Josh Gasser knew it right away.
The junior guard for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team stole the ball and was dribbling in transition when he made a sidestep to his left and went up for a layup. That’s when Gasser heard an awful popping sound in his left knee.
His anterior cruciate ligament was torn. His season was over before it began.
“The physical pain was pretty bad,” Gasser said Tuesday, speaking to reporters for the first time since he was injured Saturday during practice. “But it was nothing compared to the emotional and the mental pain that happened.”
Gasser, who was set to take over at point guard after playing his first two seasons at shooting guard, is scheduled to undergo surgery next Tuesday and will miss the entire 2012-13 season.
What hurts the most for Gasser is knowing he’s played his final game with a group of five seniors that includes three returning starters in the front court: forwards Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans, and center Jared Berggren.
“I think the biggest thing is, I’ve built such great relationships with the seniors … on and off the court,” said Gasser, who will redshirt this season and have two seasons of eligibility remaining when he returns for the 2013-14 season.
“I was really excited to get to play with them and help them reach their goal, because this is their last go-around. And just not to be out there with them is killing me. I know I’ve got two years left, they’ve only got one, and I don’t get to help them out. So that’s the frustrating part.”
UW coach Bo Ryan spoke to a group of students following practice Tuesday and wasn’t available for comment. A day earlier, Ryan told Sporting News that redshirt freshman George Marshall, sophomore Traevon Jackson and junior Ben Brust would compete to replace Gasser at point guard.
Gasser, who sat courtside and watched Tuesday’s practice, said “we’re not going to skip a beat with me not out there.” But even Gasser acknowledged it’ll be difficult to replace his experience, vocal leadership and defense.
“Offensively, we’ll be fine,” said Gasser, an All-Big Ten defensive team performer last season who has started 66 games and logged 2,184 minutes during his career. “George can play, Trae can play, Ben can play. The thing they may lack is a voice. They don’t like to speak up as much. They haven’t played as much.
“Defensively, that’s one thing we need to find. Ben’s got to be more willing, George is obviously kind of small, so I’m definitely going to talk to Trae, in particular, to kind of get him to step up into that role.
“Someone’s got to do it. Whoever’s going to be the first to step up is going to get a lot of playing time, so that’s the way they’ve got to look at it.”
Gasser plans to lead as much as he can from the bench. He plans to travel with the team to road games as soon as possible and is intent on learning as much as he can from Ryan and the rest of the UW staff.
“Coach Ryan said I get to help be an assistant coach, so that’s a good thing,” said Gasser, who wants to go into coaching when his playing career is finished. “I guess I’m going to treat this year like a coaching internship. I get to see a different perspective, I guess. I get to watch from the sideline, I get to watch from courtside.
“That’s what guys who have reached out to me have told me …. ‘You’re going to learn some stuff that you never would have learned playing out there. You’re going to realize how much you love basketball, and that’s what’s going to help you in the long run.’ ”