Badgers’ Bo Ryan answers questions ahead of Final Four
ARLINGTON, TEXAS (WITI) — Wisconsin Badgers Head Coach Bo Ryan answered questions in Arlington, Texas on Friday, April 4th — ahead of Saturday’s Final Four game vs. Kentucky.
Q. You’ve had such a long career, won over 700 games and so many championships at lower levels, how much would a championship here at the Division‑I level mean to you?
COACH RYAN: Well, are they giving away some freebies somewhere? Is that where everybody is? When you say ‘lower level,’ Division‑III’s three numbers, Division‑I is one number. So some people might think that’s a higher level. I forgot the rest of the question. I heard the Division‑I or the lower level thing and you hit a nerve, but that’s all right. What was your question?
Q. Just how much would this championship mean to you personally?
COACH RYAN: Well, I tell you, I think it would mean a lot to know that it’s possible, that it can be done, that the way we try to do things can be successful enough to get the final game. If you don’t, it still doesn’t mean anything, other than we gave it our best shot. So at my age, I don’t get too high or too low. I’ve seen so much, it can happen, and the right things have to fall in place. It would be tremendous for our players and our community, the state, things like that, the alumni. There’s so many people involved with this that I would like to stand back and just watch their joy rather than worry about what it means to me.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the athletic level?
COACH RYAN: You had my salary wrong, by the way. Just kidding (smiling).
Q. Okay. We should talk about that. I wanted to ask you about the athleticism and the athletic ability of your team. How does that compare to other teams you have? What sort of level is it at? Is it something that has improved over time?
COACH RYAN: The team we have now, athleticism is defined in a lot of ways, okay? Eye‑hand coordination, jumping ability, strength, being able to hit a baseball, being able to drive a race car. When you say ‘athletic,’ this group we have is athletic in this sense: They have good perception and spacial skills for being a good offensive team. Defensively they understand they’re only as strong as all five guys playing together. Our best defense is five versus five, not in transition. So there’s so many things athletically that if you don’t have this, don’t have that, how can you make it up or how can you hide a weakness? So I think our guys have been hiding some things that I see every day in practice where we have had to improve, had to improve, and we did.
So I’ve had more athletic teams as far as if we did a race, I’ve had teams that would win one through 15. Over this group one through 15. But I don’t think it’s all about the race, the foot race. It’s about other things, too. So they’re athletic in the sense of their eye‑hand coordination, passing skills, basic movement, just that eye of the Tiger, so to speak as being competitors. They’re very competitive guys.
Q. It comes a lot when Kentucky is involved, but like with the one and done, is there a right way or a wrong way to run a basketball program in your mind? You’ve got your way, they have got their way.
COACH RYAN: Frank Sinatra, wasn’t that the song? We did it our way? I mean, everybody’s doing it their way. If you’re a coach and here’s the landscape, you do it the best way you can. I was always told, You can only coach one team. So I can only talk about our program. This is my vision of the game, this is my way of being a teacher/coach. If I had a guy that had a real good season and left, that’s okay. As long as he had all his credits that year and as long as he was a student, and, of course, at our place, you don’t have an option, it’s pretty strenuous academically at Wisconsin. I did have one player, and I mentioned this before, I had a three‑and‑done, and that was Devin Harris. It was amazing. He came into my office and he says, Coach, what do you think? And I told him that I would get back to him after I found out what the NBA people really felt. And when I did find out and sat down and talked to him, he was just so relieved that I would allow him to go make a lot of money.
I’m like, Devin, you deserve this. This is kind of the area you’re in and I’m sure you’re hearing that from other people. If somebody after one year came into my office and said the same thing, you know, there are ways that you can find out kind of where you are. So what somebody else does is fine with me, because there’s presidents or chancellors or AD’s or whatever that hire people to run a program, and it’s right there. So whatever people are doing must be right or that coach wouldn’t still be there.
Q. In the ’80s and ’90s, when you were at Platteville, reflecting now on where you were then, were there hopes and legitimate expectations that you would ultimately not just break through to D‑1 or get a job in D‑1, but at a Big‑10 level school, was that something that you ever thought could happen?
COACH RYAN: I get the gist of what you’re saying. Of course. When you’re coaching a team, no matter what level, what league, wherever you are, and some things go well, it’s always in the back of your mind, you know, I wonder if this can happen somewhere else. Well, I had been an assistant in Division‑I, so I knew about recruiting, so that never intimidated me about it because some people say, Well, the reason a lot of D‑3 guys that are real successful never move up is because they have no idea what the recruiting is like on the Division‑I level. Well, I was fortunate enough to recruit players like Cory Blackwell, Claude Gregory, a lot of guys ended up playing in the NBA, I’m talking about the elder Wesley Matthews, and had a chance to recruit those guys. So going to Division‑III after doing that, the recruiting was never an issue in my mind. So I didn’t have doubts there. Okay. Can the things that you’re doing work against this team, that team? Well, at Platteville, we beat, as a Division‑III school, some Division‑I schools. So then you start thinking, Hey, you know, this isn’t bad. We maybe can take this thing. But in the back of my mind, if somebody hired me for a nickel, I always wanted to give them a dime’s worth. So I never talked to the AD or the people at the school where I was coaching about going somewhere else. I was either going to do it or I wasn’t. So I truly felt after being very successful ‑ and we beat several Division‑II schools also ‑ I said, Well, if we’re doing this here with a lot of engineering students at Platteville and the guys that we have here, then maybe we can do this thing. And UWM, the chancellor and the AD came and we had a long conversation. I said, Okay, yeah, let’s give this a shot. Having had some conversations with some other schools before. Then when Patrick Richter asked if I wanted to come to Wisconsin, it was, Okay, I think we can do this thing. Dick had done a great job, and his staff, and it can work, as long as your vision becomes the players’ vision.
