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November 2, 2011MADISON - As a true freshman playing for Bo Ryan and his always-competitive Wisconsin basketball program, one needs to be sound fundamentally, disciplined defensively and willing to fulfill any opportunity that may present itself.
If you're going to play you have to be able to contribute something on both ends of the floor. If there's an open shot offensively you have to take it. If there's a chance to dive for a loose ball defensively, you better be prepped to deal with a floor burn or two.
That marks the difference between a true freshman like Josh Gasser, who played in every game and averaged 28 minutes per a year ago and Ben Brust, one who made 14 appearances and averaged just three minutes in those contests.
"You would never think you could learn from minutes like that," Brust said during UW's annual media day event. "But I had opportunities. Looking back I didn't really take advantage of them. But now I've felt what it's like.
"I saw it first hand."
And that's why now, as a sophomore, Brust seems to be one of the players just waiting to burst onto the Big Ten scene. He's a guy that doesn't relish over many regrets, especially when it comes to forgoing his redshirt option a year ago to play a whopping 45 minutes throughout the season.
He didn't play a major role in UW's wins or losses, at least in the sense of him being on the court in particular games. But the sophomore from Illinois knows the lessons he learned in those somewhat meaningless minutes will be more than valuable entering his second season in the program.
"It's still stuff I can carry with me now, learn from it and use it," Brust said. "I got better. I feel like I got better in practice and I helped the team as much as I could. You've got to take it, learn from it and use it now.
"I'm much more confident."
The surprise player?
Call Brust a behind the scenes player at least right now. In practice a season ago there were a number of times the then-freshman would take over portions of the five-on-five scrimmage, or possessions as Ryan likes to call them.
His quickness with and without the ball, particularly rubbing off screens to set him up for an open look, was impressive. It was apparent he had an above average basketball IQ.
Knowing that, it's no surprise how Brust would become the star of the show during UW's season tip off even, the annual red-white scrimmage. In that game, as a member of the red team that also featured Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren, Brust led all scorers with 22 points. He also chipped in five rebounds and four assists.
His team beat the Jordan Taylor-led white team 72-56.
"Those are the things Ben can do," Ryan said following the scrimmage. "He can have a scoring frenzy at times. He's quick with the ball and includes his teammates.
"He's quick, we always knew that. And he's even quicker now. He's worked hard."
Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 190 pounds, Brust plays to his strengths. He knows he's not going to overpower anybody like Taylor can. He also knows he's not going to rise above the rim and play like a point guard he's not, or many are.
Instead, he just utilizes the attributes that separate him from the next guy. His quickness, his versatility and his ability to incorporate his teammates make him a valuable asset.
And a player to watch in 2011-12.
"I'm just working on the fundamentals and getting better as a team," Brust said. "I'm competing now in practice and it will take us a long way later."
Life in the fast lane:
Ask Ben Brust what his favorite sport is aside from basketball and it won't take him long to tell you. He just needs to figure out a way to relax his face muscles enough to break through the ear-to-ear smile preventing him from enunciating.
"I went to a NASCAR race and you see the cars whip around," Brust said. "It just took off. Now I'm a junkie.
"It gives me a good hobby."
The genesis of Brust's NASCAR fandom is a rather compelling story.
Not really knowing much about the sport and not really caring, Brust was more than skeptical when he arrived home to see his brother-in-law watching a race one day.
Feeling the need to relax, Brust simply sat down and started asking questions.
"I never imagined being a NASCAR fan growing up," Brust said. "Whether it's an athletic sport or not I just think it's a joy to watch."
His favorite driver is none other than Kevin Harvick - if you follow Brust on Twitter, a quick trip through his timeline would tell you as much - a guy he follows so closely that he finds himself acting like he's part of the pit crew.
"I say 'we' all the time," Brust, who had an opportunity to meet Harvick this past summer said. "I actually got to know his best friend and I got to meet him a couple of times down at the Brickyard in Indianapolis, at Michigan Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway.
"It's been really cool for me."
Harvick, with just three races left in the NASCAR season, trails Carl Edwards by 21 points. He moved up two spots following his fourth place finish at Martinsville over the weekend.
"He won at each of the (upcoming) three tracks," Brust said. "We'll see what happens. I'm in it until the end."
Just as Badger fans don't typically root for Michigan State or Ohio State on the hardwood, Harvick fans find it hard to pull for Kyle Busch. There's a bit of a rivalry there.
"It goes with the territory," the Badger sophomore said. "He's a talented driver but I just don't root for him. I know these guys work hard every day and they're really good at what they do. I respect all of them.
"But I'm not rooting for him. I'll tell you that much."
The sophomore season:
It's tough to envision what or how Brust is going to contribute to the 2011-12 Badgers. Taylor returns as the school's second-ever preseason All-American and Gasser, as mentioned before, returns after playing in every game.
Guys like Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Berggren will probably round out the starting five and players such as Rob Wilson, Jarrod Uthoff, Brust and potentially Evan Anderson will battle for playing time as key reserves.
There's no question Brust will contribute on some level. It's just still in the infancy stage.
Performances like the one he had during the Red-White scrimmage, though, will do nothing but help the talented, and blazing-fast sophomore's chances.
"We all knew Ben could score coming in," Taylor said. "And I'm looking forward to playing with him. He did a lot of that when he was on the scout team. It's no surprise to us.
"Ben played great and he should use this as a confidence boost and take that forward."
Brust, when asked if he ever lacked confidence a season ago, had to think about it for a second before answering. The adjustment from high school star to just another guy on a college team is never easy. It's something that a lot of freshmen have to grapple with.
"That's one thing I will get at myself for," Brust said. "Not being confident last year. That's something I've got to carry with me now every day. That's something I'm going to leave behind me.
"I will move forward and be confident from here on out."
Is there really a reason to second-guess him?