MADISON, Wis. It would be easy for anger and resentment to overwhelm Zach Bohannon's mind as each Wisconsin game passes with him watching from the bench. The clock is ticking down on his college basketball career, and despite putting in the work, any playing time rewards have been modest at best this season.
Yet Bohannon, a 6-foot-6 redshirt junior forward, remains practical about the situation. Not every player is meant to be a star. Instead, he is simply grateful to have found a program and a coach willing to take a chance on him.
"Obviously at times you get frustrated, but it's one of those things that you know in the long run it's going to work out," Bohannon said. "I knew this is what it was going to be. My dad has helped me mature throughout the situation. He's like, Zach, you know what your limitations are. You know what you can bring. Just do the things you do well and don't let the weaknesses get in the way.' "
Bohannon transferred to Wisconsin in 2011 after spending two years at Air Force. He said coaches there promised he would be an immediate starter as a freshman, but that scenario didn't materialize, and he became disillusioned with basketball and military life.
When he was granted his transfer release, Bohannon contacted Wisconsin assistant coach Gary Close for help. Bohannon's older brother, Jason, was a standout guard for the Badgers from 2006-10.
Close began corresponding with small Division I programs on Bohannon's behalf. But the following day, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan called Bohannon himself and asked if he'd like to join Wisconsin's team.
Initially, Bohannon felt reluctant to follow the same path as his brother, but Ryan's offer stuck with him.
"He made one promise," Bohannon said. "He told me, I'm going to promise you an opportunity. If you're just a role player at the Big Ten level, being a role player at the Big Ten level is one heck of a player.'
"After I talked to him the first time, I almost committed to him on the spot. I can't turn that down. That's all I want in my life and life in general. That's what anyone wants is for a person or mentor to believe in them and give them an opportunity. That's what he promised me here."
Bohannon still reflects on that conversation to help ease his worry as he battles for playing time. And more playing opportunities could be on the way, including during Tuesday's 6 p.m. game against No. 13 Michigan State at the Kohl Center. Backup center Frank Kaminsky will miss his second straight game with an eye injury sustained last Tuesday against Indiana, opening the door for Bohannon in a reserve role.
"I know I've always been throughout the year the odd man out," Bohannon said
Bohannon played nine minutes during the season opener against Southeastern Louisiana and tallied five points and five rebounds. But all three marks were season highs, and his playing time has been sporadic ever since. In addition to Wisconsin's three senior frontcourt starters Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren, Kaminsky and freshman forward Sam Dekker have earned any remaining frontcourt minutes behind them.
As a result, minutes have not come as frequently as Bohannon would have hoped. He has played in 12 of 18 games while averaging 4.9 minutes, 1.1 points and 1.4 rebounds. The strength of Bohannon's game is focusing on making hustle plays rebounding, scoring on putback layups and deflecting passes and he has proven solid in short bursts, even though he doesn't know when they're coming.
"A guy that has the experience that he has and the basketball IQ that he has knows that he has to have himself mentally ready, and I don't think that's a big challenge for Z-Bo." Badgers assistant coach Greg Gard said. "I think he's always in tuned."
Bohannon earned a rare opportunity to play on Saturday against Iowa in Kaminsky's place. During five minutes of action, he recorded two points and four rebounds. But he also expressed disappointment with his first-half performance, which included a badly missed 3-pointer and a turnover.
"I thought he did some good things when he came in against Iowa," Ryan said. "I'm glad he didn't try to say it was a shot lob on his 3 that he took."
Bruesewitz said most players on the team have been in Bohannon's position at some point during their Wisconsin careers. Bruesewitz noted that during his freshman season, he played nearly 20 minutes some games and didn't see the floor other games.
"It's a little bit hard at times just because you don't know when you're getting in," Bruesewitz said. "You always know what's expected of you, but coming in cold off the bench after you haven't played in a while, especially in that kind of an atmosphere is always a little bit difficult. But he's handled it extremely well, came in and gave us some good minutes, especially in the second half."
Although playing time is at a premium this season for Bohannon, he remains optimistic, recognizing he has one more year of eligibility to prove himself. And he must admit that being a role player in the Big Ten wouldn't be half bad.
"I kind of got a late start since I transferred here," he said. "I knew that I might not get a whole lot of minutes. I'm just here to make the team better like Ryan, Mike and Berg. When they leave, maybe that's when I have my real opportunity."
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