MADISON, Wis. — To watch freshman Brad Davison for 5 minutes in 3-on-3 drills is to understand why Wisconsin fans soon will fall in love with his style of play. It’s also why opposing fan bases are likely to grow sick of Davison well before his Badgers career is finished.
Davison is a tightly wound ball of kinetic energy. One play, he’ll dive out of bounds for a loose ball with little regard for his body. The next, he’ll fall on his back under the basket after stepping in front of a big man to take a charge. All the while, he will clap and implore teammates for their best effort as if a Final Four berth depended on it.
He possesses the type of fiery demeanor teammates can appreciate, even if they’d rather not be matched up with him on the court.
“He’s not always the most-liked person on the team,” Badgers forward Alex Illikainen said. “But that’s the guy you want on your team.”
Davison, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound guard from Maple Grove, Minn., quickly has established himself as someone who will play a significant role for Wisconsin this season. He can handle the backup point guard spot behind sophomore D’Mitrik Trice or slide over to off-guard and play alongside Trice. He is a physical defender and a solid outside scorer, and he already has proved capable of withstanding the rigors required of a college basketball player.
“He is not your typical freshman, physically or mentally,” Badgers coach Greg Gard said. “Probably mentally more so than anything else, just what he talks about, how he sees things, his leadership ability.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Davison has drawn early comparisons to former Badgers guards Josh Gasser and Zak Showalter, who built their reputations on toughness and timely scoring. Each player routinely accepted the challenge of defending the other team’s best guard. Davison might not be on that level yet defensively, but it certainly won’t be because he didn’t put forth the effort.
“I don’t want to slander Josh’s name by any means,” Badgers forward Ethan Happ said. “Josh had four years of proving that he was the toughest SOB out there. I think Brad is similar to that where it doesn’t matter the place or the time, he’s going to dive on the floor for the ball or take a charge. And those really swing the momentum of a game. That’s kind of what we want here at Wisconsin is just people that you love to play with and hate to play against.”
Wisconsin forward Aaron Moesch relayed a story Davison told him about his days as the starting quarterback for his high school football team, which illustrates how he approaches life as a basketball player. Davison accounted for 43 passing touchdowns and 25 rushing scores in leading his team to three state tournament appearances.
“He said he was a dual threat, so he’d throw and run,” Moesch said. “Whenever he ran, he never ran out of bounds. And his coaches got mad at him like, ‘Brad, get out of bounds. Come on, man.’ He’s like, ‘No, I’m lowering my head.’ That just goes to show his mentality on the court, which does remind you a lot of Zak and Josh.”
Gasser, who played at Wisconsin from 2010-15, was an instant force as a freshman. He scored 21 points in his college debut and recorded the first triple-double in program history that season. He went on to play in 148 games with 144 starts and become a three-time all-Big Ten defensive team selection. Showalter played in 129 games with 72 starts from 2012-17 and earned an all-league defensive team nod as a senior last season.
“Those are great basketball players but also great people, so it’s really an honor,” Davison said. “I’m thankful to be compared to those guys. They had really great careers here. I’m very excited to have the opportunity to be compared to them, but I also want to make my own name for myself here.”
Gard said he understands why Davison’s name has been mentioned in the same sentence as that of Gasser and Showalter. But he also recognizes Davison has yet to play a college game and doesn’t want to heap too much pressure on him too soon.
“One thing about Josh is he never got rattled and he never got startled,” Gard said. “He never got off track for the most part. He kept a very stoic approach. Brad is probably a little more vocal than Josh at that same age. Brad may be a step ahead in terms of where Josh was at that age physically from amount of time in the weight room, how his body has developed.
“But I also am very cautious not to say that somebody has to step into somebody’s shoes. Brad Davison is his own person. He’ll grow in this program. He’ll have some ups and downs in this program.”
Badgers guard Brevin Pritzl noted that while Davison shares similarities with Gasser and Showalter, he is more of a scoring threat than those two players. Davison has the strength to score inside, possesses a strong mid-range game and isn’t afraid to pull the trigger from behind the arc. He set the program record at his high school with 168 made 3-pointers. As a senior, he was a finalist for the Minnesota Mr. Basketball award when he averaged 24.4 points, 7.9 assists, 7.4 rebounds and 4.2 steals per game.
Davison showcased his skills during Wisconsin’s five-game August exhibition tour of New Zealand and Australia. He averaged 11.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals per game. In Wisconsin’s tour finale, Davison scored a team-high 23 points.
His tenaciousness and ability to attack the rim is likely to make him one of the team’s more frequent free-throw shooters. He made 22 of his 30 attempts overseas (73.3 percent) and took at least 5 foul shots in four games.
“He makes winning plays,” Badgers assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft said. “We saw that in Australia. In crunch time, there was a calmness to him like, ‘Oh he’s ready. He’s going to make the play we need, whatever it may be.’ That’s not necessarily the winning shot. It could be the inbounds pass or diving on the floor and keeping a loose ball alive. Stuff that maybe doesn’t show up in the stat sheet.”
Even during the team’s media day availability on Friday, Davison left his chair on the Kohl Center court to take jump shots on the other end. He is constantly working to improve and holds all the characteristics necessary to quickly make himself a fan favorite — even if it means becoming the player every opposing fan will love to hate.
“I think whenever you have an opportunity to get a leg up on your opponent, whether it’s being physical or being aggressive, you’ve got to take advantage of it offensively or defensively,” Davison said. “I love taking charges, diving on the floor. I take a lot of pride in those types of things. I would definitely say I try to be a defensive pest. I’m sure my teammates would back that up as well.”