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NEVER AGAIN By Brad Davison

When I saw my reflection in the mirror that night in Kansas City, I had no idea how challenging my life was about to become.

I was four games into my freshman season at Wisconsin and we’d just lost to Baylor in the Hall of Fame Classic.

About halfway through the second half I tried to make a steal when a collision made my left shoulder pop out of joint. I knew it was serious when I saw players suddenly looking away because the dislocation was so obvious. Our athletic trainer, Henry Perez-Guerra, knew what happened as soon as he got to my side and began to walk with me to the bench.

I thought about just putting it back in on the way to the sideline so I could get back into the game, but decided against it. I went to the locker room where Dr. John Orwin, one of our team doctors, put the shoulder back in place.

I’ve been playing sports as long as I can remember and this was the first time in my life I’d ever been hurt like this, much less left a game due to an injury. I played football and basketball at Maple Grove (Minnesota) High School, saw a lot of action, and barely had reason to visit the training room. In fact, I joked with our athletic trainer, Brian Helmrick, that he’d never catch me in there.

In the locker room in Kansas City, I passed all the strength and range-of-motion tests to get back into the game, but Trainer Henry and Dr. Orwin told me I’d be very sore the next day and might need to miss a couple games to give the shoulder time to heal.

I couldn’t even comprehend that thought.

After the game I walked out of the locker room in a daze, arm in a sling and two ice bags on my shoulder. I was frustrated and mad because we’d lost our second straight game. I was headed for the team bus when I saw it.

I was walking by one of those family restrooms and saw myself in the mirror. The emotions hit me right there.

I didn’t want anyone to see me cry, so I ducked into the restroom, closed the door, went to the back corner and all my emotions came out.

I’ve been playing sports as long as I can remember and this was the first time in my life I’d ever been hurt like this

I try to be a positive person in everything that I do, but all I could see was this struggle, this obstacle, ahead of me.

I’m a very emotional person. Sometimes I keep them in, but not always. That was one of those times where I needed to let them out and I don’t know that I was comfortable letting them out in front of the whole team yet.

I was probably in there for 15 minutes, crying the whole time, using paper towels to dry my eyes. I hadn’t shut the door tight because I didn’t want to get locked in, which is how A.J. Van Handel, our video guy, found me.

I’m pretty sure we were the last ones on the bus. I’m pretty sure everyone knew I’d been crying.

. . .

My first season of big-time college basketball was tough for me mentally, physically, spiritually — everything — just because of the struggles I went through personally and with the team.

But as a person of faith, I believe everything happens for a reason and our path in this life was mapped out long ago. It’s our daily challenge to take each moment that we’re given and find a way to appreciate it, even if it seems miserable at the time.

Last season was definitely a challenging one for everyone in the Wisconsin family, players, coaches and our amazing fans alike.

We had some major injuries, especially in our backcourt.

Of our 18 losses, eight came by five points or less.

We wound up with a losing record for the first time since 1997-98 — I wasn’t even born yet — ending our program-record streak of NCAA tournament appearances at 19.

That is not acceptable.

But I have absolutely no doubt that the adversity we faced last season will make us better in the coming one and beyond.

We wound up with a losing record for the first time since 1997-98 – I wasn’t even born yet – ending our program-record streak of NCAA tournament appearances at 19. That is not acceptable.

All of our starters are back, including our best player, Ethan Happ. All of the guys who missed last season with injuries — Kobe King and D’Mitrick Trice — have recovered. All of us are anxious to get going and put last year behind us once and for all.

Everyone talks about the end of the NCAA tournament streak and people can spin it anyway they want, but I see it as we have an opportunity to start a new one, to be special in our own way and hopefully do something that hasn't been done in a really long time, which is win a national championship.

When I think of Wisconsin, I think of one of the richest winning traditions in college basketball. It was a huge reason why I wanted to be a part of it. Growing up in Minnesota, my family had season tickets to Gophers games and I was a big fan of the Big Ten. Wisconsin was always the team on top. It was the program you looked up to. It was a program I dreamed to be a part of because of that winning tradition.

To be a part of it and have the season we just went through, it adds fuel to the fire and motivates us more to get back to the winning ways of Wisconsin basketball. We might not understand why we went through it last season and why we were dealt that hand with injuries, but I think that lowlight could lead to this year’s highlight. That’s what I’m hanging my hat on.

. . .

Three days after our season ended in March, I had surgery on my shoulder. It was a 3 ½-hour procedure.

I wound up playing most of my freshman season — 28 of 33 games — with a black harness keeping my shoulder in place. All told, it popped out of joint eight times after that game against Baylor, including once in practice.

My parents and I talked about taking a medical redshirt, but I wanted to play and they left the decision to me.

