University of Wisconsin sophomore forward Markus Ilver missed all but eight days of summer practices and workouts with the men’s basketball team.
Ilver was competing with the Estonian national team in Division B of the FIBA U20 European championships. He spent the early parts of the summer practicing with the team, then played in the tournament July 15-24.
He got the invite to play toward the end of May when he was with his family in Estonia. He had to have a conversation with UW coach Greg Gard before he could agree because it meant missing a majority of the summer.
“I didn’t play a lot last year,” Ilver said. “Me and Gard were just talking about having some games in the summer would help me. I think Gard was just mostly concerned about me missing all the lifts and stuff because I was practicing and playing games a lot.”
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Ilver played in eight games as a freshman, with a season-high 11 minutes against UW Green Bay, which included three points and four rebounds.
He said it was “frustrating” to not play a lot last season but understood he was just a freshman. Playing with Estonia offered an opportunity to build his confidence.
It wasn’t his first time representing Estonia at a national competition. He played at the 2020 Baltic Sea Basketball Cup, where he earned MVP honors after averaging 15 points and six rebounds per game, and the 2019 U18 European championships.
Ilver practiced with the Estonian men’s national team while his Badgers teammates started summer workouts in mid-June. He even played a game with the B team because the coach, Jukka Toijala, wanted to see him play in person.
He then transitioned to playing with the U20 team. The team played friends against Finland and Latvia before heading to compete in Tbilisi, Georgia.
“Our goal was to make it to the top three because the top three advance to the A division,” Ilver said. “We just kept it to ourselves, but we knew we could do it because our year group, it’s one of the best ones in the youth leagues in Estonia.”
Ilver got hurt in the second game against the Netherlands and had to sit the next two. He rejoined the team in the quarterfinals, where it breezed past North Macedonia 81-59. Estonia lost its semifinal to Serbia but reached its goal by earning the bronze medal.
Ilver finished the tournament as Estonia’s No. 3 scorers with 8.8 points per game and no. 2 rebounders at 5.8 rebounds. He averaged 21.6 minutes.
“It has helped me a lot already,” Ilver said. “Just coming back [to Madison]I know what I did well during the tournament and it just gives me confidence to be active on the floor in practices and now the upcoming games in France.”
UW leaves Sunday for its trip to France. The Badgers will play four games in Paris, Lyon and Nice before returning Aug 17.
Ilver said he hopes to follow former UW star Johnny Davis’ footsteps with his own national team experiences. Davis competed with Team USA in the 2021 FIBA World Cup and earned a gold medal. He followed that experience by averaging 19.7 points per game and earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors before being drafted No. 10 in the NBA draft.
Ilver is realistic about his goals and doesn’t anticipate that caliber of jump in his game, but he does plan to play a bigger role this season.
He’s one of five big men on the roster, joining Steven Crowl, Tyler Wahl, Chris Hodges and Carter Gilmore.
“Missing all those games last year with UW and getting the playing experience in the summer, I’ll be more confident,” Ilver said. “I am more confident now. I feel it on the floor. Every guy has to step up, and I’m ready to do that.”
Photos: Wisconsin football kicks off 2022 fall camp