Wisconsin’s basketball team had trouble living up to expectations last year, traversing an up-and-down season in the Big Ten and ultimately exiting the NCAA Tournament in just the second round.
Apparently, their struggles stemmed from tensions between the team and coach Greg Gard.
Many of the Badgers players felt a “disconnect” with the sixth-year coach during the 2020-21 season, and the team’s seven seniors held a Feb. 19 meeting with Gard to vent their frustrations after a 77-62 loss to Iowa the day before dropped them to 15-8 (9-7 in Big Ten play) with four regular-season games left.
Their comments in the secretly recorded meeting — released by the Wisconsin State Journal — were scathing.
“I just feel like, Coach, we don’t have a relationship,” Nate Reuvers said. “In my mind, it’s too late for that. I personally don’t think or feel like you care about our future aspirations. I can’t talk to you. I just don’t want to talk to you. After this, Coach, I don’t know what type of relationship we’re going to have, if we have one.”
Micah Potter echoed Reuvers’ sentiments and wondered why he even returned to Wisconsin.
“Did I waste a year of my life to come back here?” he said. “I was planning on coming back, having a great year and making a Final Four run, all this kind of stuff and then this crap happens. And it’s like, no one knows what to do and it’s all this rut and it’s because of a disconnect with you.”
D’Mitrik Trice wasn’t quite as harsh with Gard, but he did give him a reality check about one of the reasons they were struggling.
“Last year we were playing for one another, but we were also playing for you,” Trice said. “I feel like the disconnect (this season) is we’re not playing for you right now. We’re not here to build your resume, so to speak, with all respect given.”
Wisconsin rebounded for a win in its next game before losing the last three contests of the regular season. The Badgers won one game each in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments before exiting both in the second round.
“To be honest, I think he still didn’t hear us,” one senior said about the meeting, per the Wisconsin State Journal. “He still didn’t get it.”
Perhaps Gard will understand more after losing six of his seven seniors from last season. Four members of the group are going pro, while two are transferring. All had an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-related cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament. Only Brad Davison opted to return to the program.
And he spoke of “desiring a relationship” with Gard on the recording of the meeting.
“We desire a relationship with you where you know who we are, that you care for us, that you value us more than just on the basketball court,” Davison said. “We want that and feel like we’ve lacked that in certain areas.”
Gard released a statement about the meeting in the wake of the recording leak. He wasn’t happy that the contents of the “private” meeting were released, and wrote about his desire to help his athletes succeed on and off the court.
Gard has been with the Wisconsin basketball program since 2001. He became the team’s interim coach in 2015 after Bo Ryan’s retirement and has served as the head coach ever since. He has posted a 119–70 record and made two Sweet 16 appearances in 2016 and ’17.