MADISON, Wis. — A difference exists between jokes that are funny for their quaint humor and jokes that sting for their harsh truth. Wisconsin center Jared Berggren can discern the latter better than most teammates because he has borne the brunt of their ribbing during his entire college basketball career.
Berggren, a senior, is a talented big man and without question one of the players most responsible for whether Wisconsin will succeed or fail this season. But, at 6-foot-10, he has not dominated games in the way many assume a 6-10 individual should. Case in point: through 99 career games, he had never recorded a double-double — that is, double digits for points and rebounds (or blocks, steals or assists) in the same contest.
“Guys always made fun of me,” Berggren said. “I ended up with 12 (points) and nine (rebounds) or something. I’d always be one rebound short.”
During Saturday’s game against Illinois, Berggren finally ended one of the more odd statistical anomalies in recent memory. In his 100th game, he finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds to help lead Wisconsin to a 74-51 pasting of No. 12 Illinois at the Kohl Center. In the process, the Badgers (12-4 overall) moved to 3-0 in Big Ten play for the first time in four seasons.
For Berggren, the joke is up.
“About time,” he said. “It was never a huge deal to me. I don’t care too much about stats. But it was definitely something that we joked about in the locker room.”
Berggren’s energized play and aggressiveness sparked the Badgers early to a lead they never surrendered. He scored seven points, including a 3-pointer, in the first six minutes as part of a 14-0 Wisconsin run to open the game. Later in the half, he converted an alley-oop dunk off a feed from forward Sam Dekker, leaping to catch a chest pass before it arrived and slamming it down with two hands.
By halftime, Berggren had amassed 11 points with seven rebounds, and his first double-double appeared a mere formality once he stepped on the court for the second half against Illinois (14-4, 1-3). In 30 minutes of action, he made 6 of 13 field goals and also tallied two blocks and a steal.
“He works hard every day, and he does things in practice that shows the potential is there,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. “A double-double is a stat that’s a nice one to have, but there’s so many other phases to the game. Defensively, the things that he did I thought were pretty good. I thought he made decent passes. I thought he took care of the ball when he did get into the paint.
“There’s a lot more to the game than two categories being double-doubles. But we’ll certainly take them.”
The double-double doesn’t necessarily define a player’s entire skill set, but it does speak to a certain level of activity and dominance, particularly from a center. For example, one of the greatest centers of all-time, Wilt Chamberlain, tallied a record 227 consecutive double-doubles from 1964-67 in the NBA.
This season, more than 300 Division I players have recorded at least two double-doubles.
Badgers assistant coach Lamont Paris said earlier in the week that Berggren needed to do a better job of rebounding outside his area and using his length and athleticism to chase loose balls, especially if he were to attain his first double-double. In high school, Berggren could merely tower over his opponents, and rebounds would come to him. As a high school senior in Princeton, Minn., Berggren averaged a double-double with 25.8 points and 12.3 rebounds.
But in college, Berggren had suffered in the rebounding department, in part because of Wisconsin’s swing offense, which puts big men on the perimeter and away from gathering missed shots. On Saturday, however, seven of Berggren’s 12 boards came on offensive rebounds.
“Guys that can double-double, they are very active,” Paris said following last Thursday’s practice. “We joked around with him last year. We called it the elusive double-double. It’s hard to get. If you can do that consistently, you’re doing a lot.”
The fact that Berggren never recorded a double-double in college before Saturday was made more remarkable simply because of how close he had come to achieving the feat in previous games. He had scored in double digits in 33 games. And twice this season, against Arkansas and Samford, he tallied 10 points and nine rebounds.
Last season as a junior, Berggren amassed games of nine points with 13 rebounds, 16 points with nine rebounds and 17 points with nine rebounds.
Yet a double-double had eluded him the way the Loch Ness Monster or Big Foot eludes thrill-seeking hunters. Or low gas prices over Memorial Day weekend elude car owners.
Four players on this season’s Badgers team had recorded at least one double-double in their career — forward Ryan Evans (six), guard Ben Brust (four), forward Mike Bruesewitz (one) and guard Josh Gasser (one). Brust, all 6-1 of him, registered his four during the early season, and Berggren cracked that Brust was leaping into the lane to steal his rebounds — otherwise the double-double may have come sooner.
Saturday, Berggren’s moment arrived. And the locker room jokes can now be directed elsewhere.
“It’s fun to finally get over the hump here,” Berggren said, “and hopefully this is the first of many.”