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December 12, 2011

A mindset to embrace

MADISON - There's a game, specifically suited for either the iPhone or iPad, called 'Temple Run.' The premise goes a little something like this.

The main character collects a treasure from the depths of an ancient temple. In order to enjoy its benefits the character has to attempt to get out of the tunnel. He's essentially running for his life.

Only booby traps, mazes, steep cliffs, ancient temple walls and the like stand in his way.

'Temple Run' was released in early August and is currently one of the hottest selling apps for the ever-popular iPhone.

Enter Rob Wilson and Jordan Taylor, two Wisconsin basketball players that came into the program together, lived together for two years and still room together when the Badgers travel on the road.

"We're like brothers," Wilson said. "One day we were sitting there getting our ankles taped and we were competing to see who can get the highest score (in 'Temple Quest').

"I feel like brothers have that kind of bond."

When Taylor and Wilson arrived on the UW campus in the summer of 2008 there was an instant connection. Wilson, hailing from Cleveland, was in an unfamiliar place. He had left his family and he was trying to find his place in Madison, a city he had been to just a handful of times.

Taylor, originally from the Twin Cities area, was in a similar boat.

He was a highly touted prep prospect hoping to chisel his way into Bo Ryan's rotation early on, even if it was his freshman season and even if a large majority of the freshmen to enter Ryan's system don't play a lot during their first season.

Taylor wound up playing just over 13 minutes per game during his first year in Madison. Wilson only played more than 13 minutes on three occasions that year.

As a sophomore Taylor was a bona fide contributor. Not only did he average nearly 30 minutes, but he chipped in 10 points per game. Wilson struggled to play 12 minutes per and averaged a meager 3 points each time his Badgers squad took the court.

Two guys that came in during the same summer, with similar ambitions and loftier dreams, were on two separate collegiate career paths.

"It's human nature to get frustrated at some things," Taylor, now widely regarded as one of the nation's elite point guards, said. "Rob has come in here every day for four years no matter what. Whether he's playing 20 minutes and starting or whether he gets 10 and is coming off the bench he's always a team player.

"He's always supporting of all his teammates."

Wilson's most frustrating year came as a junior.

He didn't play in 11 of UW's 34 games, he averaged just 7.3 minutes and shot a discouraging 33 percent from the field. He played a season-high 32 minutes at Michigan State, but became the brunt of much criticism for his decision to attack the rim with his team clinging to a late lead, one the Badgers would eventually relinquish in stunning fashion.

"I could say I was pressing," Wilson said of his junior season. "I was just going out there and thinking about things instead of going out there and doing it."

Basketball, the sport in and of itself, is one of the more psychologically sensitive sports to be played. When shots aren't falling players question everything from their release point to the way they tie their shoes. When those thoughts are compounded by an extended slump it almost becomes unbearable.

It's like attempting to reverse a mindset or belief when the only direction the maneuver allows is one that jolts forward.

"I shot terrible last year," Wilson said. "My goal during the summer was to get into the gym and work on it. I just had to find that confidence. Don't think twice about it.

"If you think you're open just let it fly."

That's probably a lesson Wilson has learned from his best friend and teammate Jordan Taylor.

Not only do they talk about "cartoons, movies and video games," as Wilson said, but they talk about the fundamentals of the game. They talk about when to shoot, when to attack the basket, when to pass and when to cut or screen.

Wilson said he still goes to Taylor whenever he doesn't understand something the team has been working on in practice. He knows Taylor has a wealth of experience and success at the collegiate level.

Sometimes somebody needs to instill some confidence in someone who doesn't necessarily have it.

"At the end of the day you have to be confident enough to do the things you've worked on," Taylor said. "You've just got to trust in what you've worked on. He's talked about being confident and he's doing a good job of that this year.

"It could be a grind, but you've got to keep grinding and improving every day."

Wilson, having spent a countless number of hours in the gym during the summer months working on his shot, has seen some early dividends. Not only is he averaging more minutes this year than he did a season ago, he's also shooting 45 percent from the floor, or 12 percent better than he did as a junior.

"It's his last go round," UW assistant coach Lamont Paris said. "Whenever he gets his minutes he's got to go out there and be as productive as he possibly can. I think he's relaxed more and he's just trying to go out there and do something positive to help us.

"He's not putting any pressure on himself but he's going out there and trying to help the team as much as he can."

Wilson is averaging 2.7 points and 1.3 rebounds per game for an 8-2 Wisconsin team. Modest numbers to be sure, but still representative of the progression and improvement he's made.

He's stepping into his shot, he's releasing at the proper angle and technique, he's rebounding the ball and he's not as much of the defensive liability he may have been earlier in his career.

He understands it's his last season in Madison and he's not willing to go out with his head hanging even though it's almost commonplace for a player to do so when he doesn't get consistent minutes throughout his career, or sees his minutes wane from one season to another as Wilson's have.

He could easily pack it in and enjoy the ride.

He could easily say there's no point to working so hard if it's not going to pay off with meaningful minutes in the end. Or he could continue to work hard with the thought that even if he's not getting the minutes he probably wants his ethic in practice is helping his teammates get better.

Rob's mindset and performance is of the latter.

"Rob has fought," Paris said. "It's easy to just mail it in and say, 'Hey, this is what my role is. It's not very much so I'll just get my degree and get out of here.' He hasn't done that.

"He's had a good attitude about it."

'Temple Run' is a game that is about prolonging your experience as long as you can before you eventually run out of space to run. Though it's probably not the most accurate analogy to a career that's still in motion, in this case Wilson's, it still resonates.

The road hasn't always been smooth, it hasn't always turned the way Wilson thought it would, but in the end it will all be worth it.

He does, after all, hold that treasure with his mindset.

"I just go out there and have fun the best way I can," Wilson said. "It's about making things happen, seeing guys get and-ones, making steals and just making it fun. If you see a guy do something good you go up there and hit them upside the head and tell them good job.

"You just have fun."


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