Bo Ryan mentioned at the Wisconsin basketball Media Day that he is entering his 40th season of coaching. The 2011-12 season will be his 27th as a head coach and 11th leading the Badgers. So when he talks for the first time publicly about his latest squad, people take note.
The press conference was full of Ryan's usual amount of anecdotes and coach speak. What Ryan didn't discuss on Monday was that he has a good chance to pass Bud Foster (265) as the all-time winningest head coach in Badger history this year. With a 242-91 record at UW, Ryan needs 24 victories to surpass Foster. That happens to be the exact number of wins that Wisconsin has averaged during Ryan's tenure. Foster, who coached the Badgers for 25 years, led the school to its lone national title in 1941.
You can watch the entire press conference at UWBadgers.com, but wouldn't you rather read on for a selection of the best quotes and commentary?
Inevitably, talk turned to senior point guard Jordan Taylor early on Media Day. "His role can expand, but his leadership won't change," Ryan said. "He'll be an even better leader this year."
The coach continued:
"He wants to be even more consistent, he wants to be more inclusive with his teammates, maybe in transition. There are some different things that we're looking at trying to get done with a different size team maybe on the floor. We might not be as big."
There is your first nod to small ball. Since four starters are set in stone, the major storyline of the preseason will be whether Ben Brust or Ryan Evans earns more minutes on the wing. Going with a three-man backcourt of Taylor, Brust and Josh Gasser would put UW at a disadvantage height-wise, although it would be foolish to underestimate the defensive tenacity of the 6'3" Gasser. The fifth wheel could be someone else like Rob Wilson, but that's doubtful (more on that later).
Ryan debunked the notion -- stemming from his own players -- that there is a renewed focus on getting the ball inside. He implied that idea comes from having "people that are hungry to get it inside."
"You always wanna touch the post. A lot of good things happen when you go through the post, but I emphasize it every year. Some guys are just comfortable with their back to the basket catching the ball and some guys aren't. So without belaboring that point ... there's not a coach around that doesn't want to touch the post."
I'll take the liberty of reading into Ryan's words and say he's pleased with Jared Berggren's desire to post up compared to the perimeter-oriented style of departed forwards Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil. He mentioned that he thinks Taylor is even stronger this year, so it could be that Jordan himself has added personal emphasis on his post-up game.
Strength and conditioning coach Scott Hettenbach also passed on that Berggren is one of the hardest workers on the team, echoing word from last year that Berggren is setting program agility records for big man. "He is ready," Ryan said flatly. "It's his time."
It sounds like Ryan feels it should be Rob Wilson's time too, but the desire hasn't translated into substance yet:
"You can show you're hungry if you're on the court. If you're not on the court, you can't. He's missed practices ... because of injury. We're just hoping he can be there every day."
Ryan's tone clearly indicated to me that he's as frustrated as anyone with Wilson's situation, emphasizing how the missed time cannot help but lead to inconsistency. Ryan said Wilson's current injury was not related to last year's lingering hamstring problem but did not offer additional details.
Another uphill battle for the senior. Although it should be noted that Wilson went on to impress onlookers at the open practice that followed the interview session.
On a more positive note, another star of the open practice was versatile freshman Jarrod Uthoff, who has clearly caught the coach's eye. Ryan's comments back up what we heard through the summer workouts about Uthoff's talent. He may be in a position to make a Gasser-like impact this season.
"He'll play at the University of Wisconsin, and he'll play early. He's a player. Better than expected. But don't tell him I said that. Right now he's kind of picking up things like Josh did last year. Coaches like good listeners, fast learners. And I've never seen a more conscientious guy."
Looking ahead, Ryan also commented on the improvement and impact from a pair of forwards who should play a role for Wisconsin in a year or two.
Alluding to Duje Dukan's defense as an area that will still hold back his playing time (no surprise), Ryan did say Dukan was fitting in better as a sophomore:
"He's sticking his nose in a little more. As a freshman, he [was] kind of trying to learn, pick his spots, that type of thing. He's better this year. He's stronger. His shot looks more confident."
Finally, despite Ryan calling him J-Bo on occasion, it seems like Zach Bohannon will be one of the coach's favorites during his abbreviated tenure. Being the brother of former Badger Jason Bohannon apparently has given him a head start on the Wisconsin way, though he must sit out the year during his transfer season.
"When we do our competitive drills, he's already sent a few messages. He's played a little bit in Division I, he played at Air Force. He's here because he wants to be here. And he's got a clue about what we like to do and how we like to do it."