Wisconsin has returned to the Final Four. Bo Ryan, long-time head coach for the Badgers, talked a little bit about his background, fellow conference member Michigan St., and upcoming opponent Kentucky Wildcats at his press conference yesterday.
Q. Bo, was there a point after you got one at Wilkes, before you start the coaching and teaching at junior high, where you could have ended up doing something else rather than coaching? What might that have been?
COACH RYAN: Well, the fact that you’re from Harrisburg, you have to let me recover here a little bit because Steelton?Highspire gave us our only loss at Chester. So I’m still recovering from that. We lost in overtime at the Palestra.
In order to get right to your question, I took a job with Arco coming out of college. I was an economic, marketing, business major. Then being drafted in the Army kind of changed everything.
Yes, I was going to be a CEO, looking to run a corporation or a business. That was what my training at Wilkes was in.
I ended up changing professions when I was in the Army. I decided I wanted to teach and coach.
Q. You’re talking about Arco the oil company?
COACH RYAN: Yes, in Philly.
Q. Bo, there’s been this idea that scoring and tempo have slowed across college basketball generally in recent years. I’m curious if you feel like that’s extended to the post?season. The data is a little bit mixed on that.
COACH RYAN: Well, that’s a mixed bag.
You know, the rules are always fine ’cause people coach to and teach to the rules, whether it’s shot clock or extended arc or anything else. It’s just a matter of what’s going to be called fouls, what is a foul, what isn’t a foul, how a game’s going to be called. I think that affects tempo quite a bit.
But, you know, still in my mind I think it’s all by people throwing this out there is a way to talk about college basketball. It gets talk shows going. It gets sales in advertising. To me, there’s a plan behind all this, a master plan by people who try to want to stir things up.
Our ratings have been the highest for the tournament. There’s so much good about college basketball. People kind of refuse to talk about or get into it.
I like to spin it the other way. I think the game’s in great shape. The fact that it is our college game, you get the pro guys doing all the announcing on these post?season games, and they want to act like it’s supposed to be an NBA game, not an NCAA college game.
To me it’s all about who’s spinning it.
Q. What qualities do you think a guy who is good in the clutch, can make clutch jumpers or the clutch play, what qualities those guys have generally?
COACH RYAN: Short memory. A belief. I don’t know how much guys today play. For example, in the ’60s growing up, you’re on the playground, you probably play 10 to 15 games in a couple?hour period where you play to a number. First team to 10, first team to 20, got to win by 2.
Now, with all the organized basketball games and practices and things that are going on, there’s not as many pickup games played.
I can remember being on the playground, because you had to win by 2, having some games where there were 10 clutch jumpers that were made, or 10 buckets that extended the game or gave you the win. So I think that’s where guys, when they used to play a lot on the playgrounds, there was a lot of that clutch.
Now I think guys aren’t in as many clutch situations, but there are some who will say, Hey, I want the ball, and they’ll get the ball. They want the shot, they’ll take the shot.
Sometimes with teams you got to make sure, okay, there’s clutch guys, there’s a lot of people who want that shot, but it’s your job as a coach to make sure it’s in the hands of a person who can make a play. If they don’t make the shot, they can find a player.
When you say ‘clutch player’ I don’t know if you’re referring to the guy that makes the jumper, the layup or the three, or if it’s the guy who makes the play, which could also include making the pass to the teammate for the bucket.
Q. Who is that guy for you and how much of that can be developed in a player by the coach?
COACH RYAN: Well, you can stir that within the player. With what we do in practice, I’m sure other people do it, we don’t have a patent on it, but you put 10 seconds on the clock, 5 seconds on the clock, 15 seconds, and we go through situations. You find out through those situations at least who the players are trusting to be in that position, and you let them do it simply by playing out the last X number of seconds that I mentioned. Then you strongly encourage, Okay, this is what happened eight times, three times this happened, and you play percentages. That’s what I do.
We have certain things in practice where we know what to go to. Obviously we’re not going to tell the public. If they shut off one guy, then this is what we could possibly go to, or this, or this, or this. Like the quarterback looking at four or five receivers, checking off who isn’t open, finding who is.
Q. Obviously it’s a rematch between last year’s Kentucky team and Wisconsin, a game which was obviously very close, came down to the final shot. Tell me what you see different in this team other than they’re undefeated. They have veteran players. What makes them different, that much better, going up against them the second time?
COACH RYAN: Well, I think they’ve been through so many pressure situations when you’re undefeated. Not to promote my University of Wisconsin Platteville team necessarily. I had a chance to coach two college teams that went undefeated in a season, and I know what it’s like to be 10?0, 15?0, 25?0, what that does to a team.
It actually made our practices better. Our practices were very competitive, knowing that all eyes are on you. Needless to say in Division I there’s more eyes, all on Kentucky’s team.
But going through that, I just thought it made us better while we were undefeated because of how you learned to deal with the outside pressures. Then it builds inside. Okay, in practices you got enough good players going against each other, so you’re actually developing the skills of your players while the season’s going on because you have that depth.
So I think Kentucky is in a pretty good position from that standpoint of being able, even though they don’t have the same players as last year, what they’ve developed in the last four and a half months is some pretty competitive drills, some pretty competitive practices and work, to where not only were they good in November, but they’re even better now.
Q. Cal always says that they may be undefeated but they’re not perfect. I don’t know how much film you had to look at since two days ago, but is there really any weakness, big or small, that you tried to show the team so far?
