This article is part two of our season review. Part one, Kevin Payton, can be read here.
How did it come to this? A former Mr. Basketball returning to play for the home town team as a walk-on at one of the lowest points in the program’s history should be likable, shouldn’t he? It should be the type of story that warms the cockles of the darkest and coldest heart. Unfortunately for Travis Busch, despite the perfect script, he could never play the part.
The truly sad part is that it almost isn’t his fault. If he had stayed a walk-on and stayed on the bench, there would be nothing to complain about. Walk-ons are rarely thrust into minutes too meaningful for their talent level. They can waltz on to the floor with the game decided, shoot every time they touch the ball, regardless of how far from the basket they are, and they become a cult hero if they make just one free throw.
Travis Busch came to the Gophers after a year at Cal-Poly. He had modest success, averaging career highs in minutes and points per game. Not completely satisfied with the small school, west coast experience, he headed home. The reasons for his transfer were never completely clear. Being closer to home was the obvious explanation. More playing time for a “big time” program didn’t hurt either.
In 2007, he was awarded a left-over scholarship, and stayed in obscurity most of that season, playing more than 10 minutes in only 3 games, two of which were blowout losses. The second of the double-digit minutes games launched him out of obscurity and on to the national stage. That game, against Indiana, featured the shot, that wouldn’t have happened without the pass the preceded it, and so the myth of Travis Busch was born.
The myth has several parts, all of which revolve of around the theme of Busch playing a crucial role for the Gophers. Busch is from Minnesota, rendering rational discussion of his abilities impossible. Suddenly he was receiving almost as much credit for “the shot” as Blake Hoffarber, even though “the pass” was about 20 feet off-target, and only made it to Hoffarber because Dan Coleman was mugged while the ball was in the air.
Early in the 2008-2009 season Busch benefited again more from circumstance than anything else. Against Louisville he scored 13 points, all of which proved important in a six point win that ultimately secured the Gophers their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005. Anyone could have scored those points though. He made only three field goals, most of which were wide open. The rest of the points came from the free throw line, where he had an inexplicable nine free throw attempts. His previous high as a Gopher was six free throw attempts against Eastern Washington. Busch had played a big role in the two biggest wins of the Tubby Smith era, and started to believe he was a big deal.
Suddenly every time he fell down it was because of his exemplary hustle, not poor balance. Whenever he committed a bad foul it supposedly showed his toughness, not his slow speed or poor position. When he made a bad pass or a bad decision, he was aggressive, not selfish or sloppy. This part of the myth dissolved after his terrible outlet pass and even worse transition defense allowed Talor Battle to make a buzzer beating three pointer, break out of a slump, and ultimately prevent the Gophers from winning at Penn State and breaking out of mid-season tail spin. The apologists were out in full force. They thought he was still a walk-on, and did not hold him to the same standard as the rest of the team.
For a team with all sorts of shooting woes, Busch did prove valuable. He could reliable make the wide-open jumper, and was one of only four Gophers who shot better than 50%. Thank goodness he made those shots, because if he got the ball he wasn’t going to pass, at least not to a teammate in position to score. He never made more than two assists in a game over his entire Gopher career, and averaged more than twice as many turnovers than assists. He scored his points though, and that’s all that seemed to matter to him.
With the influx of talent in Tubby Smith’s second recruiting class, and no opportunity for another scholarship season, Busch has chosen to leave the Gophers. After two seasons with a scholarship, two more than he was ever promised, the never a true walk-on has decided that he never really wanted to be a walk-on and that playing time was more important than the home town team. With rumors swirling that he’ll be playing for a local Division II program next season where he would still be eligible for a scholarship, Busch, for all intents and purposes, has decided to take his ball and go home. His career was more about himself than the team. At least he’ll have another season to pad his stats.