Reserve center Evan Anderson, a redshirt junior, has committed 25 fouls in 82 minutes in his career at Wisconsin.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
MADISON, Wis. — Evan Anderson didn’t trick himself into believing he’d suddenly leapfrog teammates and emerge as Wisconsin’s starting center this season. The Badgers have too many good players, he said, to make such a scenario realistic.
Still, as a 6-foot-10, 245-pound load of a man in the post, he figured perhaps a way existed for him to add value on game days this season. Spell starter Frank Kaminsky for a few minutes each night. Block a shot. Grab an offensive rebound and keep a play alive. The sort of stuff that doesn’t draw fan hysterics but would be plenty satisfying for Anderson and his workmanlike attitude.
Instead, playing time hasn’t come together the way Anderson hoped it might before the year. For another season, Anderson has been forced to embrace the value of doing his part to help the team, even if takes place in practices — far away from the thousands of fans who come to support Wisconsin at the Kohl Center.
"You do think of things behind closed doors, and we do put in a lot of work behind closed doors," Anderson said. "At the same time, if you’re not playing, there’s so many other good things you can get from having this experience and being committed to a team and putting all that work in that people don’t see. It’s just becoming a man and things that maybe people don’t think about when they’re just watching the game."
Anderson, a redshirt junior from Stanley, Wis., has appeared in four games this season and played a total of 10 minutes. And though he isn’t a regular rotation player, he has remained upbeat that a role might yet materialize. Last Saturday, for example, Kaminsky picked up two fouls, and Anderson found himself in the game for three minutes against in-state rival Marquette during the first half.
Kaminsky sat out Thursday’s practice with a right foot injury and is listed as day-to-day. If, for some reason, he can’t play Saturday against Eastern Kentucky, Anderson could again be thrust into limited duty.
"That’s a hard position to be in because you never know," Badgers associate head coach Greg Gard said. "Mentally, you’ve got to keep yourself tuned in because you never know when somebody turns an ankle, somebody gets in foul trouble like what happened Saturday, you can be in there with little notice and little preparation.
"You may not be with the regular group for a couple weeks. Then all of a sudden, bang, you’re in there for whatever reason. To keep yourself mentally disciplined enough to stay focused, that’s a huge challenge."
One frequent bugaboo for Anderson during his career has been foul trouble. He has played a total of 82 career minutes and committed 25 fouls, just less than one every three minutes. Kaminsky has played 307 minutes this season and committed 24 fouls.
During the Marquette game, Anderson picked up three fouls in three minutes and was replaced by reserve Zach Bohannon, who has played only eight minutes all season.
"I was a little too aggressive," Anderson said. "To me, watching from the side all this time, watching against Michigan State and some teams that have big, strong guys, I didn’t think there was really a limit to the physicality. This year, they changed the rules and I understand them, and you’ve just got to try to adjust to them. So I’ve really got to maybe tone it down a little bit with the physicality. But I like to bump around in the post. That’s kind of what I’ve always done and I’ve been kind of good at it."
Anderson’s size made him one of the top center prospects in the country in high school for the Class of 2010. Scout.com rated him as a four-star prospect and the No. 16 overall center out of Eau Claire North. He garnered scholarship offers from the likes of Wisconsin, Marquette, Boston College and Iowa State.
But the transition from simply being bigger than everybody in high school to earning minutes in college has proven to be quite a task. Anderson has worked on his footwork and agility to give himself a chance. And he admits he has become a much better basketball player from all his hard work.
Although playing time has eluded him, Anderson said he never considered the prospect of transferring. He said he took his first unofficial visit to Wisconsin’s campus at age 13 and knew that if he were ever offered a scholarship, he would stay as long as he could. Two players, Jarrod Uthoff and George Marshall, have transferred out of the program over the past two years to seek more minutes elsewhere.
"A lot of guys have done that," Anderson said. "I’ve just been committed here since I’ve been kind of in middle school. It’s been that long ago. I’ve just been committed here the whole time and I just haven’t even thought of going anywhere else to play. If I’m not playing basketball, it’s not going to be because I’m anywhere else. So I’m just committed to this place and trying to give these guys something."
In the meantime, Anderson will continue to improve his lean muscle mass, stamina and speed in the background while waiting his turn. He never knows if his time will arrive, but he maintains hope that it will before his career is over.
"He’s been a great teammate," Gard said. "He’s never complained. He’s come to work every day and done a great job academically. Just wants the team to be successful. Obviously, I know he’d like to play more. And we all wish we could be in a position where he could play more. And maybe in some situations, it’ll work itself out. But at the same time, he understands where he’s at and how he can continue to help the program. He’s done it in a very positive way."