I’m nearing Day 100 of my recovery. Right now I’m cleared to do my two-ball dribbling. I can do catch and shoot from anywhere inside the three-point line. I can do one dribble pull-ups. I can shoot free throws. A lot of free throws.

When can I take the leash off without restrictions? We’re hoping for Sept. 1. I’m not allowed to say I’m ahead of schedule, but let’s just say my shoulder feels a lot better.

I’m keeping track of my comeback in a prayer book, a journal, that my older sister Stephanie gave to me. It started at Day One. I just kind of write down how the day was recovery-wise — how my shoulder felt — and anything else that’s going on in my life. I want to look back and keep track of the process.

I plan to write in the book all the way through the season. It’s going to remind me of last year, not only with the injury but what we went through with all the tough losses.

The journal is based on John 3:30 from the King James Bible, which says, “He must become greater; I must become less.” It means that no matter what you do, always keep Him in the forefront.

The idea behind the journal is to become more intentional with your prayers. When you think of prayer and it’s intentional, it’s more than just a casual conversation. When you write it down it helps you to remember it. It helps me get things off my chest and it sticks with me throughout the day.

I don’t think of it as a religious thing. I think of it as a faith thing. Because to me, faith is centered around relationships. This is why I’m trying to start a Bible study with our team in the summer. Not necessarily for religious purposes, but to get everyone in a room and open up the conversation about whatever we want to talk about.

When you have conversations that are intentional, and in this kind of environment, it helps you develop relationships. I think one of the biggest keys to success is chemistry and building relationships that extend far beyond the locker room.

My sister also sent me a wrist band that I wear now that says “He Greater Than I.” I’m going to have some made for all the guys on the team. You don’t have to be religious to follow that message of putting others first.

The idea is unity. Everyone has it. Everyone sees it. Everyone can share a common goal because they share a common purpose.

Everyone in the locker room likes each other and we get along really well, but I think we can go deeper than that. When teams are really intertwined and have deep and strong relationships, that translates to the basketball floor.

When I look at the journal and read through it, I’m going to remember the process and how hard it was for me to get through last season. I’m not going to take another game for granted.

There was a time at the end of January where the coaches gave me some time off. I was in a mental rut because I really didn’t see a finish line. I was banned from the gym unless it was practice. I spent a lot of time in the training room doing my shoulder exercises. I was in the pool a lot, too, running to keep my legs strong.

I spent more time in the training room this year than I ever want to again, but I think it was a blessing in disguise because I got to become so close with Henry. It was an hour-and-a-half before every practice. An hour after every practice. It was an hour-and-a-half before every shoot-around. It was an hour before every game. It was an hour after every game.

We spent so much time together, whether it was ultrasounds, icing, stretching, rehabs or just talking because it was an emotionally draining process. There were a lot of times when I needed guidance, I needed strength, and he was kind of my backbone throughout the season. He’s a blessing for this program in more ways than one.

I had a lot of talks with my sisters, Stephanie and Angie, my parents, Cori and Jim, as well as my pastor, Matt Metzger, just kind of reminding me that getting to play at the University of Wisconsin is a dream of mine. It’s an opportunity that was blessed upon me and I want to take advantage of it every way that I can.

. . .

Looking back, the biggest jump for me from high school to college was mental. Everyone talks about how much faster and how more athletic and how much stronger all the guys are, but when I started realizing it was just basketball — the sport I’ve been playing since I was 3 years old — mentally I became much more comfortable and confident in my game and with my teammates. So be confident, not just in basketball, but in everything that you do and stay true to yourself.

The daily struggles I thought I was going through in high school don’t seem like much now. I went to college and had some real struggles with my shoulder and things going on with my family; school and being away from home. I actually went through struggles for the first time in my life.

No one likes struggle, but what our team realized is that those struggles and conflicts are opportunities for growth.

We have everyone back this season and some great new additions. Ethan’s decision to return is a big shot in the arm for us. Not only is he, in my opinion, the top player in the Big Ten coming back next year; he has such an influence on this campus and on this team. He can not only have an extreme impact on our season, our team and on the new guys coming in — because everyone’s going to look up to him; he’s earned that spot with how talented he is — but on the campus as well. I’m really excited for him.

No one likes struggle, but what our team realized is that those struggles and conflicts are opportunities for growth.

We want to make sure he goes out right.

One of the first things I wrote in my journal after surgery was “Don’t ask, ‘Why?’ Wrong question. Can’t change the past.”

You have to look forward.

According to Trainer Henry, one of the first things I said after surgery was, “We’re going to beat Michigan.”

Now that’s something to look forward to.

The struggle we went through last year left a sour taste in our mouths. But it gives us a motivation that no Wisconsin team has had for a long time. We have an opportunity to be special.

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