The Wisconsin Badgers basketball team is in the beginning stages of a season that will be accompanied by distinctive challenges.
When the Badgers take on No. 20-ranked Saint Mary’s Gaels on Tuesday, Nov. 5, at the Sanford Pentagon in front of a national television audience on ESPNU, it will be the first official game for this program rocked by tragedy in the offseason.
It was back in May that Badger assistant coach Howard Moore, a former player at Wisconsin who has been on the staff since 2016, was involved in a car accident in Michigan in which a wrong-way driver killed his wife Jennifer and nine-year-old daughter Jaidyn.
Moore and son Jerell survived. Understandably, it has been an ordeal for all involved. In addition, a few months after the accident, Moore suffered a heart attack. He’d been planning to rejoin the program in September at the time. He has since taken a leave of absence as he continues his recovery. He will not be working with the program this season, though his presence will be undoubtedly felt.
Wisconsin adopts a theme
Scott Hettenbach has been the director of the POWER Sports Performance Program at Sanford since 2013 but before that he was the associate director of sports conditioning at the University of Wisconsin. He led strength and conditioning efforts for the Badger men’s basketball program for 19 seasons.
Moore was a player when Hettenbach first became affiliated with the program, and then again during Moore’s first of two stints as an assistant coach. Suffice it to say Hettenbach cannot say enough good things about a man he’s known since 1994.
“Howard is one of those guys where when you meet him for the first time, you’ve felt like you’ve known him your whole life,” Hettenbach said. “He’s always upbeat, always smiling, always putting you at ease. Just a very positive person that you would want to be around.”
The Badgers have since adopted a theme for the season: “Do Moore. Be Moore. 4 Moore.” The last sentence is in reference to Moore, his wife and two children.
“When I came to Sanford I’d still think a lot about Howard and the other coaches,” Hettenbach said. “They were friends over the years. After that accident, I think about Howard every day now. He’s on my mind every day when I get up. He’s a wonderful person who has unfortunately been part of an awful tragedy. I know there are so many people who keep him and his family in their thoughts and prayers.”
Reaction to the tragedy within the team and within the University of Wisconsin began with shock and disbelief. In the months that have followed, the healing process continues.
“The accident itself was so horrific you couldn’t imagine having to deal with it,” said Andy North, a two-time U.S. Open champion golfer and Badger alumnus who has close ties to the program. “Howard is such an integral part of Wisconsin basketball. He’s part of the history both as a player and a coach. Howard Moore is all the good things you’d want in a human being.”
North, a member of the Sanford International Board and host of the Sanford International golf tournament in Sioux Falls, will be in attendance when the Badgers face the Gaels. He goes to a lot of Badger games. This one, obviously, will represent another step in an ongoing process.
“It’s there all the time,” North said. “But you don’t really talk about it too much because it hurts too much.”
While wins and losses pale in comparison, the season nevertheless awaits. Head coach Greg Gard and his staff, which now includes former Wisconsin standout Alando Tucker serving as Moore’s interim replacement, have guided the team’s recovery process. Part of that recovery necessarily involves looking ahead.
“It’s hard to explain what we all felt through all this,” North said. “I don’t think anyone can be good at describing something like that. These guys really miss him but they’re moving forward because they know this is what Howard would want. Go out and play well and play tough, win games and do all the things he cared so much about at the University of Wisconsin.”
Wisconsin facing strong team
To that end, the unranked Badgers will be facing a Saint Mary’s squad that will open the year with high expectations. The Gaels, in their 19th year under head coach Randy Bennett, return nearly 90 percent of their scoring from a 2018-19 team that went 22-10 with a win over No. 1 Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament title game. Leading scorer Jordan Ford averaged 21.1 points a game a year ago.
The Badgers, picked to finish sixth in the Big 10 after going 23-11 a year ago with a first-round loss to Oregon in the NCAA tournament, return starters Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers and D’Mitrik Trice.
One of the accompanying elements at the Pentagon will be the 15 children from the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sioux Empire who will be guests of Sanford for the night. They’ll get shirts, tickets and dinner at the game.
Friends of Howard Moore would call it a very Moore-like gesture. The Chicago native, who was head coach at the University of Illinois-Chicago for five years prior to returning to Wisconsin, created The Moore Foundation based out of his old neighborhood. Its purpose is to address violence and poverty among kids via the sport of basketball.
“We’re trying to make a positive statement and help our youth,” Moore writes on his foundation’s website. “This is using basketball to get everyone on the same page and get dialogue established to really conquer some of the problems in our communities.”
Tickets for the contest are still available through Ticketmaster. General admission starts at $10.
Joe Krabbenhoft, son of Sanford Health president and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft, is a former Wisconsin basketball player and current Badger assistant coach. The former Sioux Falls Roosevelt standout (2003-05) will be recognized before the game for his upcoming induction into the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame.
The entire Wisconsin staff and team will be visiting with children at the Sanford Children’s Castle of Care on Tuesday afternoon.
This will be the third meeting between Wisconsin and SMC, with the series tied 1-1. The two teams last played in 1976 at Wisconsin.
The Sanford Pentagon’s appearance on ESPNU will mark the ninth time the venue has been featured on national television for a men’s basketball game.
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