MADISON - Seeing Rob Wilson sitting alone at a UW media table, junior guard and good friend Jordan Taylor told reporters to go ask the Cleveland native about LeBron James.
Wilson, a diehard James fan, shook his head, still hurt by the King's move to South Beach, but was quick on the trigger when it came to his Minnesota buddy.
“Go ask him about what’s going on with Brett Favre,” he said with a smile.
Wilson still admits cheering for James and that good-nature banter is constant between the two juniors away from the court. On the court, the dialogue has started to dramatically improve Wilson’s game.
Everybody knows what Taylor, who led the Big Ten and ranked 3rd in the nation with +3.03 assist-to-turnover ratio last season, is bringing to the table and what is expected of him this season after the Badgers lost two senior guards.
Wilson saw an increase across his board in all areas during his sophomore season, but never had the lights-out moment that many of his other teammates had.
That’s where the motivation came from this summer – to work hard with Taylor to simply get better and shake off the self doubt.
“I wanted to get better and more in shape both physically and mentally,” Wilson said. “I needed to eliminate all the inconsistencies that I dealt with last year. I had a lot of ups and downs and I want to be a level player.”
Wilson averaged 3.1 points in 12.2 minutes during 30 appearances last season. His numbers from the floor were good (made 35 of 64 (.547) shots) and he showed flashes (scored 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting vs. Michigan State and career-high 8 rebounds against Illinois-Chicago), but never could consistently find his game.
Over the last eight games, Wilson cracked double-digit minutes only twice, never scored over five points and did not play against Wofford in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I watched a lot of film to learn what I should and shouldn’t do,” Wilson said. “I made too many turnovers, need to have a better shot selection and make better reads. I learned the offense a lot better than I did last year.”
Wilson’s contributions will be counted on and he showed in last season’s biggest flash that he can step up when called upon. With Wisconsin in a rut against Michigan at the Kohl Center, Wilson was inserted and scored 11 of his career-high 13 points in the second half in a six-point win.
“It was a game I knew that I could go out there and do it and I just went out there and did it,” said Wilson, admitting he broke off his shell in that game. “I didn’t worry about messing up or being inconsistent. I just went out there and played basketball and not worry about it.”
Since the season ended, getting advice has been priority one from Wilson. He talked to Jason Bohannon, who told him to just play the game of basketball. He talked to Trevon Hughes, who told him to have a swagger and a confidence. Most importantly, he’s guarded Jon Leuer, who is taking everybody to another level through the early weeks of practice.
“I call him ‘Euro Jon’ because he plays like a European,” Wilson said. “He shoots his three-point with more precision, he makes all his open shots and he pushes everybody, including me, to get better.”
The experience and opportunity is there for Wilson to be involved in Wisconsin’s 2010 lineup, a step he will continue to take when No.24 Wisconsin plays its exhibition opener against UW-La Crosse Friday. The Badgers have depth in the front court but are looking for a confidence, trustworthy player to fill in next to Taylor in the backcourt.
Thanks to the people around him, Wilson’s confidence is starting to peak, especially since he’s learned to simply go out and just playing basketball.
“We’re very confidence, even though we lose two guys with a lot experience,” Wilson said. “We know we can play and that if we go out, play hard and listen to coach, we’re all going to be in a good position to fill people’s shoes.”