No groundbreaking developments, injuries, lineup shuffles or roster decisions were revealed at Wisconsin's Basketball Media Day, but there was a healthy dose of those vintage Bo Ryan press conference riffs. Fast forwarding past Ryan's reason for missing Woodstock and stories about betting the horses, here are the five most important things to take away from Tuesday.
1. The swagger is back
At this time last season, a new attitude was percolating among the Badgers. Young leaders like Sam Dekker and Traevon Jackson ruffled a few feathers by verbalizing the team's desire to go after a national championship and belief that they had the ability to do so. Having lofty goals is nothing new, but Bo Ryan-coached players going public with the sentiment was a bit of a surprise. Even so, personally, I thought it was refreshing.
No games have been played, but that same attitude that served Wisconsin well in its run to the Final Four is still around. While the entire team has been vocal about returning to the Final Four and taking an even bigger step (#MakeEmBelieve), the young guys are once again leading the way in terms of bravado. Specifically, sophomore guard Bronson Koenig and redshirt sophomore Zak Showalter.
Bronson Koenig: "We have one goal, to win a national championship." #Badgers— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) October 21, 2014
Zak Showalter: "We could be the best in the country at every position." #Badgers— Zack Miller (@miller_zack) October 21, 2014
The Badgers know they have a target on their backs this season and they are choosing to embrace it. I think it's a good move.
2. Bo loves his coaching staff
One of my favorite quotes of the day came from Bo Ryan in a response to a question about player conditioning. He was asked whether players being in great shape year-round leaves more time for the teaching aspect of coaching.
"Without a doubt, having a couple of hours and having a little more access with our players, across the country, definitely helps the teachers of the game," Ryan said. "I'm very fortunate, they are a very, very good teaching staff. They're not just here because of their looks, because they can just recruit, because they can bring me two or three AAU players from a team they used to work on ... I've got guys that can teach and work with players and get 'em better. So it's definitely an advantage for a Wisconsin."
3. Happ pressing Brown for playing time
The practice battles between freshman Ethan Happ and sophomore Vitto Brown have drawn a lot of attention. Happ has flashed nice potential and a willingness to mix it up inside, while Brown has been working back into game shape after missing time with foot issues this fall. As a result, Happ was a hot topic among the local media. The 6'9, 230-pound freshman has been receptive to the idea of redshirting all along, but regardless of his decision, you can tell he's earned the respect of his peers.
Bo Ryan on freshman Ethan Happ: He's not shy. Everybody appreciates that. When he's on a team, guys aren't saying "Oh we got Ethan" #Badgers— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) October 21, 2014
#Badgers coach Ryan said when teams are picked, the vets are confident Happ will help/contribute.— Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) October 21, 2014
E. Happ said he'll have a better idea on redshirting after Red and White game, based on playing time. Says he'll talk to coaches. #Badgers— Jesse Temple (@jessetemple) October 21, 2014
Bo reminds the media that last year’s freshmen had Canada trip to get possessions under their belt. Happ doesn’t have that luxury— Zack Miller (@miller_zack) October 21, 2014
Both players have good length to patrol the interior and will continue to battle it out for the fifth forward's minutes behind Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes and Duje Dukan. As Zach Heilprin reports, Happ and Brown have become good friends off the court and are in fact roommates this year.
Regarding Brown, he learned a lot about the importance of consistency last year, especially on the offensive end. As for his progress being stunted by the foot trouble, Ryan bluntly said: "Vitto in basketball, because he is behind, it's a wait-and-see. But he's trying to catch up. Boy, his energy out there ... he's doing some good things. Again, another one of the guys that we're not trading." It's too early to tell if this is a "shades of Rob Wilson" situation or just a blip on the radar.
4. This is Traevon's team
For all the talent on the roster, one gets the feeling that this team will go only as far as Traevon Jackson takes them. That statement was terrifying two seasons ago, but much less so as we approach 2015. Jackson puts in the work needed to improve each season and continues to improve as a point guard, despite the criticism hurled at him from outsiders.
Yet Jackson has the full confidence of his coach, which is why Ryan allowed him to miss some of the off-season work with the team to partake in a unique experiences with an Athletes in Action trip and Chris Paul camp this summer. Ryan never worried that Jackson would be lagging behind when he returned, as Jesse Temple explained. Zack Miller added an interesting angle on Jackson's relationship with Michigan State's Travis Trice.
Jackson's spiritual grounding has provided him a quiet confidence to survive the naysayers' chatter, something teammate Sam Dekker said is unwarranted. In Dekker's eyes, fans will see the best Traevon this season.
"Trae is one of the most confident players I've ever played with, one of the most mentally tough guys and a guy I look up to overall. He's looked great this offseason. He's looking stronger than I've seen him even in the past, and he's always been a strong guy."
5. The fifth starter and bench potential
No, we don't know who the fifth starter will be for sure, but according to Wisconsin's head coach, it could be Koenig. Or Hayes. Or Dukan.
"They will be the key to this season," Ryan said.
Hayes has been impressing onlookers with his three-point range during early practices, which is the result of a ton of good old fashioned practice.
I asked Nigel Hayes how many 3s he took this offseason: "How many times did you blink your eyes this offseason?" Nice. #Badgers— Jesse Temple (@jessetemple) October 21, 2014
I asked Bo if he saw Nigel Hayes becoming a 3-pointer shooter: Said he could make up story. But "No. I didn’t see him as a 3-point shooter."— Jesse Temple (@jessetemple) October 21, 2014
#Badgers Duje Dukan much more confident/assertive. Sounds poised for big senior season. Can't talk Bears, though!— Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) October 21, 2014
#Badgers G Bronson Koenig worked with martial arts instructor in offseason to strengthen core.— Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) October 21, 2014
It's a pleasure talking to Jordan Hill. I liked him before, just watching him play. But I like him more now. He's ready to prove something.— Jesse Temple (@jessetemple) October 21, 2014
Zak Showalter said all he did during redshirt year was prepare to transition to shooting guard next to Bronson Koenig. #Badgers— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) October 21, 2014
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