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Wisconsin guard Ben Brust reacts during the first half of an NCAA Tournament game against Baylor March 27. | Mark J. Terrill/AP Photo
As an all-state point guard for Mundelein in 2009-10, then-senior Ben Brust had one of the best seasons in Lake County history. He averaged 24.6 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals for the Mustangs.
Now, Brust is a 6-foot-1, 196-pound senior guard on a Wisconsin men’s basketball team that has qualified for the NCAA Tournament semifinals. In an NCAA Tournament game against Oregon March 23, Brust became Wisconsin’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made with 228.
Brust is a little busy this week — the Badgers take on Kentucky at 7:49 p.m. Saturday in a Final Four game that will be broadcast on TBS — but Pioneer Press contributor Jon Kerr caught up with a former coach, teacher and teammates, all of whom said Brust’s tireless work ethic and insatiable competitive drive are characteristics that drove him to greatness.
Chris Klimek, Washington University (Mo.) senior basketball player, former travel teammate: We were on Joy of the Game Rising Stars when we were both in sixth grade. We’d go on these long road trips and spent a lot of hours together. We would go at it all the time, whether it be Nerf basketball or a video game like FIFA soccer. We’d almost come to blows.
Chance Carter, Northwestern junior football player, former travel teammate: I met Ben in sixth grade, we played together on Rising Stars. He’s like my brother. Sometimes my mom had to work on the weekends and his mom (Barb) would give me rides. Ben and I would be playing video games in the backseat. Every time we had a tournament, if we were in state, I’d go to his house afterwards. We were always together back then.
Klimek: There were days we’d have two practices. We’d be like, “Oh, another one?” Ben would be the one shooting in between when I’d be getting a hot dog and Snickers bar. I’d be like, “Geez, does this kid ever stop?” That’s when I knew he’d take it far, how good he’d become.
Michael Weinstein, Joy of the Game coach: I saw something in him when he was 12. He wanted to be in the game all the time. At tournaments, he’d stay and be a ball boy for the older teams. In the 20 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve been the hardest on Ben. He’s made me angry, he’s made me smile.
Tom Kuhn, Mundelein High School teacher: I had Ben his senior year for a Civil War Reconstruction class. He took a liking to history and was an active participant in class. We did a mock trial of Henry Wirz, a Confederate officer executed after the war. Ben was Wirz’s attorney. He would lobby classmates after school, explaining a point to them. He had a friend who was on the other side (prosecuting Wirz), but his desire to win superseded everything. The students played the role of judge and jury and I believe they sided with Ben.
Klimek: It’s so funny. I’ll be watching his games with my friends and whenever he scores I’m like, "Yeah, I played with him." Now whenever he touches the ball they joke and say, "Yeah, we know you played with him." They give me a lot of grief.
Carter: If Wisconsin wins, it means Ben wins. When he hit that big 3-pointer (against Oregon) I was in Providence, R.I., at a friend’s house. I yelled out a huge yell, "That’s my boy!" I would do anything for that family.
Weinstein: After Wisconsin lost in the Big Ten Tournament [this season], we were sitting in the lobby of the hotel in Indianapolis. An older lady comes up wearing a red jacket. She asked if Ben could take a picture with her husband, who she said wasn’t well and how it might be his last birthday. At the snap of a finger, he goes from ‘life stinks, we lost’ to being positive and happy and making them feel good. If I had a son I’d want him to be Ben Brust, not because he’s a basketball player, but because of the man he is.