Junior guard Josh Gasser was recently cleared to return to action and expects to play when the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team begins a series of exhibition games this week in Canada.
Badgers coach Bo Ryan said Sunday that Gasser, who missed the entire 2012-13 season after injuring his left knee, could play between 8-12 minutes per game in Canada. The Badgers will play five exhibition games during the trip, beginning Wednesday with a game against Carleton University in Ottawa.
“If we can get that,” Ryan said, “that’d be great.”
Gasser leads all UW returning players in career starts (66) and minutes played (2,184) despite missing last season. He averaged 7.6 points and shot a team-high 45.2 percent from 3-point range while starting at shooting guard as a sophomore during the 2011-12 season and was set to take over at point guard before sustaining an injury during practice on Oct. 27.
Not only did Gasser tear the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, he also damaged the lateral collateral ligament and meniscus.
Gasser said he was cleared to return to full-contact drills and full-court, five-on-five action about two weeks ago.
“The first day, (senior guard Ben Brust) was covering me and he kind of whispered to me, ‘What should I do?’ ” Gasser said. “I’m like, ‘Do what you want, but I wouldn’t mind scoring a bucket.’
“He gave me a post up and I scored and then after that I’m like, ‘All right, we can play now.’ I just had to get that first one under my belt.”
Naturally, Gasser has felt rusty while trying to get back to full speed.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “You kind of almost forget how to play basketball. I’ve been watching since I’ve gotten hurt almost every day, but unless you’re out there you kind of almost forget how to play.
“That was really frustrating the first couple of days I played. It seemed like everything was going 150 mph. I felt like I was way behind where I needed to be. But it comes back really quick. I already feel a little bit more confident in my game. I’ve got a long ways to go until I’m happy with my ability, but I’m going to work my way up to that point.”
Brust, who is Gasser’s roommate and good friend, said it was great to have his backcourt mate back on the floor.
“He’s done so much in that training room,” Brust said. “I can’t even tell you the countless hours and all the sweat that he’s done in there, there’s no doubt in my mind that when he gets out there he’s going to be ready to go.”
Gasser has viewed his long recovery as a series of steps. Being cleared to play in Canada represents the most encouraging sign to date, though his primary goal is to be ready in October when the Badgers officially start practice for the 2013-14 season.
“The last phase of rehab is getting out there and just playing,” Gasser said. “I’m kind of at that last phase now. Physically, I’m there – the doctors and (trainer Henry Perez-Guerra) are happy with where I’m at. Right now, I’ve just got to get myself mentally through it.”
It was a big recruiting weekend for the Badgers, who hosted four highly touted prospects at Sunday’s practice.
In addition to a trio of prime targets in the 2015 class – in-state product Diamond Stone and Illinois guards Charles Matthews and Aaron Jordan – senior-to-be Kevon Looney was also on hand for an unofficial visit.
Looney, a 6-foot-9 forward from Milwaukee Hamilton, is No. 11 in Rivals.com’s ranking of the top 150 players in the 2014 class. He recently announced his six finalists, a group that includes Duke, Florida, Michigan State, Tennessee, UCLA and UW.
Stone, a 6-10 center who plays at Whitefish Bay Dominican, is ranked No. 5 in the 2015 class by Rivals.com. Matthews, a 6-5 shooting guard from Chicago, is ranked No. 13. Jordan, a 6-4 guard from Plainfield, Ill., is ranked No. 84.