MADISON, Wis. — Greg Gard carried a clipboard and a red folder labeled “UW-Platteville” under his arm Monday inside the Kohl Center. Gard, Wisconsin’s associate head coach, often finds himself in charge of scouting the Badgers’ upcoming opponent, so the routine was nothing new.
In this instance, however, he probably didn’t need the folder.
Gard’s knowledge of Platteville’s basketball program is especially intimate: His youngest brother, Jeff, happens to be the head coach. So when No. 21 Wisconsin plays host to UW-Platteville at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Badgers’ lone exhibition game this season, there will be a strangely familiar feel on both sidelines.
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“Obviously there’s going to be that little excitement,” said Jeff, who, at age 36 is seven years younger than Greg. “It probably stems all the way back to the days growing up and having any opportunity to compete against your brother. Especially when it’s your older brother.”
Greg Gard’s history with UW-Platteville runs deep. He served as an assistant coach there from 1993-99 under current Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan, helping the Pioneers win three Division III national championships. He also earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the school.
The two programs last met back on Nov. 16, 2004, with Wisconsin winning the exhibition easily, 78-44. It marked the beginning of Wisconsin’s annual exhibition series against Division III programs in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
That game was unique because it reunited Ryan and Gard with their former school for the first time. Jeff Gard also was an assistant coach at UW-Platteville then, but the Gards recognize Wednesday’s game will be special in its own right because it is the first with Jeff leading the charge.
Jeff Gard begins his fifth year as head coach at UW-Platteville and has won 64 games in his first four seasons — the second-most in school history during that stretch. He said he considered Greg to be a mentor and someone in a special spot to offer guidance about a shared passion. Greg and Jeff’s middle brother, Garry, works in agriculture as a grain manager at Didion Milling in Cambria, Wis.
“I think that’s what an older brother should do,” Greg said. “Obviously it’s an honor for him to view me as that. I just think I’m in a position where not only being an older brother, but as somebody in the same profession, if I can help him out, (I will) any time.”
The commonalities between Jeff and Greg even go beyond basketball. The two brothers also sound nearly identical.
“We can trick our mom, you know,” Greg said. “She doesn’t recognize on the phone if we block the number.”
Greg noted his biggest piece of advice before Jeff went into coaching was for his younger brother to surround himself with the right people. Jeff, who graduated from UW-Platteville in 2001 and earned his master’s in education there in 2005, began his coaching career on the staff at Cuba City High School under legendary coach Jerry Petitgoue. He also was an assistant at Lakeland College in Sheboygan for two seasons, building his resume and working his way up the coaching ladder.
“I’ve tried to stay out of his way and answer questions when he has them but not try to hover over,” Greg said. “I’ve always felt he needs to make his own footprints. He’s done a great job of that and done things the right way.”
Wisconsin has never lost to a WIAC opponent in the nine-year history of the annual exhibition series, though the Pioneers represent one of the more experienced teams to come through the Kohl Center in recent years — and also perhaps the most similar.
Greg Gard said Platteville ran the same swing offense as Wisconsin and shared the same toughness playing man-to-man defense, which are pieces Jeff Gard no doubt picked up from Ryan’s tenure at Platteville and his success at Wisconsin.
Platteville should once again be one of the toughest teams in the WIAC one season after losing in the conference championship game to UW-Whitewater. The Pioneers return leader scorer Chas Cross, the defending WIAC player of the year. Cross, a 6-foot-8 senior, averaged 15.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season.
The team also brings back its three other leading scorers: off-guard Jim Stocky (9.8 points), forward Jake Manning (8.8 points) and point guard Eric Gerber (7.8 points).
Wisconsin, meanwhile, returns five of its top eight scorers off last year’s 23-12 team that lost in the NCAA tournament Round of 64 to Ole Miss: guards Ben Brust, Traevon Jackson and George Marshall as well as forward Sam Dekker and center Frank Kaminsky. The Badgers also return guard Josh Gasser, who missed last season with an ACL injury and will play in his first college game in 19 months.
Both Gard brothers acknowledged Wednesday’s game should be about the players and their development. But the added intrigue will come from the sideline, with the two men rekindling a competitive fire that dates to childhood.
“From football to basketball to baseball to showing pigs at the country fair, we competed against each other in everything,” Jeff said. “There’s a few stories we could probably tell about some of those days. We’ll just keep it to ourselves, I think. When you have three boys growing up in the house, it’s always competitive.”