Senior forward Mike Bruesewitz took a big step toward returning to the lineup for the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team when he took part in Friday's practice at the Kohl Center.
That doesn't necessarily mean Bruesewitz, who missed the past two games with a concussion, will play tonight when the Badgers (7-4) host UW-Milwaukee (3-9) in a non-conference game.
As per protocol with players returning from head injuries, Bruesewitz needed to be evaluated to see how he responded to the practice. It will be determined Saturday whether or not he'll be allowed to play in his first game since UW's victory over Nebraska-Omaha on Dec. 4.
"If he's able to play, if he's cleared, I will play him," UW coach Bo Ryan said.
Bruesewitz was injured during practice on Dec. 6 when he collided with teammate Evan Anderson, a 255-pound sophomore center. Bruesewitz was initially diagnosed with whiplash but developed concussion symptoms and was held out of UW's loss at Marquette on Dec. 8 and a victory over UW-Green Bay four days later.
The Badgers haven't formally practiced since the game against UW-Green Bay because of final exams — Thursday's scheduled practice was canceled because of the blizzard that hit the area — so it's unclear if Bruesewitz would have been cleared for contact earlier than Friday.
Bruesewitz wasn't made available to the media after Friday's practice, but Ryan said it was nice to have him back.
"He's a guy with game experience," Ryan said. "He's obviously a little rusty. It hasn't been the kind of fall or winter he was hoping for, but there's still time."
(Editor's note: The previous quote was originally attributed to Bruesewitz, not Ryan.)
Bruesewitz is due for some good fortune to come his way. He was sidelined for more than four weeks after suffering a severe laceration on his right leg on Oct. 9, though he returned in time for UW's season opener against Southeastern Louisiana.
Next came another medical hurdle: the concussion.
Freshman forward Sam Dekker replaced Bruesewitz in the starting lineup, giving the Badgers more of a scoring presence at that spot. But UW missed Bruesewitz's rebounding, defense, toughness and leadership during the loss at Marquette.
"He's a junkyard dog-type player," Ryan said of Bruesewitz, who's averaging 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. "He's a mixer. Obviously, we've missed that. But even in some other games, because of the time that he missed, he's not quite there yet. But his experience and how hard he plays obviously is something that we could use."
Saturday's game will give Ryan another chance to compete against one of his former pupils, Panthers coach Rob Jeter.
There'll be another familiar face on UW-Milwaukee's bench: assistant coach Sharif Chambliss, who played for one season at UW under Ryan and spent the past two seasons as the video coordinator for the Badgers.
Chambliss was asked earlier this week if he thinks it'll be weird being on the opposing bench at the Kohl Center.
"Not as strange as you might believe," said Chambliss, who played on the 2004-05 UW team that advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament before falling to eventual national champion North Carolina. "It's a game. We play around 30 of them a year."
After his UW career was over, Chambliss spent two seasons at UW-Milwaukee working as an academic mentor for the program. He followed that up with assistant coaching stints at UW-Platteville and Francis Marion University, a Division II program in South Carolina.
It wasn't easy for Chambliss to step away from being an on-court coach to come back to UW, but he knew it was a wise career move because of how much he'd learn breaking down film and working under Ryan and his staff.
"It was tough at first, because you feel like you do a lot of work just to get on the court and coach," said Chambliss, a Racine native who began his playing career at Penn State before transferring to UW. "But you coach in various ways. To be able to help the other coaches and see what they're doing behind closed doors was a perfect opportunity for me just to be able to watch some of the best in the business."
In the paint
Ryan used a couple of days during the break between games to visit his parents, Butch and Louise, who live in Florida and are dealing with health issues. … Ryan turned 65 on Thursday and spent the day at home since practice was canceled. He said he got a workout in, watched some film and worked on some puzzles.