In his first two years at Wisconsin, forward Sam Okey was among the team leaders in points, rebounds, assists and blocked shots. He was also the unquestioned team leader in run-ins with coach Dick Bennett, whose slow-down style conflicted with Okey’s more flashy game.
Okey was suspended for the first two games of this year, then left the team earlier this month after he was removed from the starting line-up. Last week he announced he’ll play for Iowa next year.
The Badgers have been so-so since Okey’s departure, losing their last two games to Illinois and Indiana. They’ll try to break that brief losing streak tonight at Williams Arena against the Gophers.
“It was hard, because the kids were close to Sam for the most part,” Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett said. “We were all aware of his contributions to the program in the two years he was here. So the loss was of a friend but also a guy who led us in rebounds, points, minutes. So that impact has been felt. Originally, the emotional outcome has been that the kids have come together.”
The loss of Okey was perhaps inevitable because of the player and coach’s contrasting personalities, neither of which yielded to the other.
“In the ultra-long run, he didn’t like how he was being dealt with,” Bennett said, “and I’ve admitted I made some mistakes with him, but I still had to coach according to what I believe.”
Miles still muzzled
A reporter walked into coach Clem Haskins’ media luncheon Monday wearing a hand-made button on his shirt that read, “Free Miles,” referring to the media ban Haskins placed on colorful forward Miles Tarver after Tarver made light of the Gophers’ loss to Michigan.
The protesting reporter and others seated around the table joked that the button wouldn’t exactly be a pleasant diversion to Haskins during the luncheon.
But lo and behold, almost immediately after Haskins walked into the room, he spotted trainer Roger Schipper a few tables back holding a picket sign, made out of a file folder, with the exact same message printed on it. Haskins laughed about it — but he didn’t give any indication he’s going to lift the ban.
“I see a sign in the back that says, ‘Free Miles,’ but he’s still in captivity, and he’s going to stay there for a while,” said Haskins, who acknowledged Tarver’s wittiness but criticized his use of it. “This time of year, you have to find things you can laugh at. That’s one thing that’s really turned into something we can laugh at.”
Almost lost in the flap is that Tarver is no longer starting, having been replaced by guard Kevin Clark. The switch gives the Gophers a smaller, but more offensively productive line-up.
“You have to play your best players,” Haskins said. “The problem is that we need a guard on the bench, and Kevin Nathaniel is the only healthy one left, so that’s a scary thought. That’s why we wanted to start Miles, but Kevin Clark is the next best player on the team, so he’s starting. That’s our best line-up.”
Off the dribble
ù Jacobson’s streak of eight consecutive games with 20 or more points equals the school record, set in 1978 by Mychal Thompson. Thompson led the Big Ten in scoring in conference games that year with 22.7 points per game.
ù Jacobson has a 23.5 ppg average in his four Big Ten games. That number would place him first in the conference, but he hasn’t appeared in the necessary 75 percent of his team’s games to qualify.
ù Haskins said sophomore guard Russ Archambault, still suffering from the flu, probably won’t play tonight. Freshman guard Kevin Nathaniel received a slight concussion during Saturday’s game but will still play.