Basketball season is just around the corner, bringing with it preseason polls, hype and Bo Ryan back behind the microphone. Wisconsin's relentlessly entertaining head coach enters his 14th season in Madison, one loaded with anticipation unseen in more than a decade.
At Thursday's Big Ten media day in Chicago, Ryan did his best to downplay those expectations, discussing the loss of Ben Brust to graduation and how the team will have a riveting battle for his vacated starting spot. Ryan also had a healthy point: though Wisconsin's one of the most scrutinized teams at this point, it's not like the program hasn't been here before. All it took was a few namedrops of Devin Harris, Alando Tucker and Jordan Taylor to nail that point home.
Here's the full video and transcript of Ryan's press conference -- B5Q's Sam Brief is covering the event from Chicago and will have much more throughout the next few days. Our friends at BT Powerhouse have also rounded up all the Big Ten coaches' interview video.
BO RYAN: On behalf of the players, the run these guys made, I was happy to be a part of that. I couldn't have been around a better group of young men. I thought they handled everything real well, very proud of them. Now, we've got some work to do.
Q. Over the last few seasons, you guys have kind of flown under the radar. Now this year you guys have been picked as the top dog in the conference. How do you guys handle that as the season begins?
BO RYAN: Well, it really doesn't affect when we're doing our transition defensive drills, I don't think my guys are thinking about that. Our guys live in the moment, or at least we're trying to‑‑ it appears that way. They're trying to get better. They know there's weaknesses to shore up, and we're trying to accentuate our strengths. Basketball is a game of momentum, a game of streaks, which we saw last year with our season. But I think what our guys have done is just, we lost a very important part to graduation in Ben Brust, but he stretched the defenses. He was a great rebounder for his size. Nobody for his size rebounded the way he did. He gave us some dimensions that might be a little difficult to replace, but we've got some guys that are trying to do that right now.
But as far as the expectations and everything else, most of the players that are playing in the Big Ten played in high schools where their teams were targeted, where their teams were marked. So I think they're kind of used to that kind of attention to where it doesn't affect how hard they know they need to work. What I've seen so far in practice is they're practicing the same way they have those couple years you mentioned under the radar, so to speak. They're practicing every bit as hard as that, if not more.
Q. You talked about the loss of Ben Brust to graduation. How much confidence do you have in underclassmen like Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes to pick up that production?
BO RYAN: Well, we're hoping for some surprises. Not a lot of questions last year were asked about Nigel Hayes or Bronson Koenig last year. The fact that you're mentioning their names now, they've had some experience, they've been in the mix, they've been under fire, so hopefully that translates into a more mature, physically and mentally, approach when they get on the court. We're going to need that.
Q. You guys are often known as kind of being the sum is more than the parts team. Is there something to getting that kind of Big Ten national recognition kind of honors?
BO RYAN: Well, having been around a little bit, how soon do we forget the Sports Illustrated cover of Orlando Tucker and Brian Butch. Devin Harris played in our program, Jordan Taylor. We've had First‑Team All‑Big‑Ten guys. I think what you're referring to, though, is that collectively for a couple players, or even more so, sixth man of the year last year in a Nigel Hayes. When you say sum of the parts, there are good players throughout the league on every team, and it's how that mixture plays off of one another that usually makes the difference in how your season comes out. Last year I thought our guys played off of each other, as well as anybody in the country, and therefore I thought that was the reason for the run that we made at the end. But we've had parts before that got some attention.
Q. Back in the day when there were 11 teams in this conference, you were the one guy that said, let's play 20 games during the regular season and make it even. Now that there's 14 teams in the conference, does the eight one‑plays that you're going to have going forward, does it bother you? What's your opinion on it?
BO RYAN: Let's play 26. Ernie Banks said let's play two, didn't he? No, 20 would be great. Scheduling is so hard nowadays. I've said this before, so I'm not going to beat a drum here about scheduling, but to play the RPI teams and to play where their RPIs will be at the time, to play 20 games in our league, I think it would be great for the league if we could squeeze it in, if we could do it. There's a lot of other factors. It's not like Mark Rudner sits up and night thinking, oh, good, let's see if we can't get 20 or 22 league games scheduled in here. I don't think he's looking at that. I think there's been some test runs at looking at things.
I would not be opposed to playing 20 at all.
Q. After making the Final Four last year for the first time since 2000, what types of challenges are ahead of you in trying to return to that big stage?
BO RYAN: Well, I think challenges for coaches and coaches staffs are the same whether you finished bottom half of your league, if you finished .500. Still, for the next season, what you're looking to do is try to see if you can continue to develop your players. That's our job. We're mentors. We're trying to get them better, not just as individuals but as teammates. I've always approached every season the same way, this being my 43rd in this profession. You can't possibly think that I woke up this fall thinking, oh, wow, I'm going to do something different this year. We're not. The coaching staff isn't. The players are the ones that put a lot of time in in the off season. The returning players, they're hoping that pays off, and that's all you can do. You can prepare, you train, you take care of business in the classroom, you put yourself in a position to be successful, and then let's play. The conversation is great and that's what everybody in this room is involved with, conversation about our teams, and it's great because the sport couldn't be any more popular than it is right now. Our league couldn't be any better. I mean, with the size and the areas that we're going now, all the people that are going to see us, we'll lead the country again in attendance.
For us, we know that every night we play in the Big Ten, for example, there's going to be a great crowd. It's going to be a great venue, the best competition. So for us, we're going to do what we do, and the players are going to be finding out more about themselves as we go along, once we start playing non‑conference and preparing for the Big Ten.
Q. What sort of impact along those lines do you see the expansion having on the league and on your program from a competitive standpoint and a recruiting standpoint?
BO RYAN: Well, it can only help. I started as an assistant in the '70s. We were able to get some players from the East, Wes Matthews from Bridgeport. The Gregory brothers from Coolidge High in D.C., Larry Petty from Memorial, Danny Hastings out of Philly. Well, then the '80s came, and the Big East came in, and the players from the East were not traveling to the Midwest anywhere near in the numbers they were before. So when you ask a person like myself that saw that happen, now you're opening up the East more to the Midwest, and you're also opening up the Midwest for people who maybe want to go to the shore in the off season. If we lose some recruits because they want to go to the Jersey Shore, that's going to hurt. I go to the Jersey Shore every summer. But it's opened up more recruiting areas for the teams that have been added and for the teams that have already been in existence in the Big Ten. We've expanded our horizons, and I think it's great.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports