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Mundelein's Brust savors making the Final Four cut

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Mundelein's Brust savors making the Final Four cut
  • Wisconsin guard Ben Brust talks to the media after the West region victory against Arizona -- with a piece of the elusive net hanging from his cap.

    Wisconsin guard Ben Brust talks to the media after the West region victory against Arizona -- with a piece of the elusive net hanging from his cap. Photo by David Stluka

  • Wisconsin guard Ben Brust drives around Illinois' Joseph Bertrand on Feb. 4 in Champaign. Wisconsin won 75-63.

    Wisconsin guard Ben Brust drives around Illinois' Joseph Bertrand on Feb. 4 in Champaign. Wisconsin won 75-63. Associated Press

  • Wisconsin guard Ben Brust goes up for a shot against Oregon guard Dominic Artis during the second half of NCAA play March 22 in Milwaukee.

    Wisconsin guard Ben Brust goes up for a shot against Oregon guard Dominic Artis during the second half of NCAA play March 22 in Milwaukee. Associated Press


Every step up the ladder, every snip of the scissors was truly savored.

Ben Brust wasn't at all in a rush when he cut down his share of the net last weekend in California at the Honda Center in Anaheim. He wanted to take it slow, to make sure that every second of that special moment was firmly ingrained in his memory.

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Brust, the former Mundelein star and one of the most accomplished players in Lake County basketball history, had just helped Wisconsin hold off top-seeded Arizona in a wild West regional final, 64-63 in overtime.

"Hearing that final buzzer go off was one of the greatest moments in my life," Brust said.

The victory gave No. 2 Wisconsin (30-7) a berth into this weekend's Final Four in Arlington, Tex., outside of Dallas. It also gave Brust, a senior guard and 3-point shooting whiz, the chance to do something he's never before done.

"Those were my first nets," said Brust, who hit a big 3-pointer against Arizona in the overtime session. "That was literally the first time I got to cut down the nets.

"In high school, I never won a conference championship, I never won a regional. I never won a sectional. I really hadn't won anything truly significant in my basketball career, and I had done a lot (individually).

"To get a team accomplishment like this, and as a senior to hold up the trophy and cut down my first nets was truly special. I'm very proud of that."

Brust, who could be playing some of his final basketball games this weekend, at least in the United States, has had a career to be proud of.

He will leave Wisconsin as the program's all-time leader in made 3-pointers (he has 232 going into the Final Four). Brust also joined the 1,000-point club this season and is sitting on 1,133 career points.

Brust, who transferred to Wisconsin from Iowa just before his freshman year after Iowa fired coach Todd Lickliter and gave him a release, ranks second in scoring this season for the Badgers with 12.8 points per game. He was also named honorable mention all-Big Ten for the second time in his career.

"I don't really like to think too much about (the final days of his career), but I've definitely enjoyed the ride," said Brust, who loved coming home from California to a warm welcome from 10,000 fans at the Kohl Center in Madison. "I'm just happy we get the chance to keep this going. To get to the Final Four senior year is so incredible."

Brust, the captain of the Daily Herald's 2010 all-area basketball team in Lake County, certainly knows incredible. He's had some other moments over the course of his career that have seemed mind-boggling at the time.

As a senior at Mundelein, he scored more than 40 points six times that season, including two 50-point efforts, en route to 1,700 career points.

At Wisconsin, he continued to put the ball in the basket, especially from behind the arc. Twice he hit seven 3-pointers in a single game, including a 7-for-7 effort against UNLV in December of 2011.

Perhaps his most notable jaw-dropper, replayed on ESPN's SportsCenter dozens of times, was his heroics in a Big Ten battle against Michigan in February of 2013. That's when he nailed a buzzer-beater from half-court that tied the game and forced overtime. Brust then hit a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left in overtime that broke up another tie and ultimately gave Wisconsin a 65-62 win over the Wolverines, who were ranked third in the country at the time.

"That was a crazy day, pretty wild," Brust said. "It's a moment I'll never forget.

"Getting to play in Milwaukee for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament this year was also a special moment to me. The crowd was amazing, a lot of Wisconsin fans, and it's where I broke the school record for 3s. Being able to help us advance like that is something I'm really proud of."

From Milwaukee, the Badgers marched on to Anaheim, where almost every member of Brust's family was in attendance.

"The only one not there was my sister Courtney, but she couldn't come out because she's pregnant," Brust said. "My parents (John and Barb) were there and my two older brothers (Jonathan and Stephen) were there and somehow (Brust starts laughing), those two (Jonathan and Stephen) were getting a lot of TV time.

"It was so great to have all of them there for that win. And the celebration in the locker room after the game was so fun. Everyone was dancing. And then (Green Bay Packers quarterback) Aaron Rodgers came in and talked to us. That was pretty cool."

Brust has had other brushes with famous professional athletes.

Over the last few years, he's become a NASCAR junkie. He follows the circuit closely and has used social media such as Twitter to befriend numerous drivers, including favorites Kevin Harvick and Brendan Gaughan.

"Back in high school, I could have never seen myself as a NASCAR fan, but I got into it through my brother-in-law during my freshman year at college," Brust said. "I've gotten to know some drivers through Twitter and I've been to some races."

Brust even served as a spotter for Gaughan at the Johnsonville Sausage 200 at Road America, and he was a social media correspondent at the Brickyard 400.

"I've definitely caught the racing bug," Brust said. "It's good for me to have an outlet outside of basketball."

It's possible Brust would want to get involved with NASCAR on a more permanent basis after he graduates from Wisconsin this spring. He could use his degree in life sciences communication, which involves heavy training on how to best use social media, to help bring fans and drivers together.

Or, he might just keep his high-tops laced a bit longer. Brust is not ruling out continuing his basketball career overseas.

"That's definitely a possibility," Brust said. "I think it would be cool to see where basketball takes me. But I really don't know what's ahead at this point. Honestly, I'm really just focusing on (Saturday's national semifinal opponent) Kentucky (7:45 p.m., TBS). We've got to focus on getting prepared for a really talented team."

Focus has never been an issue for Brust.

He says that his focus on one thing in particular is responsible for all the success he's experienced over his career.

"In one word, it's the doubters," Brust said. "I've always felt that there have been doubters out there about me, no matter what I've done. Even in high school, it always seemed like people were underestimating me, saying that I wasn't really that good. Then, I go to college and I'm this 6-foot-1 kid who's trying to play in the Big Ten. I know that people didn't think I was good enough to do that either.

"It's been a good motivator all through my career. It's kept me going."

Going, going and going … all the way to the Final Four.


• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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