By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Nov 11, 2008 at 5:27 AM

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for gym rats.

A gym rat is an athlete who -- from the time he, or she, was little -- didn't do much else except live for his sport. And one of the things that distinguish a gym rat is that he doesn't have the greatest talent in the world.

I don't care how many hours he spent in a gym, LeBron James could never be considered a gym rat.

I've been thinking a lot about gym rats lately, as the Bucks have gotten their season underway.

There are some things that are common to all gym rats. They are tougher than nails. Gym rats get knocked down, but they always get up quickly; almost as if they're made of rubber. All gym rats play defense like it's a personal challenge of their manhood. They slap and scrap and claw like fighting birds at a cockfight.

This edition of the Bucks looks like, and it sure sounds odd to say this, it is bulging with gym rats.

The chief gym rat of course, is the coach, Scott Skiles. Every time he walks onto the court he looks like he's about to climb into the ring with the middleweight champion of the world. And Skiles expects to win the fight.

You can say what you will about head coaches in the NBA and the Xs and Os and practice schedules. But the biggest thing they do set an attitude. And the Skiles attitude is "Go on and take your best shot, but then open your eyes, I'm still here."

I don't think he's a miracle worker, but he sure is different. And this team is way different.

The season is young and I haven't seen the team that much, but I go back to the first year of this franchise. They used to have a forward with not much talent named Greg Smith. He played on a championship team and built a nice career by being tough and fearless.

There is some of that on this year's team.

Richard Jefferson, the big dog from New Jersey, is obviously very talented. But he also puts his body on the guy he's guarding and is the kind of player who you want at crunch time, when you need stops and points.

He may be the big star, but there are others.

Luke Ridnour looks like a younger clone of Skiles. He never met a floor burn he didn't like and loves mixing it up.

And the drafting of Cameroon native Luc Mbah a Moute may have been a stroke of genius. If it's defense you want, with Mbah a Moute defense is what you get.

One more thing that people ought to notice.

The new attitude has obviously infected Andrew Bogut. Let's face it, people have wondered if he was ever going to justify his top pick pedigree. I've always been one of those who liked Bogut. But now I like him a lot. Talk about being bigger and stronger and tougher, he looks like he's waiting to see Evander Hollyfield in a dark alley.

I don't want to oversell this new attitude. But it is surely a pleasure to watch a basketball team that busts its collective ass every minute of every game. It may last and it may not. But it's sure fun for now.

And finally, a word about pizza.

Last week, I had a brief item about how new the Bucks are and mentioned, flippantly, that "the pizza still sucks." I said it without having eaten pizza at a Bucks game for a couple of years. It was supposed to be a joke.

Well, I got phone calls, e-mails and even a couple of live, in-your-face comments about how screwed up I was. One guy even yelled at me while I was stopped at a red light.

Almost everyone, sports fans all, pointed out that the pizza at the Bradley Center was better by a mile than the pie at Miller Park. Many of the fans that slapped me around also said that the pizza at the Bradley Center is almost as good as the best restaurant pizza in Milwaukee.

So, to the Palermo family and the famed Rustico pizza, I sincerely apologize. When I'm wrong, I'm wrong.

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.