Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 1/19/12
MADISON, Wis. The shadow cast on the basketball court by Zach Bohannon's older brother lingered for years in his mind. It was long and intimidating, and Zach didn't want to be swallowed up by the expectations of a last name any longer than absolutely necessary. So when it came time for Zach, a standout basketball player in his own right, to make a college decision, he wanted nothing to do with Jason Bohannon's path. The two had completed similar high school careers, both winning a state championship at Linn-Mar High School in Marion, Iowa. Jason, three years older, now was starring at the University of Wisconsin. Despite initial interest from the Badgers, Madison was last place Zach thought about attending. "I was like, 'Well I don't want to be in my brother's shadow there,' " Zach said. "I was for three years at Linn-Mar and I just wanted to make a name for myself." When Zach accepted a scholarship offer to play basketball more than 800 miles from home at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, he thought that the burden had been lifted. Little did he know that one burden would be replaced by another. The daily grind of the Air Force Academy's rigid rules off the court, coupled with injuries that sidelined Zach on the court, left him wondering if perhaps he'd made a mistake in rushing to escape Jason's shadow. "I just said Jason made me who I was when I was at Linn-Mar," Zach said. "It was kind of a selfish thing to run away from that. Looking back on that, that's kind of what it was. I just wanted to get away from that. I didn't give him enough credit that he made me who I was." The prospect of playing at Wisconsin and following in his brother's footsteps didn't appear nearly as daunting the second time around. So after two seasons learning some tough lessons, he decided to return. Now a redshirt junior for the Badgers, Zach has learned to embrace the role of being the "Next Bohannon." A bad fit Zach set out for Air Force intent on proving himself as his own player, but it quickly became clear that the college experience there was not for him. "The whole freshman year, it's a long nine months of hazing," Zach said. "After basic training, you get nine more months of just pure hazing from the upperclassmen. I went through that. You don't really have any time to take a step back and breathe for a second." Zach described the college experience at Air Force as a challenge. It included mandatory breakfast for all students at 7:15 each morning. The day also included mandatory lunch, marching in formations and even the occasional Saturday school sessions, which made for a six-day school week. "They control everything you do from when you wake up until when you go to bed," Zach said. "And when you go to bed, it might be 3 in the morning. You might not get very much sleep because you have so much stuff to do. It was a challenge for me. It was just not for me. It was like forcing a square peg into a circular hole. It just didn't fit. Once I kind of realized it didn't fit was when I made my decision." Adding to Zach's frustrations was his inability to consistently crack the lineup on the basketball court. The 6-foot-6 forward appeared in 17 games as a freshman and then had to battle injuries. Before his sophomore season, Zach tore the meniscus in his knee, had surgery and missed a month of preseason workouts. We he returned, he tore a ligament in his thumb one week into the season and was forced to miss the first 10 games. It was during that time when he contacted Jason about the possibility of transferring to Wisconsin and playing for Badgers coach Bo Ryan. By then, Jason, a 6-2 guard, had wrapped up a college career in which he made 212 3-pointers, averaged in double figures scoring his last two seasons and became a 1,000-point scorer. "I told him what a great place it is academically and athletically," said Jason, who played basketball overseas in Germany and now lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and works for his father at a financial services company. "Getting to play for coach Ryan and learn from the best helps him out tremendously. Even as a walk-on, coach Ryan rewards players that perform and get better every year and do what he asks. He really liked that a lot." Zach gave up his scholarship at Air Force to become a walk-on at Wisconsin, but it also provided him an opportunity to be just a few hours away from his family, including Jason, who he has leaned on for support. "Once I took a step back, I was like, 'You know what, this isn't a bad thing being in his shadow again,' " Zach said. "I did pretty well in my high school career. Hopefully I can do well in my second career." Smooth transition Although Zach must sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, he said the transition to Wisconsin has gone better than he could have imagined. He wants to be a basketball coach some day, and he takes the time when he isn't playing to learn from the Badgers' coaching staff. "I see some of the little details I wouldn't necessarily see if I was a player so caught up in playing," Zach said. "It's nice seeing that having that step back." On the court, Zach has been injury free, and there is an opportunity for him to contribute with his two years of eligibility remaining. "He's a very smart player," Wisconsin assistant coach Gary Close said. "He's got some skill. He can shoot it. Very competitive. I think he's going to help us down the road. That was a nice addition." Jason has continued to serve as a sounding board for Zach whenever he may feel down about sitting out a full season. Jason said Zach would quickly make a name for himself when the opportunity presented itself over the next two seasons. "He has done a lot of great things for himself," Jason said. "He gets compared to me a lot, but he's done a very good job of being the basketball player that he is. He continues to get better every day." Two years after attempting to escape Jason's shadow, Zach admits he's not running away from it anymore. He's running with it. "I initially got upset about it," Zach said. "I was like, 'I'm not Jason's little brother. I want to be Zach Bohannon. I'm not going to be the next Jason.' That was the thing that I've learned. Just run with it. When they say you're Jason's little brother, don't get upset about it. Just know it's going to make you work that much harder to be who you are." Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter
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