There was a time when Dan Fahey and J.D. Wise arrived at practice with the goal of someday earning significant playing time for the University of Wisconsin men's basketball program.
Both players have long since come to the realization that they're destined to end their careers as permanent fixtures at the end of the bench.
That doesn't mean Fahey and Wise haven't played a vital role for the Badgers over the years. Attend one of coach Bo Ryan's practices and you'll see the walk-on seniors just as engaged as the players fighting for minutes in UW's rotation. Keep an eye on the Badgers' bench during games and you'll notice Fahey and Wise are as into the game as their teammates catching their breath between stretches on the court.
"I've never seen two guys that want to win more than those two guys," UW freshman guard Zak Showalter said. "Every day they're in there working their (butt) off."
On the same day it moved up to No. 17 in the USA Today coaches' poll and to No. 19 in the Associated Press poll, UW began preparations Monday for Wednesday night's Big Ten Conference game against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill.
The Wildcats (13-13, 4-9 Big Ten) are difficult to prepare for because they run the Prince ton offense, which features a lot of backdoor cuts and other constant movement away from the ball. It's the job of UW's scout team to get the Badgers (18-8, 9-4) ready for what they'll see for 40 minutes at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The process for the scout team's prep for Northwestern began Monday when they gathered with UW associate head coach Greg Gard prior to practice. That meeting included assigning roles and going over the Wildcats' plays so the scout team can run them against the Badgers' top group in practice.
Some of UW's young scholarship players start out on scout team before working their way into the rotation. And then there are lifers such as Fahey and Wise who have shown up day after day, eager to learn a new system and willing to hustle, take elbows and do whatever else they need to do.
Blood, sweat and tears is not a credo that applies only to the Badgers who play on game day.
"It's been a really good group in terms of getting after it and at least making the top group work," UW assistant coach Gary Close said. "If it just comes real easy, then they think it's going to come easy in a game, and obviously that's not going to be the case."
This is the fourth year in the program for Fahey and Wise. Gard said the UW staff looks for high-character student-athletes who "understand the big picture" when it comes time to add walk-ons.
That description fits both Fahey and Wise, who have played a total of 47 and 23 minutes, respectively, in their four-year careers. Both played late in UW's 71-49 victory over visiting Ohio State on Sunday, with Fahey scoring the Badgers' final points of the game with the fourth basket of his career.
"You've just got to gear yourself up for it every day and just tell yourself, in the overall picture, you're helping the team out," said Fahey, a Chicago native whose father, Tom, attended Madison Edgewood High School and played baseball at UW in 1970-72. "It's rewarding when you see the other teams running the plays that you practiced all week and our team handling it well."
Wise admitted it was difficult early in his career to come to practice with a great attitude every day. The more he got to see how important his role was leading up to game day, the easier it got.
"It's tougher when you're younger," said Wise, who played at Whitefish Bay Dominican. "You kind of go home and say, 'Why am I doing this?' But when you get older, it's like, 'These guys are my brothers. I want them to do well.' As long as my family members are doing well, then I'm OK."
Just how seriously do Fahey, Wise and the other scout teamers take their roles? It's common in practice to see them celebrating big plays and spurts, much to the chagrin of their teammates in the rotation.
"I like to get under the first team's skin and kind of push them and talk a lot," Fahey said. "It's my last year and I figure we might as well push them as hard as we can.
"At the beginning of the year, some of them were calling me 'fake tough' and said I talked too much."
It's moments like those that let Fahey and Co. know they're doing their job well.
"They're going to hear guys talking smack in the real game," Wise said matter-of-factly, "so we've got to provide the full atmosphere."
UW coach Bo Ryan has always valued the members of his scout team, back to his days at UW-Platteville when his team would include 30-plus players, some of whom were just there to learn more about the game of basketball to prepare them for coaching at the high school level.
"They're trying to get minutes and they're willing to pay their dues because they're smart enough to realize in life, when they get out of college, they're not going to become the CEO of a corporation, they're going to have to pay their dues, they're going to have to overcome some obstacles and figure out what it is they really want to do," Ryan said. "So while they're putting in their time with us, they're treated the same way. And none of our players stick their noses up in the air and treat the guys who aren't playing any differently than the guys that are playing."
Both Fahey and Wise are scheduled to graduate in May. Fahey is headed to law school and would like to eventually end up as an athletic department administrator. Wise plans to pursue a career in marketing or sales.
They aren't the headliners of a program still in the hunt for a Big Ten title and headed for a 15th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament, but their teammates are the first to admit that Fahey and Wise are a big reason the Badgers have gotten to where they are this season.
"I have nothing but respect for both of those guys," UW senior forward Mike Bruesewitz said. "It's a very thankless job, it really is. They do all the same stuff I do, they do all the same stuff as everybody who gets to play. But they don't get their name in the paper, they don't get a scholarship check. They just kind of come in and do it for the betterment of the program."