Montee Ball

Wisconsin football player Montee Ball listens to a question during a press conference on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012.

CRAIG SCHREINER - State Journal

Madison police said they believe a “precipitating event” led to the attack early Wednesday on University of Wisconsin senior running back Montee Ball, who will miss next week’s start of the preseason football camp after suffering a concussion.

Central District Capt. Carl Gloede said Thursday police were still trying to find out what that incident was, when and where it happened, what Ball’s involvement might have been, and whether other football players were involved.

A witness to the attack on Ball by five men at about 2:15 a.m. in the 500 block of University Avenue said one of the assailants said something like, “One down, nine to go,” Gloede said, suggesting others might have been targeted.

No suspects have been identified, Gloede said, adding that surveillance cameras did not capture the assault or provide clues to the assailants’ identities.

Ball was at State Street Brats, 603 State St., before the attack, Gloede said. Police said Ball was walking home just behind two friends when he was jumped.

In their initial report on the incident Wednesday, police said they had no evidence Ball knew his attackers and were treating the incident as “an unprovoked assault.”

Ball is cooperating with police and said he does not believe anyone would have reason to retaliate against him, Gloede said.

In a posting to his Twitter account Thursday, Ball denied an unattributed report on the celebrity news website tmz.com that he and other teammates beat a non-player at the home of another football player about a week before the attack.

“The report that I was involved in a fight is totally false,” he wrote.

Gloede said Thursday he had no information related to the tmz.com report. “What they’re describing is not what we’re looking at,” he said. University police have received no report of a disturbance involving football players occurring on campus, said Sgt. Aaron Chapin.

UW-Madison student Luke Will, who witnessed the attack, said he heard one of the attackers say, “something along the lines of ‘nine more football players to go.’”

“They said that two or three times and they just kept running,” Will said, adding that the attackers were also uttering profanities. “But that line is what really stuck out to me.”

Ball, 21, a 2011 Heisman finalist and a favorite for this year’s trophy, will not be ready for the start of preseason football camp on Monday, University of Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said Thursday during a taping of the show “Sidelines” at the WISC-TV studios.

“Unfortunately, he got beat up pretty bad,” Bielema was quoted by the station.

Bielema gave no indication Ball would have any long-term problems and said the situation would provide at least two benefits: It would give other running backs more snaps in practice, while giving Bielema a chance to limit Ball’s exposure to hits — which is something Bielema was looking to do anyway.

Running back is one of the deepest positions on the team. Junior James White is the backup, and even though he missed the end of spring practices with a minor knee injury, coaches are looking for ways to get him on the field.

The same goes for redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon, who Ball predicted last week in Chicago would be a great player.

“I told him ... ‘If you stay focused and study the playbook and actually dive all of the way into what the coaches are telling you, you’re going to be an unbelievable player,’” he said.

Sophomore Jeff Lewis, who was slowed in the spring by a hamstring injury, and freshman Vonte Jackson, who enrolled early and is returning from a torn ACL suffered a year ago, are also in the crowded backfield position.

— Reporter Samara Kalk Derby contributed to this report.

Contact Sandy Cullen at scullen@madison.com or 608-252-6137. Contact Tom Mulhern at tmulhern@madison.com or 608-252-6169.

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