Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin
By Jesse Temple  |  Last updated 1/15/14
MADISON, Wis. -- In a perfect world, we all want to be the very best versions of ourselves, professionally and personally. Best trial lawyer, for example. Best spouse. Best basketball player. A great deal of time, effort and energy must be put forth in order to achieve those goals at the highest level. Even then, we have come to learn the world isn't perfect. Unforeseen circumstances strike and force us to adjust plans and alter expectations. Enter Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser, whose best version of himself on the basketball court must now meld the experiences of two entirely different places over two different seasons. The best version of himself came two years ago, before the season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tear in his left knee forced a year of rehab. But the best version of himself is also now, a smarter player despite being bogged down by a knee brace, as well as persistent knee and back pains. Most know the story by now: Two Octobers ago, Badgers coach Bo Ryan raved about Gasser's high level of play and his importance in taking over as the team's starting point guard. Days later, Gasser tore his ACL during practice and missed the 2012-13 season. The road to recovery was difficult and painful. Gasser spent as many hours in the training room as he did asleep most days. And when he was finally medically cleared to return this season, no one knew exactly what type of player he would be. "I think he's better," Badgers assistant coach Lamont Paris said, although he offered a caveat. "But in a more seasoned, veteran, mature way. I think there are probably times that he would tell you maybe he's not quite as explosive on a quick change of direction. But where he's not as capable of doing that as quickly as he was before, maybe he puts himself in better position before the play starts. Or he helps earlier so that he doesn't have to move as quick." For a player who holds himself to such a high standard, even the slightest decrease in capabilities has been frustrating as Gasser has adjusted to life after the ACL tear. Gasser said his knee becomes so stiff on some days that it's difficult to move around. And because he is wearing a brace and favors the other leg at times, he is now dealing with back soreness. "That's the kind of stuff that happens after an injury like this," he said. "The doctors, trainers knew it was going to happen. They were expecting it. So they're just treating me like they do everyone else. That's just the way it goes." Gasser has done well to hide his irritation outwardly, and the most noticeable difference in his physical capabilities comes in practice rather than games. Ryan has made a point to withhold Gasser from an occasional play to preserve him for game days. "I think coach Ryan just knows when we're doing our possessions and half courts, keeping me in a couple series," Gasser said. "I think he knows he wants to limit my reps. Instead of playing 30 possessions, I'm playing 25 just to get me a feel of their offense and stuff like that. But I'm still doing everything. I'm doing all the shooting drills. I'm doing everything we do. I think he wants to limit it that way a little bit." Added Ryan: "He just works whatever he's called on. But there are times in practice where you can see where he doesn't complete something. Where I'll just get up next to him and say, 'Now, Josh, I know in a game you're diving on the floor for that ball, right?' And he goes, 'Yep.' "So it's never held him back in a game doing what he normally does. But there was one practice where there were two possessions within like 30 feet of a loose ball -- maybe 10. He didn't dive for it. I knew, No. 1 he realized his angle probably wasn't the best. But in games he's going after all the loose ones." This season, Gasser has started all 17 games and is averaging 8.7 points and 3.9 rebounds as an off-guard. Coaches and players credit his mere presence on the floor for bringing the team closer together. And his willingness and ability to be the team's lockdown defender has provided a toughness that was lacking at times last season. He can guard Iowa's 6-foot-9 Aaron White, Illinois' 6-4 Rayvonte Rice or anyone in between. There are still games in which Gasser's offense disappears, but he does not let it affect his play at the other end, which teammates continue to notice. Two weeks ago against Northwestern, Gasser missed all four of his field goal attempts and didn't score a point. He played 31 minutes, tallied one rebound, one steal, three assists and no turnovers. "He might have had zero points, but he might have been one of the most important players on the floor for us," said Badgers guard Ben Brust, who is also Gasser's roommate. "You get people who say, 'Oh, he didn't make shots or he didn't do this.' But he got that loose ball, he played great defense on this person. He does so many things that may not show up. I know everyone says that may not show up in the stat sheet. But for him it's 100-percent true. And everyone feels it in a way. It's just that unexplainable leadership in a way." Gasser, a redshirt junior, said he anticipated shedding the knee brace for his senior season, which could help alleviate the back pain and restore whatever quickness he's missing. Each day he moves further away from his surgery date, he feels a little better. And the best version of himself, Gasser hopes, is yet to come. "As long as I'm playing," he said, "as long as I'm healthy and we're winning ballgames, that's all I really care about." Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter
MORE FROM YARDBARKER:
One Gotta Go: NFL Legends (and Jose Canseco!) Have No Love For Captain America
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

U.S. Soccer hands Solo six month suspension for Olympic comments

Report: Josh Gordon will be restricted free agent after 2016

Chargers release statement on Joey Bosa situation

Yoenis Cespedes says he will not opt out of Mets contract

Zach Johnson unloads on Olympic golf

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Drew Brees says players do not trust league office, Goodell

Lawsuit over Hall of Fame Game refiled after McAfee comments

Report: Griffin plans to re-sign with Clippers, won't be traded

Report: Wentz unlikely to see any playing time this season

Minnesota Wild names Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ official goal song

Gabby Douglas joining judges for Miss America pageant

One Gotta Go: NFL legends bring the hate for our favorite football movies

Hard not to be cynical about LeBron's 'Cleveland Hustles'

Familiar faces that won't be seen in the NFL this year

24 quintessential moments of Kobe Bryant's career

Revisiting the 10 biggest mistakes of the NFL offseason

One Gotta Go: NFL legends (and Jose Canseco!) have no love for Captain America

Four WNBA teams to pay attention to post-Olympic break

Madden 17 shows how vital a fresh coat of paint can be

Why people just can't get behind the Washington Nationals

Washington's Josh Norman speaks candidly about multiple NFL talking points

Derrick Rose: Knicks have chance to win every game

Ranking the MLB divisional races

College Basketball News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

One Gotta Go: NFL legends bring the hate for our favorite football movies

Hard not to be cynical about LeBron James' 'Cleveland Hustles'

Ranking the uniforms of the NFL from worst to best

Familiar faces that won't be seen in the NFL this year

24 quintessential moments of Kobe Bryant's career

One Gotta Go: NFL legends (and Jose Canseco!) have no love for Captain America

Four WNBA teams to pay attention to post-Olympic break

Madden 17 shows how vital a fresh coat of paint can be

Why people just can't get behind the Washington Nationals

QUIZ: Name every player to win a championship with Kobe Bryant

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker