the end, it sure seemed like a cruel way to leave the game he loved.
“When you see your bone and a freak thing like that happens,” Bruesewitz said, “a lot of stuff runs through your head.”
He had suffered a lacerated right leg after colliding with the metal portion at the base of the basket standard during a team scrimmage Oct. 9. He would later learn the cut had missed any key nerves, arteries or veins. Bruesewitz needed 40 stitches to close the wound. And, yes, he could play basketball again.
Relief quickly ceded to determination to return in time for Wisconsin’s regular season opener. On Sunday — 33 days after sustaining the injury — Bruesewitz completed his goal. He was the first substitution into the game during No. 23 Wisconsin’s 87-47 trouncing of Southeastern Louisiana.
“I was ready to go the day after surgery,” Bruesewitz said. “I wanted to join these guys as quickly as possible. I had to take a few days off and watch these guys play an exhibition game. That was kind of hard. I’m not used to doing that. I feel good now. I’m trying to get my wind back and everything, legs underneath me.
“Hopefully I can get back into the rotation, a little bit more minutes. I was limited today just to see how I feel. I feel pretty good right now.”
Bruesewitz certainly looked like the player who started all 36 games last season for the Badgers at forward. He finished the day with 10 points and three rebounds in 13 minutes of action, with just three minutes coming after halftime in the blowout victory. He made all three of his field goal attempts, including two 3-pointers.
If fatigue was a factor, Bruesewitz didn’t show it. He practiced on Friday and Saturday and was granted the OK to play Saturday night.
“Mike hasn’t forgotten anything,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. “The nice part is when you’re injured, you can still be around practice, still be around the film work. And he was in such good shape that Friday and Saturday, his two practices were fine. . . .
“Just to see a guy like that back with that kind of experience, it was so obvious in practice on Friday and Saturday what he gives us. So now to have that back, we’re very thankful.”
Bruesewitz entered the game at the 15:49 mark of the first half to a chorus of cheers from the Kohl Center crowd. He made his impact felt by drilling two 3-pointers just 1 minute, 46 seconds apart to help stretch Wisconsin’s lead to 33-7.
Southeastern Louisiana coach Jim Yarbrough said he didn’t even expect Bruesewitz to play.
“I was extremely disappointed to see him out there today,” Yarbrough joked. “He’s so rugged and tough.”
Last season, Bruesewitz struggled mightily from beyond the arc when he connected on 25 of 85 3-point attempts (29.4 percent). At one point, he did not make a 3 in eight consecutive games, misfiring on all 14 of his attempts. He had no such problems Sunday.
Badgers center Jared Berggren said he wasn’t surprised by the impact Bruesewitz made on the team.
“You guys have all seen it, what he’s capable of,” Berggren said. “The energy, intensity he brings. The toughness. He does all the little things. Getting on the glass, knocking down open shots. He makes plays for himself and other people. That’s what we love about him. That’s why he’s a key piece to our team. We’re happy he’s back now. I think he’s ready for a couple more minutes now. He’s looking pretty good.”
Wisconsin should be significantly improved with the addition of Bruesewitz, who averaged 5.6 points and 5.1 rebounds last season. The Badgers are without their starting point guard, Josh Gasser, who suffered a torn ACL last month and is out for the season.
Bruesewitz recalled having multiple conversations with Wisconsin trainer Henry Perez-Guerra to let him return even sooner to full-court activities.
“I listened to Henry more probably than I have even my parents,” Bruesewitz said. “He takes care of me. I know he has my best interests at heart.”
Now that Bruesewitz is back, his minutes are sure to increase. A year ago, he averaged 25.5 minutes per game.
Sunday, no doubt, was a step in the right direction.
“I’m definitely recharged and refocused,” Bruesewitz said. “I was really excited to come into the season before the injury. Now, it’s about 10 times more.”