By Doug Russell Special to Published Dec 15, 2011 at 11:00 AM

It has been six and a half years since Andrew Bogut emerged onto the Milwaukee sports scene as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft.

For fans hoping that the affable Aussie was the answer to all of the Bucks problems, the last few years have been frustrating to say the least.

The facts are indisputable. In the time that Andrew Bogut has been here in Milwaukee, the Bucks have changed coaches three times and their general manager once. They have made the playoffs twice, never emerging from the first round. They have had exactly one winning season, and have not had a single player named to an All-Star team.

But in order to look ahead to where Andrew Bogut is headed, we first must rewind the clock a couple of years.

The evening of Apr. 3, 2010 began with such promise. The Bucks were hosting the Phoenix Suns that warm Saturday eveing at the Bradley Center with optimism in the air. After all, the team was playing with a tenacity that no one had seen in this town for nine long years. The Bucks were on the brink of a renaissance and about to clinch a playoff berth with a half-dozen games left to play.

And then, disaster struck.

In the second quarter, Bucks swingman Carlos Delfino threw a long outlet pass to Bogut, who was streaking down the left side with two steps on Amare Stoudamire. In stride, Bogut grabbed the pass and slammed it though the hoop. However, there was so much forward momentum already built up from his 7-foot, 260 pound frame that the rim was no match for Bogut's centrifugal force.

Landing sideways on the Bradley Center hardwood with a thud that could be heard from the upper deck of the arena, the crowd gasped one final breath before falling deathly silent. Of the 16,436 in attendance there were maybe a very small number of doctors. But you didn't have to be one to know that Bogut's season was over.

The report was grim: broken right elbow, broken bones in the right wrist, and a broken right index finger. As much as Bogut didn't want to admit it at first, the injury affected him dramatically last season. And while most admired his warrior-like approach to helping lead his team, others wondered if he returned too quickly.

Nearly two years (and extensive rehab) after that fateful evening, Bogut has proclaimed himself ready to go.

"(The) injury is much better," Bogut says today. "Night and day I would say probably to where it was last season. I had a lot of time to work on it this off-season, and I made a commitment to get as healthy as I could and I think I'm pretty much where I want to be at. I'm at the point where I can shoot the basketball every day pain-free.

"I'm at the point where I'm not having a lot of setbacks after training as I was last season towards the start of my rehab where I would shoot three to four hundred shots and have swelling. I don't have any of those issues now, so that's a positive."

Bogut has had his share of maladies over the years. In 2008-09 he missed the final 31 games of the season with a lower back injury, and also was shelved for three games earlier in the year with a bone bruise on his knee. Two years earlier, Bogut missed the final 16 games of the season with midfoot sprain. Today, he bristles at the notion that he is injury prone.

"It's the stigma that I've always heard, the frustrating one," Bogut says. "The only real injuries I've got have come from stress fractures. The arm thing was just a freak thing. So it's frustrating to be labeled with that. But at the same time, I have the motivation to try and come back and prove I can stay injury-free for a whole season and have a good season."

Bogut has been making strides on his offensive game, and has been lauded as a player that isn't afraid to play physical, which lends itself to injuries. Defensively, he was among the league leaders in several categories, including blocks (first) and rebounds (sixth). Even while dealing with his still-sore right arm last season, Bogut still registered 24 "double-doubles" (points and rebounds) and was one of the top Eastern Conference centers in assists and steals.

"Defensively, I think I'm one of the best in my position in the league," Bogut says. "The next step for me is instead of averaging 12, I've got to average 16, 17, 18 points a game."

For some time, Andrew Bogut has been the undisputed leader of this Milwaukee Bucks team. For so many years that mantle of leadership was thought to be Michael Redd's. However, Redd irked some of his teammates over the last couple of years by choosing to rehab in Ohio rather than with the team. In Redd's case, absence did not make the Bucks hearts grow fonder.

Desperate to find someone to follow, Bogut naturally emerged. Not only was he the most marketable player the Bucks had, but he was also the toughest. For many fans, as season after season dragged on towards lottery land, Bogut appeared to be the only one that cared.

After John Hammond was hired as general manager in 2008, he made a commitment to his starting center, signing him to a 5-year, $60 million contract extension. Since then, Bogut has had one breakout season that was cut just short by his horrific fall, and another that was a wash not only for him personally, but the whole team as injuries decimated the entire lineup.

And while Bogut did not like having to miss two pay checks as the NBA lockout dragged on this year, he called the extra time off a blessing in disguise as he continued to heal his once-shattered right arm back home in Australia.

This season is a critical one for the Bucks. They are now two years removed from their "Fear the Deer" run that set Milwaukee on its ear for basketball for the first time in nearly a decade. However, in that time, they have seen the Packers win a Super Bowl (and may be on their way to a second) and the Brewers come within two games of the World Series. The bar has been raised, as the Bradley Center ages.

Most agree that the Bucks will need a new arena within the next few years if they are to remain financially afloat here in Milwaukee. The best way to get the public behind any such effort is to make them realize how much the community needs NBA basketball by showing them a winner.

For the Bucks franchise, there is no time to waste. Now entering his seventh season in the NBA, the same can be said of Andrew Bogut.

Doug Russell Special to

Doug Russell has been covering Milwaukee and Wisconsin sports for over 20 years on radio, television, magazines, and now at

Over the course of his career, the Edward R. Murrow Award winner and Emmy nominee has covered the Packers in Super Bowls XXXI, XXXII and XLV, traveled to Pasadena with the Badgers for Rose Bowls, been to the Final Four with Marquette, and saw first-hand the entire Brewers playoff runs in 2008 and 2011. Doug has also covered The Masters, several PGA Championships, MLB All-Star Games, and Kentucky Derbys; the Davis Cup, the U.S. Open, and the Sugar Bowl, along with NCAA football and basketball conference championships, and for that matter just about anything else that involves a field (or court, or rink) of play.

Doug was a sports reporter and host at WTMJ-AM radio from 1996-2000, before taking his radio skills to national syndication at Sporting News Radio from 2000-2007. From 2007-2011, he hosted his own morning radio sports show back here in Milwaukee, before returning to the national scene at Yahoo! Sports Radio last July. Doug's written work has also been featured in The Sporting News, Milwaukee Magazine, Inside Wisconsin Sports, and Brewers GameDay.

Doug and his wife, Erika, split their time between their residences in Pewaukee and Houston, TX.