"The Voice" with Matt Lepay

Thumbnail image for the_voiceSM.jpgI keep telling myself that at some point in my life, I'll need to grow up and get a real job. Then again, why? Here we are in Maui for a basketball tournament. Next week we will be in Honolulu for the final football game of the regular season. For yours truly, it marks trips number seven and eight to Hawaii for "work," errrrrrr, I mean, to broadcast sporting events.

This is the Badgers second trip to the Maui Invitational, the other journey coming in 1995 with Dick Bennett, who was in his first year as the Badgers coach. They were competitive against Villanova and UCLA, but fell to those national powers before beating Chaminade, the host school in the event. It was an interesting trip. 

Osita Nwachukwu left the bench late in the first half of the UCLA tilt. He was on the brink of leaving the program for good before cooler heads prevailed. Another player threatened to quit, but also reconsidered. In the 'Nova game, Bennett was hit with a technical after an official missed what looked to be a foul against one of Dick's players, but simply turned into a key turnover.

Still, it was a good trip.  While a flight to paradise is always nice, it is made better when teams face some early season tests. Bo Ryan's Badgers have had two good trips to the Virgin Islands, with a championship and a runner-up finish to show for it. It seems every year November basketball games produce some pretty good drama, and those kinds of games can serve a team well down the road.

On these types of trips, players do have some time for fun, but it is also a great opportunity for teams to grow together. In Bo's first year, the boys had a grueling travel schedule to start the season. They opened in Las Vegas against UNLV, then flew to the Big island Invitational in Hilo, Hawaii.  One day after returning home, they were right back on an airplane in route to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech.

I tend to believe the team started to come together during that stretch, even though they took a few bumps along the way.  Early in that trip, a couple of veteran players were struggling to understand Bo's way of doing things. In a transition period, that certainly isn't uncommon, but if the players don't "buy in," it can lead to trouble.

As the story goes, a conversation those players had with then-assistant coach Rob Jeter was an important chapter in what turned out to be a Big Ten championship season. Jeter knows Bo as well as anyone in the game, and Rob made it clear that everyone needed to be on the same page, and that the head coach has a reason for everything he does.

Maybe the Badgers did not need a trip to Hawaii to figure that out, but it never hurts when you are a long way from home, playing three games in three days, and spending a ton of time together. I truly believe in the old saying that there is nothing like traveling with someone to really know what he is all about.

Yes, a trip to Maui should be enjoyable, but I would guess all the coaches in this tournament are learning about their teams, and hoping that whatever happens in a November tournament will make them better in March.
ON WISCONSIN