MADISON, Wis. — Forty stitches hold together skin that sliced apart during a freak injury to Mike Bruesewitz’s right leg and nearly cost him a basketball career. Half an inch one way, and nerve damage was a very real possibility.
Given the alternative for Bruesewitz, a senior forward at the University of Wisconsin, missing a few weeks of the early season isn’t the end of the world. He knows it could have been much worse.
“I was really fortunate,” Bruesewitz said Tuesday during the Badgers’ media day. “It was really unfortunate what happened to me, but how it happened and what happened and the outcome of this is very fortunate.”
The accident occurred when Bruesewitz stole the ball during a scrimmage Oct. 9 and raced in for a dunk. Guard Josh Gasser, playing for the other team, caught Bruesewitz from behind and lost his balance. Bruesewitz collided with the metal portion at the base of the basket standard.
It sliced open his leg, revealing bone.
“I thought he was going to be out for the majority of the year if not the whole year,” Gasser said. “That’s just how serious it looked. By everyone’s reaction, you knew it was really, really bad.”
Wisconsin athletic trainer Henry Perez-Guerra ran to Bruesewitz and applied pressure to quell the bleeding until an ambulance arrived.
“He got it covered up, got it taken care of, focused me for a second and relaxed me,” Bruesewitz said. “He did a couple tests and instantly said, ‘Can you feel this, can you put pressure on your ankle?’
“As soon as I was able to do that, I had good control of my foot and feeling and everything, he said, ‘All right, that’s a big thing for us. We’re not out of the woods yet. But right now you’re pretty lucky.’ “
Bruesewitz, a 6-foot-6 native of St. Paul, Minn., had gone through a knee injury during his sophomore season and said it helped him to better understand nerves and tendons in his leg. As a result, Bruesewitz wondered if this latest injury would cause him to suffer from a symptom known as “foot drop,” a muscle weakness or paralysis that can hinder walking permanently. During the 1995-96 season, for example, Wisconsin guard Mosezell Peterson severely dislocated his left knee and suffered from foot drop.
Bruesewitz also wondered if he would ever play basketball again.
Badgers coach Bo Ryan said he attempted to keep Bruesewitz calm despite the circumstances.
“Part of my function was to make sure I took care of Mike’s head, shoulders and chest by kind of keeping him down,” Ryan said. “As he asked me if he was ever going to play again, I said, ‘Of course. Hey, skin can be replaced.’ I didn’t offer up the land in Florida. But I didn’t know. I felt good about it.
“He’s tough. He can handle this. He’ll come back from this. … It is amazing that he’s going to be on the floor. He’ll be out there. It’s just a matter of how many weeks.”
Bruesewitz underwent surgery the same day of his injury and in the two weeks that followed he wasn’t able to do much from an athletic standpoint. On Tuesday, he began working out on a stationary bike for the first time.
“I was really excited about that,” he said. “I’ll keep progressing and getting more and more excited. I’m going to work my butt off to get back with these guys.”
Bruesewitz indicated that half of his stitches would come out Wednesday and the other half on Friday or Saturday. He doesn’t have a specific timetable on his return, but he hopes to be back for the team’s Nov. 14 road game against Florida — five weeks after suffering the injury.
Now, it’s up to the training staff and how quickly his leg responds to physical activity.
“We’re just kind of taking it one day at a time and making sure it heals right before I come back,” Bruesewitz said. “This is a really serious thing, and if I mess it up again I could be out for a lot longer than I was right now. I’m listening to those guys. I’m not trying to jump the gun or anything, even though I want to.”
Any time out of the lineup for Bruesewitz is a blow to the Badgers, who return four starters from a team that finished 26-10 and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Bruesewitz, known in college basketball circles as the consummate hustle player, started all 36 games last season and averaged 25.5 minutes, 5.6 points and 5.1 rebounds.
“Everyone has seen him and knows what he can do,” Badgers guard Ben Brust said. “He does a lot of the little things that people don’t see, which helps us.”
Reflecting on his horrific injury now, Bruesewitz maintains a sense of perspective on the situation. He said he saved the “Why me?” questions for more serious matters.
Bruesewitz talks often with his uncle, Mike Wesley, who is a paraplegic.
“One of the things my dad always tells me, he’s told me this numerous times is think of his life,” Bruesewitz said. “What would he do if he had one day in your shoes just to be able to walk again? Just one day. So you can’t really get down on stuff like that.