There’s a lot of coaches that are really good with X’s and O’s, and there are a lot of coaches that are real good and real powerful motivators. You got to have a little bit of all of that to ever get any of this done. So it’s kind of nice to see that in a breakthrough, because we were in the weekend before, we had been in that one, and now to be in this weekend, okay, does that make this group special? Sure it does, because they’re here. But are they different, no, than the other teams that I’ve had. But this one has just proven they’re right time, right place, and just a little cut above.
Q. From the outside looking in on paper, this looks like a really interesting matchup because it looks like two contrasting teams. Do you buy into that and see that as well?
COACH RYAN: I don’t know about contrasting. The way they’re playing right now, they’re taking care of the ball. They’re hitting the glass. They’re sharing the ball. They have got different guys coming in off the bench helping them out like we have. I see a lot of similarities. So I don’t try to offer analyze the other team, but they are doing some really good things now that if you looked at them earlier, they’re just better and that’s how they got here. So they’re taller at guard than we are. They’re maybe bigger up front. They’re this, they’re that. Then meanwhile you could look at our team and say, Well, Wisconsin’s this, Wisconsin’s that, I would imagine. But when people want to make something out about styles, I get a little leery. So I can’t make that contrast or comparison.
Q. You and Coach Cal have taken very different paths to where you are right now and I’m curious how your path gives you perspective on Coach Cal’s season this year, where they have gone from hype to struggling to finding themselves.
COACH RYAN: I really haven’t looked at it to that extent that you’re talking about. But Cal’s seen a lot of basketball, been around a lot of teams. He doesn’t miss much. He’s perceptive guy. I can see a lot of things in the way he does things that are similar to people that I know and a lot of things that I do. What’s really neat in our sport is that it can be done a lot of different ways. I know the controversy in football is you got to have X‑number of seconds between the snap of the ball supposedly. I don’t know exactly where that stands now. I don’t know whether it was shot down or whatever. There’s different styles of football. In basketball it might look like there’s different styles, but I’ll tell you, we’re trying to do two things: We’re trying to get more shots than the other team and we’re trying to get better shots than the other team.
How do you get more shots? You don’t turn it over. Another way of getting more shots is hit the offensive glass as hard as you can. So those two things right there will enable you to have more shots than the other teams. How do you get better shots than the other team? Closer to the basket. A layup is a higher percentage shot, a dunk, than a 18‑foot jump shot. Wide‑open threes by people who have proven they can hit them, that’s a way to get better shots. The best way to get better shots is get to the free‑throw line. There’s nobody guarding you and you get a free throw. So Cal, or any other team that gets to this point in the season, has done those things. They have gotten better shots and they have gotten more shots on offense. On defense, just flip the two around. You don’t want the other team getting as many shots, or try to turn them over. Try to make them do things they’re not comfortable with. Try to take them out of shots that they have made all year so they’re lower percentage shots. There’s different ways of tweaking that or doing that, but I still say this game boils down to those two things, get more shots and better shots.
Q. You touched a little bit on this yesterday, but what role do you think the coaches need to play in some of the issues facing the NCAA right now, in particular extended health insurance, making up the difference between scholarships and the actual cost of attending school? How would you feel if, whether it was Wisconsin or the Big‑10 or the NCAA, came to you and said, Hey, we want to take X‑percent, meaning all of the coaches’ salaries or bonuses, and use it to pay for these things.
COACH RYAN: Well, first of all, I’ll be consistent. In all the venues, regional and everything else, that’s a topic. There’s no quick answer that’s going to answer what you asked. I’m on the NABC board. I’m on the executive board. We are discussing these matters, so I’m not going to go there during this tournament. So there are things coming down the road where they end up I’m not sure. But it’s not something that needs to be discussed here in this forum.
Q. How do you prepare to face a Julius Randle and does he compare to anyone you guys have come across this season?
COACH RYAN: I noticed there’s a lot of USA people here. I was supposed to speak to the USA Today people until we made the Final Four. Did you guys know there was a board member that was going to speak to your organization? Who did they get to replace me? Okay. So you haven’t had the get‑together yet?
Q. You’re still invited.
COACH RYAN: Thanks. Could you repeat your question. I just got carried away with the USA Today.
