Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 2/21/13
MADISON, Wis. Jared Berggren possesses the confidence and skill level to carve out a lengthy professional basketball career somewhere on this earth. Like most athletes playing at the highest level of the college game, he hopes that path takes him straight to the NBA. But Berggren, Wisconsin's 6-foot-10 starting center, recognizes not everyone is granted the easy route. If he wants to keep his dream alive, he must be willing to travel the ends of the earth. "I want to continue playing basketball for as long as possible," Berggren said. "Obviously, that starts with taking this season as long as possible throughout the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. After that, just try to find anyone that will take me and keep playing wherever that is and try to make the best out of it." Berggren has established himself as one of the top centers in the Big Ten this season. He leads the Badgers in scoring (11.9 points per game), ranks second in rebounding (7.0) and has a team-best 51 blocks. For his career, he is just two blocks shy of tying Rashard Griffith's 124 for the all-time record at Wisconsin. Still, those statistics don't guarantee an NBA team will draft him in June. There are only two rounds and 60 slots, and most mock drafts project Berggren won't be included. Draftexpress.com, for example, lists Berggren as the No. 18 prospect in the Big Ten, and only the first half of those prospects are likely to be drafted. The website noted Berggren's frame doesn't wow NBA scouts he is listed at 235 pounds and that his movements aren't very fluid or graceful. His craftiness and ability to score from the perimeter and down low against weaker post players is a positive, but Berggren sometimes struggles against bulkier bodies. Berggren has been fortunate enough to find advice from someone who has walked in his shoes. Greg Stiemsma, a 2008 Wisconsin graduate, took the road less traveled as an undrafted free agent on his way to the NBA. Stiemsma, a 6-11, 260-pound center, bounced around Turkey, South Korea and Sioux Falls, S.D., in the NBA Developmental League before finding a spot last season with the Boston Celtics. He joined the Minnesota Timberwolves this season and has become a regular member of the playing rotation. This season, Stiemsma is averaging 3.1 points and 2.5 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game. He also is earning close to 2.6 million. Stiemsma still returns to Wisconsin during the offseason to practice with current Badgers players, and he offered his knowledge to Berggren last summer. "I told him it can be a journey," Stiemsma said. "You can't ever give up if you want to play at the next level. You can't let anything stand in your way. Obviously, I kind of took the long way to get here, but I'm definitely enjoying being here. He obviously knew everything that I went through and kind of the path that I took, and the way he's playing this year, he's going to get a lot more attention than I did coming out my senior year. "I'm hoping for the best for him. But it's just a little advice to never give up on it. If you want to play at this level, whatever step you take, you have to believe it's a step toward this road." Berggren appears to have put himself in better position as a senior than Stiemsma, who averaged just 3.5 points and 3.1 rebounds in 2007-08. Berggren said Stiemsma told him the most important trait to demonstrate, in addition to perseverance, is a willingness to embrace a specific role on an NBA team. "You've just got to find the right opportunity," Berggren said. "That's kind of how it worked out for him. I think he'll find himself a nice long career in the NBA now. You've just got to take advantage of opportunities whenever and wherever they come and just hope for the best." If Berggren must go the overseas route, he wouldn't be the first Wisconsin player to compete there. Badgers guard Alando Tucker recently signed with Inter Bratislava in Slovakia and scored 30 points in his first game. Point guard Jordan Taylor is playing his first season with Virtus Roma in Italy and is averaging 11.8 points and 3.5 assists. Of course, Berggren still has time to make a run at the NBA before deciding to pursue a career overseas. Badgers associate head coach Greg Gard said Berggren has been invited to participate in the prestigious Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, which runs April 10-13 in Virginia. It is a showcase event for players with hopes of achieving an NBA future. "He's on people's radars," Gard said. "Scouts have been in, more so probably early in the year to practice. He's had enough exposure and people know who he is that he'll have a chance and it will be a matter of what he does at Portsmouth and if he gets any pre-draft camps. But from a physical standpoint, he definitely will have a chance to prove he can play at that level." Berggren already has drawn attention around the Big Ten. Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said this week that Berggren was the best center in the conference behind Indiana's Cody Zeller, a projected lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Berggren, for one, said he wouldn't allow praise or doubt from outsiders to cloud his goal of reaching the NBA. He is convinced his talent and work ethic ultimately will determine his level of success. "A lot of things are going to play out after the season with workouts and things like that," Berggren said. "There's a lot of stuff that can change in that amount of time. A lot of people have their own opinions. A lot of them don't really matter, to be honest. We'll see how it all plays out. But I'm confident I can find a way to play at the next level wherever that is. I'm going to keep working hard every day and do my best to get there." FOXSportsNorth.com's Joan Niesen contributed to this story. Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.
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