COACH RYAN: I thought you were talking about John said he wasn’t perfect, because I was agreeing with that (laughter).
Q. I’m sure he says that, too.
COACH RYAN: We had a nice talk this morning, by the way.
Even if there’s a guy that shoots a bad percentage or has a rough day, look how many other guys can pick them up. There are some teams who have two, three, maybe four scorers. If they all have a bad day the same day, they’re definitely losing.
Kentucky can have guys have bad days but still have enough guys to make up for that.
So, no, I don’t think as far as comparing the last year or anything else… Again, we played Oregon again, then Arizona, now Kentucky. That’s three of our five games playing against the same people we played against the year before. The only thing we’re hoping is that it’s not the same outcome.
But, no, they’re strong from point to post. You don’t go undefeated in college now without something pretty special.
Q. Bo, I was wondering what your relationship now is like with Tom Izzo and how it’s maybe changed since you arrived in the Big Ten.
COACH RYAN: It’s the same as it’s always been: two coaches trying to get their programs to be successful year in, year out.
I knew when I came into the league, every place I ever became a head coach, there were certain programs that you say, Okay, if you want to be good, this is who you got to get. There’s some standards that are set. The state conference, there were three schools that were totally dominating, Eau Claire, Stevens Point, White Water. At UWM it was Butler. Then coming into the Big Ten, at the time obviously it was Michigan State.
We were on the board of directors together. I’m still on it. Tom is past president. So at the Big Ten meetings you talk. It’s a profession. It’s professionals trying to do their jobs.
I had a talk with Tom this morning, too. It’s kind of interesting.
Q. Can you share anything from that conversation?
COACH RYAN: No. Just two guys wishing each other well, representing the Big Ten. Good enough. Hey, we’re in it. We got a chance.
Q. What’s been your most important message that you’ve told your guys this month? Has it changed at all game to game?
COACH RYAN: No, because of all the guys that we’ve had back from last year, you can definitely see the difference after getting to the Sweet 16, now getting to the Final Four, of the guys in the locker room. They are very, very excited, but they’re not awestruck.
They were sitting in the locker room waiting for me after the Arizona game. Okay, coach, are we going back tonight? Is the plane ready? What’s our next move? More so than last year, where everybody was looking around like, Okay, what do we do next?
But, believe me, they don’t take anything for granted. They’re very happy to have been able to get this far. We know what we’re up against. Our guys are pretty smart guys. They know what it’s going to take, a pretty perfect game or close to it, to get these guys. We’ll see what we have in us.
Q. Are there any guys on the team that are sort of taking over and saying, This is what we need to do in terms of stuff going on in the locker room?
COACH RYAN: I’ve let all my teams do that. The seniors. I’ve always encouraged that because that’s the way my coach allowed me to be that I played for.
There’s a lot of talk in our practices, in between possessions, guys going over things. I strongly encourage that. There’s always going to be voices in the locker room. We’ve been pretty fortunate to have some really good voices.
I can only say that not because we’ve secretly taped them, but because of the way they’ve handled everything. It’s obvious to me that the right voices are being heard in the locker room when they’re away from the coaches.
Q. I’ve heard plenty of coaches talk about gut?wrenching Final Four losses, how hard they are to overcome. How did you handle last year? How hard was that to forget about once you went into summer, the fall, et cetera?
COACH RYAN: You know, you get up the next day and you just start saying, Okay, we got this coming up, camp, recruiting, practice, workouts with the players a couple hours a week. It was just ‘next’. That’s all I ever lived by.
We’ve also been the ones that have given people gut?wrenching defeats and stuff like that. You expect people to handle that because they’re going to have to handle things like that in life a lot more than just after a basketball game, where things are a lot more important than a basketball game.
The example we try to set is, Okay, next, here we go. Let’s get the guys that are back, wish the seniors good luck, try to help them out with where they’re going. I’ve been doing it so many years, it’s not all the same, but you can’t change what just happened, that score was that score.
Like I said, we’ve done it to other people where they’ve got to deal with the score, then get ready for the next season.
So, no, there wasn’t anything different.
Q. What do you think is relevant about the game last year given that clearly their team is different, as is yours. What do you think is relevant about that game last year?
COACH RYAN: Simply that was a great game for fans and for the experience of the players involved in it. But so much has happened since then. It’s like our game with Arizona last year. I guess the only way to answer it is we’ve already had two reoccurrences of games last year with Oregon and Arizona. Like I said, the difference is in the Kentucky game we were on the short end.
It’s not like if you’re on the positive end you’re going to practice or do anything different going into the next season, so… For our guys, hey, we get another 40 minutes. That’s all they know.
Q. The Big Ten championship game you played against Michigan State. Did you sense then they might be capable of a run like this, even though they weren’t one of the favorites?
COACH RYAN: Oh, yeah.
Q. What did you sort of see about them then?
COACH RYAN: The same we saw when we played them at our place or during the year. The Big Ten is a good conference. We got two representatives left. I think that speaks for itself.
Q. Did you see any difference between the first time you played them and the second time maybe?
COACH RYAN: Not really. Seems like the games with us are usually the same anyhow. Usually a tight game for the most part. Some have been a little different. It just seemed like a regular Wisconsin?Michigan State game. It doesn’t surprise me at all that they’re where they are.
DAVE WORLOCK: Coach Ryan, thank you so much for your time today. Safe travels to Indianapolis. We’ll see you in a few days.
COACH RYAN: Thank you.