From left, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson, Frank Kaminsky and Duje Dukan have combined to appear in 460 career games with 283 starts for Wisconsin, and the group serves as the backbone of a team attempting to reach its second consecutive Final Four.
MADISON, Wis. — The stories of Wisconsin’s four-man senior class differ, each one filled with moments of doubt that tested the limits of their basketball convictions. There was Josh Gasser missing an entire season because of a torn ACL, Duje Dukan sitting for a year after complications from mononucleosis, Traevon Jackson’s attempt to escape the shadows of his NBA-playing father and Frank Kaminsky’s drive to prove he was worthy of the national attention that eluded him for years.
But if there is a common thread that holds the Badgers’ 2015 senior class together, it’s one of perseverance and grit, of a group motivated to win while demonstrating with their play what so many other college programs missed out on.
The four players will be honored as part of senior day festivities before No. 5 Wisconsin (25-3, 13-2) plays host to Michigan State (19-9, 10-5) at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Kohl Center. And their contributions to the program cannot be overstated. Gasser, Dukan, Jackson and Kaminsky have combined to appear in 460 career games with 283 starts, and the group serves as the backbone of a team attempting to reach its second consecutive Final Four.
"We all have different personalities, but overall we have the ability to get along well with others," Gasser said. "I think we all value winning more than anything, and that’s what you want in teammates and people you surround yourself with. So any time you’ve got unselfish guys who just want to win, good things happen, and we’ve been able to do some pretty good things in our career and hopefully have more to come."
Gasser’s story out of high school was like many other Badgers players who weren’t sure they garnered the necessary respect level from big-time college programs. Though he was the state’s player of the year as a senior in Port Washington, Wis., most of his scholarship offers came from mid-major programs — Creighton, Northern Iowa, Green Bay, William & Mary, Bucknell and St. Louis, to name a few.
Gasser strongly considered Northwestern, but Badgers coach Bo Ryan offered him a full scholarship after guard Diamond Taylor withdrew from school after being charged with burglary and underage drinking. Initially, Gasser’s offer was to walk on as a freshman and get a full ride for his final four years.
"Wisconsin was kind of late to the party," Gasser said. "You could tell people around Wisconsin didn’t really know if I was good enough to play for the Badgers and stuff like that. But it was always my dream school. I had a lot of other good opportunities from other schools. But this was the place I wanted to be (at)."
All Gasser has done is set the program record for most minutes and most starts in a career while serving as the glue that holds the team together because of his toughness, leadership and work ethic — traits that were especially on display after he recovered from a devastating ACL injury that cut short his 2012-13 season before it began.
Dukan, meanwhile, only earned a scholarship offer from Wisconsin after Madison native Vander Blue spurned the Badgers to attend Marquette. Dukan was considered a late-bloomer on the recruiting scene, particularly after growing six inches over the final three years of his high school career.
"I think everybody kind of has their own individual situation that they’re going through that they want to prove, whether it’s they didn’t get the offers they felt like they deserved or they weren’t looked at as good as they thought they were," Dukan said. "But I just came in and wanted to prove who I was, prove what type of player I was and for the people that didn’t think I could get a D-I scholarship, prove that I did belong here."
Dukan has played in 85 career games and become a vital reserve the past two seasons for the Badgers after missing the 2012-13 season due to mono. This season, he is averaging 4.9 points and 2.8 rebounds while playing 16.8 minutes per game.
Like Gasser and Dukan, Kaminsky was a Plan B for the Badgers’ coaching staff. UW only seriously considered Kaminsky (Lisle, Ill.) after big man Nnanna Egwu chose to play for Illinois. Kaminsky played less than 10 minutes a game as an underclassman at Wisconsin because of Jared Berggren. But he has blossomed into a national player of the year candidate. This season, Kaminsky leads Wisconsin in points (17.7), rebounds (8.3), blocks (43), assists (66) and steals (22).
Not bad for a player whose only other scholarship offers came from Bradley, DePaul, Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois and Northwestern.
Jackson, too, did not garner loads of interest out of high school. His only other power-five scholarship offer came from Arizona State. The rest all were from mid-major programs in Ohio: Akron, Cleveland State, Miami (Ohio) and Ohio. During Jackson’s sophomore year at UW, he was forced to become the team’s starting point guard after Gasser sustained his ACL injury — not a natural position for Jackson, who was an off-guard.
Jackson would go on to start 84 consecutive games and make his own name despite being the son of two-time collegiate all-American and NBA veteran Jim Jackson. Traevon Jackson has been sidelined since Jan. 11 with a broken right foot and is unlikely to play against Michigan State, but his impending return will provide a significant boost to a Badgers team in desperate need of expanding its rotation.
The legacy of Wisconsin’s senior class will be one of persistence and determination despite longer odds than other more heralded recruits. But teammates note the group still has an opportunity to put one final imprint on how they’ll be remembered.
"They brought a winning mentality to this program just like all the other classes," Badgers forward Sam Dekker said. "They’ve just carried the torch. Going to a Final Four, building relationships with these guys, I’ve learned a lot from them. Hopefully we can get a Big Ten championship for them because I don’t think they’ve had one yet.
"Once we get that, I think that’ll maybe put a little better cap on even the great career that they’ve had already. If we get that, maybe we can get a few more things."