Bo Ryan never promised Jared Berggren anything. Not playing time. Not a particular role. Nothing.
And that’s what the Minnesota native appreciated about Ryan’s approach in recruiting. The honesty.
But he didn’t always enjoy sitting on the sideline as he redshirted his freshman year in 2008-09. And sometimes it was tough to play limited minutes behind Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil throughout the previous two seasons.
The experience, however, has taught Wisconsin’s junior center to value his time on the floor.
“I definitely waited my time to get significant minutes,” he told ESPN.com. “I think every year I made improvement in every area of my game. I had plenty of time to watch and learn from other guys.”
Berggren (10.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 1.1 spg) is the leading shot blocker in the Big Ten, a key piece for a Badgers squad ranked second in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings.
The Badgers will need the best Berggren when Ohio State comes to Madison for a Saturday matchup between the Big Ten’s top two teams. Berggren will certainly get some help against Jared Sullinger, but his defensive effort alone could sway the outcome.
“He’s a great player, so we’re going to have our hands full,” Berggren said. “He’s probably better than anyone we’ll face all year. We’ve got to work to limit his touches. Try to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible. If he does get the ball, try to play solid defense on him, force him into a tough shot. And just play solid team defense. You can’t always play him one-on-one.”
Ryan snatched Berggren -- one of three key Minnesotans on Wisconsin’s roster -- from the Gopher State. He was a Mr. Basketball finalist during his senior season at Princeton High School in Princeton, Minn., who received a scholarship offer to play for the Gophers.
But like other Minnesota prep standouts before and after him, the 6-foot-10 Berggren chose instead to play for the Gophers’ rivals. He said he picked Wisconsin over Minnesota and other Division I programs because he believed he would thrive in Ryan’s system.
“I liked everything about the program. I felt like it was just the best fit for me academically and athletically,” he said. “The system that they play in, I could really see myself fitting into. I definitely was happy with my decision from Day 1.”
Berggren hasn’t been as effective in conference play on the offensive end as he was during the nonconference season. But he’s made up for those challenges with his defense.
During his squad’s six-game winning streak -- which followed a three-game losing skid -- he’s recorded 11 blocks. Berggren said he worked on his footwork and physique in the offseason to prep for the uptick in minutes and defensive demands.
Leuer and Nankivil were known for their offensive versatility. They could post up or pop out to the arc and knock down 3s.
But Berggren is more of a true post. He can hit 3s (27 this season), but he tends to play closer to the bucket than his predecessors in part because this year’s Badgers rely so heavily on their guard play.
Berggren, however, never worries about his role. He’s just happy to provide meaningful minutes, an opportunity that demanded three years of patience.
“It was definitely frustrating,” he said. “After redshirting, I kind of expected to get a little bit more time. Sometimes the minutes would come but not as much as I wanted. … I tried to just stay positive, keep working hard. Tried to stay confident and know that my time would come, eventually.”