T.J. Schlundt waited and waited, not knowing when he’d get significant minutes with the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team.
Or if he’d ever get them, for that matter.
The time has come for the junior guard from Oconomowoc. Injuries have depleted the Badgers’ backcourt — freshman wing Kobe King (left knee) will miss the rest of the season, while sophomore point guard D’Mitrik Trice (right foot) is out indefinitely — forcing UW coach Greg Gard to go deep on his bench.
For Schlundt, there’s mixed emotions as he moves into the rotation. He feels awful for King and Trice, both of whom underwent surgery on Monday.
But the show must go on and, for Schlundt, it’s a chance to get on the court after spending most of his first three seasons at UW watching from the bench.
“Coach has always said stay ready,” Schlundt said. “I’ve been staying patient for three years and worked diligently, and now is my time to prove what I’ve got. I’m going to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Schlundt was a walk-on before being awarded a scholarship for this season. He arrived at UW in 2014 after turning down scholarship offers from UW-Green Bay, UW-Milwaukee, St. Joseph’s, Drake and Northern Kentucky. He also passed up a walk-on offer from Marquette, where his father, Terrell, was a four-year starter from 1979 to ’83.
After playing a total of 25 minutes as a freshman and sophomore — he redshirted in 2014-15 — Schlundt already has surpassed that total in his fourth season with the Badgers. He played a career-high 13 minutes during an 82-63 home loss to Marquette on Saturday, topping the nine he played a week earlier against Ohio State.
“He’s played against some really good players here for a couple years,” UW assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft said. “He’s done his role to help the team. He’s always wanted to play, but he never let himself get above the team. He’s always done what was best for the team.
“And now what’s best for the team is he’s going to have to give us some minutes, so he’s ready to do it.”
Schlundt left Oconomowoc High School as the program’s No. 3 all-time scorer with 1,053 points despite transferring to St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy for his senior season.
He can certainly provide a boost to UW’s perimeter shooting. He made a 3-pointer against Marquette and had another waved off after officials ruled he didn’t release it before the shot clock sounded.
Schlundt is the first to admit he needs work on the other end of the court.
“Defensive technique is the biggest thing,” he said. “I think I have the ability to do it, it’s just a mind-set and that’s something that I’ve got to get better at for sure.”
The Badgers’ defense will be put to the test again as they try to overcome the program’s worst start to a season in nearly 25 years. UW has lost seven of its past nine games and is 4-7 overall, matching its record after the first 11 games of the 1983-84 season.
Up next for UW is a home game tonight against Western Kentucky, which has six players who average double figures in scoring. The Hilltoppers (6-3) are coming off an 89-84 loss at Ohio on Sunday, but they upset Purdue at the Battle 4 Atlantis last month.
“Really good team,” Krabbenhoft said. “Ask Purdue. And I have all the respect in the world for Purdue, we all do. (Western Kentucky) took it to them.”
As for UW, it’s a team desperately searching for something positive after a week that included losses to Temple and Marquette sandwiched around the injury news about Trice and King.
Forward Aaron Moesch, said it’s important the team stick together as a unit.
“It’s a cliché, but the strength of the wolf is in the pack,” Moesch said. “This is something that we have to take on as a team right now.
“It kind of sucks that we lose two of the guys and we wish them speedy recoveries, but with injures comes opportunity.”
Especially for Schlundt, who said his family and his faith have helped him stay patient as he waited for his turn with the Badgers.
“That’s helped me be steady,” he said, “and stay positive through everything.”