For the first time during Bo Ryan's reign as Wisconsin men's basketball coach, he will not be able to turn to guard Devin Harris for tough defense, clutch shooting and on-the-court leadership. Harris' early departure to the NBA leaves the Badgers with a huge set of shoes to fill.
The Badgers would have been considered one of the best teams in the country next season if Harris was to have chosen college ball over the pros. UW is still considered a very strong team, but not quite at the same caliber as before.
"It's now on their shoulders, to take on the burden that I had," Devin said of his teammates, "and I think they're ready for the test."
The Badgers' frontcourt looks to be very solid, losing only Dave Mader to graduation. Moreover, the Badgers will return to the lineup sophomore Alando Tucker, who took a medical redshirt last season, along with seniors Mike Wilkinson and Zach Morley, and bring in Brian Butch, fresh off a redshirt season.
The point guard position, though, is where the questions arise. The point guard depth chart right now reads like this: senior Sharif Chambliss, junior Boo Wade, sophomore Kammron Taylor and freshman Michael Flowers. Each player brings something different to the table in terms of talent. However, no one has the complete game that Harris developed the past three years.
Ryan said at Thursday's press conference that there is no clear cut favorite for who will be next season's starting point guard.
"It's competition; it's wide open right now," Ryan said. "We'll wait and see. Whoever it is, they'll be qualified and they'll work hard at the position."
UW assistant coach Greg Gard said, however, that replacing Harris was something that inevitably was going to happen.
"There was always going to be a point in time when Devin was going to have to be replaced, whether it was this year or next year because he was going to run out of eligibility," Gard said. "It will be by committee and right now we have four very capable ball players at this point and Coach [Ryan] may even have Mike Wilkinson playing the point. We'll be fine. It'll be a building process starting in September when the players get back and continue on into the season."
Harris' shooting touch, defensive ability and leadership can all be mimicked. However, Harris and Ryan always had a special connection where each one knew what the other was thinking, allowing Harris to coach from the court. This intangible will be the toughest aspect of Harris' game to reproduce next season.
"No one really steps in and fills that role. It's a learning process and Devin continued to grow at that role," Gard said. "Whoever it is, whether it's one guy or four guys, they will all continue to grow.
"Coach has always had that kind of relationship with his point guard. Coach always gives extra responsibility to the point guard, as far as their responsibility, accountability on the court, and that kind of perpetuates that growth process."
As Devin Harris prepares himself for the NBA Draft that is a mere three weeks away, the UW coaching staff is preparing next season's Badger squad for the new challenge of progressing and winning without Devin at point.
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