UW Health Sports Medicine 

The Voice: Tourney win brought out best in Badgers

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgIt is probably fair to say the Badgers' performance in last week's Big Ten tournament did little to help or hurt its seeding for the NCAA tournament. Perhaps there have been exceptions, but as far as Wisconsin is concerned, in most years that seems to be the case.

Still, there was plenty of exciting basketball in Indianapolis. OK, the semifinal games will not be instant classics, but Thursday, Friday and Sunday provided good theater.

For Badgers fans, Friday's quarterfinal victory against Indiana was special. In recent weeks, fans have been watching Rob Wilson get more and more playing time. Hoosiers coach Tom Crean told his players that, since the first meeting between the two teams in late January, Wilson was the Badgers' most improved player.

Yet I doubt anyone in the building figured Wilson would explode for 30 points and make "Rob Wilson" a trending topic on Twitter.

As enjoyable as it was in the moment, what stood out to me was how happy his teammates and coaches were for him. While watching the highlights, I noticed the players on the bench jumping up and down. Of course they were happy for the team, but as Bo Ryan has said, everybody likes Wilson, so  that made the day even more fun.

After the game, associate head coach Greg Gard told us on the radio broadcast, "I haven't seen that since I recruited him at Garfield Heights." A few seconds later, Gard, for the second time in as many weeks, started to get emotional when talking about his senior from Cleveland, Ohio.

"I could not be happier for him," he said before his eyes started to water. Gard needed a few seconds to gather himself. "What he's had to go through, and what he's had to work towards. Umm (another pause). Glad to see him do this at this time."  

The same can be said of Ryan, who on Friday won his 266th game as the Badgers' boss, a school record. He, too, was thrilled for Wilson. "And what is so special about it is because the way Rob has been since Day One. A great young man, a fine young man that works hard."

The head coach has said that some players need more time than others to develop. Ryan said a friend of his sent a text message offering a similar observation.

"He mentioned how he has seen that happen in some research he has done about people. He knows about people, and he realizes, too, that people have certain times where the focus is a little better, and nobody has that timetable that they can tell you ahead of time."

The text was from David Maraniss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. His work includes books on Roberto Clemente and Vince Lombardi, among many others.

As for the record, "All the memories to me always go to the players and the teams and things that they did," said Ryan. "I just feel really good for all the people involved in the program."

Then the ultra-competitive head coach showed his human side, too. "There is so much that goes into it that I'm so thankful for, from my family. And the fact that my..."  Ryan needed three or four seconds to regain his composure before finishing the sentence. "My parents are still with me and had a chance to watch a lot of these games, and a lot of those teams that we've had."

I still think of Ryan's first season, when the Badgers upset seventh-ranked Illinois, 72-66. Among those who came out on the floor was Bo's father, Butch, pumping his fist as he joined the team in celebrating a memorable victory. No doubt  Butch and Louise are very proud.

This week it is all about the NCAA tournament, as the Badgers face Montana and an old friend in Grizzlies assistant coach and former UW player Freddie Owens. With Bo it is always about "next."  But as we head into what many call the greatest three weeks in sports, I just hope Badgers fans can cherish what took place last Friday in Indianapolis.

In the big picture of tournament seeding, it probably meant nothing. But sometimes sports can offer us a chance to witness something more important. Such as a player who has persevered, and a coach who just set a record, yet was thinking of everyone but himself.

Then again, maybe that is the essence of Wisconsin basketball.
ON WISCONSIN