So few kids that grow up in the Midwest get to play Big Ten basketball, but when the opportunity does present itself for some, it's hard to take a step back and realize it.
For Chicago-area native Ben Brust, he soaked it all in last season.
Brust, a Wisconsin senior who played high school basketball at Mundelein, made it to the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament last season, held at the United Center. And while at the Mecca of Chicago basketball — the House that Michael Jordan Built — Brust was able to realize how cool things were.
"It was pretty great last year when we were at the United Center," Brust said at Big Ten basketball media day earlier this week. "Growing up in this area, getting to play at the United Center. I was actually at Jordan's game, when he played for the Wizards, his first game back at the United Center. And I'm sure I was at some games when I was young, but I don't remember those.
"It was fun being in the United Center and competing. We had a chance to win the title. Unfortunately we lost, and it was my last time there, it'll be in Indianapolis this year. I think when I was there I realized it was pretty special."
Brust was back in the Chicago area on media day, albeit momentarily, as he and the rest of the Badgers' contingent drove down from Madison after an exhibition game the night before. Still, Brust seemed pleased to be back in the area during the calm before the season-opening storm.
"It's great," he said. "It's a short time. We had a game last night, so we just drove after the game, pretty much checked in and went to bed. But you drive through the area, you see things. I grew up in Arlington Heights, so I'm driving down 90, see everything around there. It's a good feeling to be around here. I don't know if we'll be back around Chicagoland other than Northwestern, so just taking it all in."
Taking it all in is something Brust is focused on this season. His senior year marks his last as a Badger, and he now has the role of senior leader after the departure of last year's group of leaders.
"Just bring a little bit of experience and stability," Brust said of what he's looking to bring to the team this year. "I'm going to give it my all out there, 24/7 every day until the season's over. I'm going to try and bring a hard work ethic and just play hard, try to set a good example for the young guys because we've got six freshmen.
"I think it's going to be a challenge since we lost three senior starters that contributed a lot to this team. It's been good to have these two weeks of extra practice because we've been feeling each other out, getting to know each other's tendencies on the floor, getting to know how to work with each other on defense. We're still just working hard each day to find who we are as a team. I think we're going to find out sooner or later because we're going to have to win these games."
The journey for Brust has been a successful one, as the Badgers have gone 74-31 in his first three seasons, with three trips to the NCAA Tournament. He's been an impressive contributor, as well, mostly as a long-range shooter. In 2011, he set a conference record while going 7-for-7 from three-point range. Last season, he set a Wisconsin single-season record with 79 three-pointers. But now it's time for him to extend past mere on-court performance and step up and lead a team further than he's ever been before — he hasn't been past the Sweet Sixteen.
That's where Brust's focus is, though, he isn't ready to take a career retrospective quite yet with another year of work to get done.
"I'm just going to try and take advantage of every second I have here and just fully give it my all because I think there's time to look back when the season's over," he said. "I don't want to look back at regrets or like, "could have done this, could have done that." It's just up to me and this team right now to come together and try and make it work."