Players: Bo Ryan's legacy not at stake in Elite Eight game

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Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 29, 2014

ANAHEIM, Calif.—One by one, the players in the Wisconsin locker room reacted to the question with a mix of amusement and annoyance.

Does Bo Ryan, with 13 NCAA tournament berths in 13 seasons at UW, four NCAA Division III titles at UW-Platteville and an overall record of 703-223, need to update his coaching résumé with a Division I Final Four berth to validate his body of work?

Ryan's players don't want to hear any of it.

“People can say what they want to say,” senior guard Ben Brust said, “but he doesn't have to do anything to validate anything.

“He is a great coach. He has 703 wins now. That is good to say. We definitely want to get him 704 and then we'll see what people are saying I guess.”

That chance comes tonight when No. 2-seeded UW (29-7) faces top-seeded Arziona (33-4) at approximately 7:49 p.m. at the Honda Center.

If UW can find a way to defeat the Wildcats in the West Regional final, Ryan will lead the program to the Final Four for the first time since Dick Bennett coached the Badgers in 2000.

“He wins,” UW sophomore Sam Dekker said when asked whether a Final Four berth is critical to Ryan's legacy. “And year in and year out you see our team in the NCAA tournament. He is up there in the conference. You can't say enough about coach Ryan and the job he has done.

“I think he has solidified his spot as being one of the best coaches around. I don't think there is any doubt in this locker room of what he can do.

“The outside people can talk what they want, but we know what kind of coach we have and we know he is one of the best around.”

Nevertheless, seeing UW's program in the Final Four might change the perception of the program.

“It would be huge for us to get him to the Final Four,” Dekker said. “He wants it for us, too. Don't get me wrong. He is doing this for us.

“We're trying to enjoy this ride together.”

Ryan's fourth UW team reached the 2005 Elite Eight. Led by Alando Tucker, Mike Wilkinson and Kammron Taylor, the Badgers battled to the end before falling to North Carolina, 88-82. The Tar Heels went on to win the national title.

UW was ousted in the Sweet 16 three times in the next seven seasons. The 69-52 victory over Baylor on Thursday night sent UW back to the Elite Eight.

UW associate head coach Greg Gard joined the UW-Platteville staff in 1993-94 and has been with Ryan since.

“I think you think whole picture,” said Gard, who was an assistant under Ryan for three Division III Final Fours. “Those are hard to get to, and he has won four of them.

“He doesn't get caught up in that. It's just about the next game and trying to continue to advance. He has never talked about the Final Four. He has always talked about trying to win the national championship.

“And you've got to do well in the current 40 minutes to get your next 40.”

Lamont Paris, in his fourth season on the UW staff, acknowledged he was the wrong person with whom to broach the subject.

Paris believed LeBron James was the best basketball player on the planet—before he won his first NBA title. He believes Ryan is a great coach despite never having taken UW to the Final Four.

“I really judge the body of work,” Paris said. “He is obviously a great coach, period. I don't even know if the conversation needs to go beyond that.

“I dismiss stuff like that whether I was on this staff or I was on a staff that had won two national championships in a row.

“It's not something I've even really entertained. The concept that … you could have 700 wins and done this, that and the other and if you're not in the Final Four that it is tainted somehow.”

Forward Nigel Hayes has been on the UW campus for less than a full calendar year. But the freshman from Toledo, Ohio, is thoughtful, articulate and almost always loquacious.

Curiously, Hayes clammed up when the topic of Ryan reaching his first Final Four at UW was broached.

“I had a conversation with him,” Hayes said. “I don't really want to reveal what was said right now, but if everything goes as planned I will gladly tell you what that conversation sounded like.”

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