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Bo Ryan talks retirement plans, Wisconsin basketball's next act at Big Ten media day

Bo Ryan talks fluid retirement plans, Ethan Happ and more at Big Ten media day in Chicago.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO -- As the keyboards clicked, seven-footers roamed the halls, coffee streamed through sportswriters' bodies and coaches once again donned suits and ties at Big Ten media day in Chicago, the only thing missing from officially kicking off college basketball season was, you know, the actual games.

But for those who have waited -- patiently or otherwise -- for over half a calendar year for the sport to return to campus gyms around the country, media day serves as the hors d'oeuvres to the incoming feast of college basketball.

The tip-off marathon! Thanksgiving weekend tournaments! The chaos of conference play! Bubble watch! Death, taxes and Bo Ryan! The inevitable upset of Georgetown by a double-digit seed! It's all yet to come!

There is still a month of waiting for the games to commence, but after a long six since the last game, any storyline stemming from legitimate college hoops talk out of the mouths of coaches and players is the water to a withered plant -- an orange, inflated, bouncing plant.

Bo knows. Or does he?

The whispers are sure to come from the far reaches of every corner of Wisconsin Badgers talk.

"Is Bo Ryan retiring at season's end?"

In late June, the Badgers' head coach of 14 seasons announced that he "decided to coach one more season" at Wisconsin and then retire. At a press conference the following day, Ryan cleft a slight crack in the door of returning beyond the 2015-16 season.

In August, he confirmed that door was not just cracked, but still completely open.

At media day, we learned that Ryan might be coming back beyond this season. Or he might not. For the time being, the 67-year-old Wisconsin legend is only thinking about the current Badgers team that will open the regular season Nov. 13 against Western Illinois at the Kohl Center.

"Believe me, all I've been thinking about this morning when I got up was the practice plan."

"I haven't made up my mind about anything other than coaching these guys," Ryan said. "We got practice at four this afternoon. Believe me, all I've been thinking about this morning when I got up was the practice plan.

"What drills were going to do, some of the guys have some nicks, some minor injuries. Are they going to be OK for practice? All my mind's doing right now is doing the things I've been doing for 40 years."

Ryan was his usual self while fielding questions at a roundtable in Chicago. In between answers about freshmen Ethan Happ and Charlie Thomas and discussing the rule changes to college basketball, he diverged into tangents about Saturday Night Live, Cheese Whiz and growing up in Chester, Pa. (Would it be a Ryan press conference without the latter?)

"I'm in the gym now and that's right where I belong," he said. "I belong in the gym."

It's Happ-ening

As reporters continued to spam Ryan with retirement questions, he reminded those in the crowd that he hoped he "could come to Big Ten media day and talk about Ethan Happ and his development," among other things.

When Bo Ryan makes a request, it's best to take him up on that.

Ryan lauded the improvement of the redshirt freshman over the course of his first season with the team. While Happ didn't see game action last season after redshirting, he was forced to take on a tall task daily in practice.

"How would you like to be a player that went against Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker every day?" Ryan asked. "You think you'd learn something? That's what we're hoping for. He handled it well."

How well, you ask?

"There were days when he kicked rear end up and down the floor and we'd scratch our heads."

Ryan said the 6'9 native of Milan, Ill., could have contributed last year if he was needed. However, with the likes of National Player of the Year Kaminsky, Dekker, Duje Dukan and Hayes in the frontcourt, his talents weren't required in game action and he decided to not lose a year of eligibility.

"Knowing that his minutes would have been limited, he made the best decision ever by redshirting," Ryan said. "And now he has four years and he's going to leave a mark."

"There were days when he kicked rear end up and down the floor and we'd scratch our heads."

Happ is projected to start alongside Hayes and junior Vitto Brown in the frontcourt for Wisconsin.

"Ethan, he's a workhorse, man," Brown said. "He's gotten better just playing against Frank every day in practice last year. So he's emulated some of his moves. He'll be good down low for us."

Great expectations

Despite losing five players from last season's national runner-up roster, the Badgers don't want to set their sights any lower.

"Goals never change," Brown said. "We plan on being just as good and we plan on making it just as far as we did. We know we're going to have to work a little harder."

When it comes to team expectations, that is one area where Ryan steps out of the way.

"The only way you'll know what the team's goals are is to ask the team," he said. "Because I don't go in and tell them what to hope for, what to wish for."

No kidding

Returning only 38 percent of their scoring from 2014-15, the Badgers will look to juniors Koenig and Hayes -- both preseason All-Big Ten players -- to carry much of the offense. So when the Milwaukee Bucks opened their training camp in Madison earlier this month, head coach Jason Kidd -- a 10-time NBA All-Star point guard himself -- was able to impart some wisdom into the Badgers floor general.

"I've got to be consistently aggressive, and that starts every day in practice, whether I'm feeling good or bad that day or tired in practice," Koenig said when asked what Kidd told him. "I just need to kind of tell myself I need to dominate every single practice."