MADISON — Somewhere, somebody has a Mike Bruesewitz voodoo doll and is taking great delight in poking holes in it.
How else to explain how much pain the senior forward for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball has endured — basically from head to toe — during his final season with the program.
The latest episode occurred during Thursday afternoon’s practice when junior Duje Dukan hustled to save a ball from going out of bounds and fired it at Bruesewitz from point-blank range.
The ball hit Bruesewitz, who had no time to react, square in the groin, dropping him to his knees as his teammates and coaches thanked their lucky stars it wasn’t them.
It’s been that kind of season for Bruesewitz, who later returned to practice and will be fine — provided he makes it through today’s practice unscathed — for today’s game between UW (11-4, 2-0 Big Ten) and No. 12 Illinois (14-3, 1-2) at the Kohl Center.
“A thing like that is just fluke,” UW senior forward Jared Berggren said of Bruesewitz’s latest painful moment. “It’s Mike. It’s what he does. He finds a way to take some crazy hits. I guess he’s cursed.”
World of hurt
Bruesewitz missed almost the entire preseason while recovering from a severe laceration on his lower right leg.
The injury occurred during a team workout on
Oct. 9 when Bruesewitz got tangled up with teammate Josh Gasser on a fast break and awkwardly went flying into a basket standard. He cut his leg on the jagged edge of an exposed weight and required emergency surgery.
Bruesewitz spent the first part of the season playing catch-up and was just starting to feel like his old self when he was injured while setting a pick on teammate Evan Anderson in practice on Dec. 6.
Bruesewitz sustained a concussion — Anderson, who is 6-foot-10, 255 pounds, got the best of a shoulder-to-chin collision — and missed two games.
He watched a loss at Marquette from the sidelines and a home win over UW-Green Bay from his apartment. Bruesewitz spent much of that week lying in the dark in his bedroom.
“I was kind of grumpy a lot,” he said. “Waking up with a headache every day is not going to put somebody in a good mood.”
Follow the leader
Bruesewitz wasn’t in a good mood during Wednesday’s practice when he raised eyebrows by calling out senior Ryan Evans for a perceived lack of effort.
Both players described the incident a day later as something that happens several times over the course of a season.
“It’s really not a big deal,” Bruesewitz said. “You get over it; we talked about it afterward and it’s fine, nothing’s wrong. Nothing came of it.”
However, it was another sign that Bruesewitz has emerged as the undisputed vocal leader for the Badgers.
Leadership will be crucial for UW as it enters a difficult stretch of games in the Big Ten. The Badgers have won five consecutive games, but it’s clear they’re not playing to their potential.
“There’s only so much a coach can say over and over,” Berggren said. “Sometimes it takes a different voice for someone to really get the message across.”
But the Badgers don’t just need words from Bruesewitz, they need actions.
They missed his defense, rebounding and toughness in the Marquette game and will need those qualities and more from him during the final two months of the season.
The best news for UW is Bruesewitz’s offensive game has shown signs of life. He scored a season-high 13 points against Samford on Dec. 29 and followed up that outing with 12 points against Penn State in the Big Ten opener.
He struggled from the field against Nebraska, going 2-for-7 to finish with five points, but has shot the ball as well as anybody in practice this week.
“Rebounding, hitting 3s, bringing that energy,” Evans said of Bruesewitz, who had 10 rebounds against Nebraska. “That’s definitely going to be needed through the Big Ten season, and I’m glad to see him back on pace.”
Not changing his tune
Despite absorbing injury after injury this season, Bruesewitz has no plans on changing the way he plays the game.
He’ll continue to dive for loose balls and stick his nose in dangerous places to corral rebounds.
“The first day back after his concussion, he was in the middle of a scrum,” UW associate head coach Greg Gard said. “When you pulled the bodies apart, there was Mike on the bottom.
“You’re not going to change that and we don’t want him to change it.”
Bruesewitz, for his part, doesn’t want anyone feeling sorry for him even though he’s had a painful senior season.
“Unlucky? Nah,” Bruesewitz said. “Rough times? Yeah, a little bit. But hey, man, I’m breathing, smiling. I get to play basketball. People have it a lot worse off than I do, so it’s good.”