MADISON — Here are five words Badger fans probably never thought they would hear:
Thank goodness for Diamond Taylor.
The former Wisconsin basketball recruit made quite an impact in his one month in Madison, getting caught with $400 cash and several iPods he stole from a dorm room that he didn't live in. UW head coach Bo Ryan took all of one day after the arrest to boot Taylor from a team that rarely makes news for getting arrested. After what was perhaps Ryan's worst season in 2008-09, Taylor's arrest put a bit of a black cloud over the program.
It was also a blessing in disguise.
Because it opened up a scholarship for Josh Gasser.
At the time, Gasser was the odd man out with Vander Blue still technically committed to Wisconsin. The Port Washington native had offers from Northwestern and Northern Iowa, and wasn't sure where he was going to go.
"It very well could have been Northwestern to tell you the truth," Gasser said after recording a triple-double with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists Sunday. "I was pretty close to committing to either Northwestern or Northern Iowa before Wisconsin offered the full [scholarship]. I hadn't made up my mind yet, but I easily could have been playing in White that day."
And Badger fans should still give thanks for Taylor's larceny. When Wisconsin came calling, Gasser didn't hesitate to accept.
He wanted to be a Big Ten player. Further — no offense Wildcat fans — he really enjoyed winning.
"Winning is a big thing that came into my decision," Gasser said. "That is ultimately why I ended up here."
Gasser's impact has been immediate and consistent. He is only the third freshman — along with some guys named Devin Harris and Alando Tucker — to start under Bo Ryan and has averaged 24 minutes a game for the season.
Better yet, Gasser's minutes have come at an efficient rate as a role player within Ryan's system. According to statistics guru Ken Pomeroy, Gasser has an efficiency rating of 120.2 (100 is average) and is shooting two pointers at 58 percent clip.
Gasser has really made his mark with the quote-unquote Little Things.
With Ryan preaching ball control first and foremost, Gasser has posted a 3.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. He is fourth on the team in rebounding, grabbing 3.7 boards per game. As Jordan Taylor dominates the ball the whole game, Gasser often takes the opponents leading perimeter player on defense.
"That is the biggest stat I look at, not turning the ball over," Gasser said. "That and rebounds are kind of the two I look at. I have been doing pretty well with those two, but I certainly am not satisfied."
Through-and-through, Gasser is a Bo Ryan kind of player.
"He’s been consistent with the assist-to-turnover ratio, he’s been consistent with not taking bad shots, without forcing things, as you mentioned, and defensively, he’s learning our system every day," Ryan said. "So that means he’s getting better every day.”
What Wisconsin fans have seen all season, the nation was introduced to against Northwestern Sunday with the first official triple-double for a freshman in Big Ten history and the first triple-double for any UW player ever (though it is assumed Earvin "Magic" Johnson also managed one in his time at Michigan State.)
Gasser played with a veterans savvy, was assertive on the offensive end (as was evidence through his stellar post-up bucket in the game's first five minutes) and helped pick apart the paltry 1-3-1 zone Northwestern "defended" in.
It wasn't until he was pulled with roughly eight minutes left in the game, however, that the freshman realized he had a chance to make UW history.
"Halfway through the second half I kind of thought to myself 'I am getting a lot of rebounds here. I must be close but I am never going to get it.' I thought I had five assists or whatever," Gasser said. "Then when I got taken out of the game, one of the managers was like 'try and get one more assist.'"
With three minutes remaining in the game, Gasser drove and kicked to senior sharpshooting walk-on Brett Valentyn, and watched his tenth and final assist go through the net.
"I still owe him dinner," Gasser said of Valentyn.
"He had missed one earlier and he was like, 'I'll get you here. Just find me.' I was just trying to get him the ball, he knew he was going to make it."
It was a highlight for the first half of his freshman year.
His teammates are betting there will be plenty more.
"Since I have been here it has been Jordan and Josh as far as two of the toughest people early in their careers," UW senior Keaton Nankivil said. "He is an incredible player and an incredible personality to be around."