Q. Julius Randle, and does he remind you of anybody you guys have faced?
COACH RYAN: His strength, his ability to put it on the floor and get to the rim and finish on shots, I’m sure there’s some, but when we’re preparing for a game, I see a guy as him, I don’t necessarily say he’s like this guy or like that guy. For a combination of strength and size and the way he hits the glass, I think in that category, he’s as good as anybody I’ve seen. So I’ll just keep him in his own category.
Q. Is there anything about coaching and competing in Division‑III that you miss today and wish could be more of an aspect of Division‑I?
COACH RYAN: Well, let’s see. The day before we played the National Championship game in the years that I was in Division‑III, I had a diet pop‑ I always say soda until I got to Wisconsin, now it’s pop‑ and a cream donut at the Krispy Kream place, and enjoyed that, read the paper, did some crossword puzzles, and went to the game the next day. The difference? I haven’t had a cream‑filled donut today. I haven’t had a diet pop. You get to answer a lot of questions that you don’t get asked in Division‑III.
So it’s this (Indicating). It’s the whole ambience of this takes over from the outside, and that’s okay. We realize what this is. I just found out how much I make now a year, because as a state employee I guess it’s published anyhow. I’ve never seen a check in 40 years. Every place, wherever I was an employee, it always went into the account. My wife gives me $150 a month as allowance, whether I need it or not. So I don’t get caught up in all that other stuff. But Division‑III was fun, exciting, for those young men. Are you kidding me? And young women that compete in Division‑III, there’s no difference. As a coach, I realize that once I got to this level, that if I ever got a chance to coach in this, that there would be a lot more scrutiny, a lot more questions, a lot more analysis. I try to make sure it’s never paralysis by analysis. So I try to keep it pretty basic with my team. But I’m hoping to get that donut here later today. I tell you that.
Q. Kentucky is so different here just very recently. Do you trust that or do you try to test whether they can do the things that they have just been recently doing more of, especially shooting from the perimeter?
COACH RYAN: Very much a concern to watch them recently without a doubt, because they’re doing everything you need to do with the talent that they have. So the guys with their physical and mental and basketball IQ’s together is much higher, as with most teams as the season goes on. But I would say there’s has made a jump more so than any team I’ve seen.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH RYAN: Well, we’re going to have to test, but we also trust out of respect that we know what they can do and what we’re going to have to do to counter that.
Q. My question is, you guys are the second game tomorrow night. You have to wait all day. Now I know you played night games before, but this is not your typical night game?
COACH RYAN: You think it’s past my bedtime? That’s where you’re going (laughter).
Q. No, that wasn’t my question. What is going to be your routine tomorrow and how are you going to keep your players focused all day knowing they may not tip off almost until 9 o’clock?
COACH RYAN: That’s a tough thing on the road, like in the Big‑10, if we have the late game, it is. Maybe you sleep in a little later. We still get out of the hotel. We do our shoot‑around, so we get the guys out and get some things done that way.
We still have some guys working on projects academically, so they will have some time to do that also. This year, I don’t know about the past, but I understand it’s fairly new. There’s a room for our players that have video games and pool tables and ping pong and televisions to watch different programs and games. Games forgot me after Pong. That’s the one I remember, and that was too fast for me. But they do have some things that they can occupy their time with. So we’ll try to keep them moving a little bit. But we try to treat it just like when we went to play Purdue and it was a late game or whatever team, Michigan, on the road, Indiana, anybody in the Big‑10.
Q. In the Michigan game, Kentucky brings a guy off the bench who has not played hardly at all for two months, has a huge impacts on the game. Just from the scouting standpoint, how difficult is that when you only have tape on a guy from one game and he was out of this world? How much do you focus on that?
COACH RYAN: As I’m looking at the game, Coach Gard, who the hell is this number, what was it, double zero? An as he tip slams three put‑backs? That’s who you’re talking about? Coach, who is this guy? That’s what I did. I called my assistant coach and he had to fill me in. Wow. It was pretty impressive. So we got to keep him off the glass. That’s all I know. How about that for an addition off the bench? Scary.
Q. Going back to the Oregon game, early in the tournament, late in the game, y’all ended up getting four offensive rebounds and it was a one‑possession game. Finally you get a wide‑open three. Talk about that momentum and just that fighting will of your team to carry that momentum to the Final Four?
COACH RYAN: Well, that was huge. I had taken out Ben Brust, our best three‑point shooter, because he had shot a really low, a fatigue three. He looked like he was wearing down a little bit. He can go forever. So as we kept getting the offensive rebounds, and it’s kind of, Okay, I’m going to get a timeout here and get Ben in so in case we get three or four more, that maybe we can get the ball in his hands and he’ll be rested. So he, sure enough, came in off the bench and hit the three. And I think just for the crowd and for the moment, how huge that was to have maintained possession for that period of time and still get something out of it, even though three parts of it were bad, were shots that weren’t close. I think the reason we got the offensive rebounds was because they were clunkers.
The Badgers face Kentucky on Saturday, April 5th. Tipoff is set for 7:49 p.m.