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Mike Eaves used two words - "emotional energizer'' to punctuate his
thoughts on the topic. Was the UW men's hockey coach addressing A) the
13-year, $98 million contracts that Ryan Suter and Zach Parise signed
with the Minnesota Wild; B) the Hockey City Classic pitting the
Wisconsin Badgers and Minnesota Gophers at Chicago's historic Soldier
Field in February; C) his anticipation level for the 2012-2013 season;
the school's final one in the WCHA; or D) the completion of the La Bahn
In spirit alone, Eaves was speaking to "all of the above''
upon returning to his Kohl Center office Monday following his annual
summer pilgrimage to Montana. While he was vacationing, two of his
former pupils - Parise and Suter - scored huge NHL free agent contracts.
Eaves coached Parise and Suter, who skated one season at Wisconsin
before turning pro with the Nashville Predators, to gold medals in the
World Under-18 Championships in 2002 and the World Junior Championship
"I guess that I was a little surprised that they both
went to the same team,'' said Eaves, a member of the Minnesota North
Stars during his NHL playing days in the early '80s. "There was a little
bit of a rumor about that (happening) but there were a lot of teams
that had their foot in the door and really wanted them. I think it's
great for Minnesota. They (the Wild) are now starting to put some
fundamental pieces together and getting closer to being a championship
Reflecting on Suter's growth, Eaves cited his comfort
level on the ice and said "It was like, 'This is what he was meant to
do.' It's like when you watch someone and right away you're drawn to him
because they have this special presence. It's their control, their
skill, their ability. It's like watching Celine Dion on stage. They talk
about having a stage presence. Ryan Suter has this ice presence, if you
The special players share many of the same defining
characteristics, Eaves added. That would include another notable free
agent defenseman with an "ice presence'' - Justin Schultz, who skipped
his final year of eligibility at Wisconsin and recently signed with the
Edmonton Oilers. "It's a young team and he can grow up with them,''
Eaves said. "He's going to have a chance to play right away.''
has been a busy and profitable off-season free agent market for former
UW players. Adam Burish has been reunited with his old teammate and
roommate, Joe Pavelski, with the San Jose Sharks. Burish signed a
four-year, $7.2 million deal. "He's a piece of the puzzle that people
recognize they need to have,'' Eaves said. "He's a winner. You need that
type of person to accept his role and excel in it.''
So what has been Wisconsin's role in grooming so many NHL-ready players?
ask about that, 'What are you doing (right) there?''' Eaves said.
"First of all, we've gotten top-notch young men and they have a lot of
things that we don't teach. Secondly, the coaches we've had here are
good teachers and played at that (pro) level and can give them insight.
And we have a total program with the things we do off-ice with the
strength coaches that we've had like Jim Snider.
"There are some
real good things here that are being combined with their natural
abilities. There are about four or five programs that have quite a few
of their former players in the NHL. And we're one of them, so it does
get noticed ... our formula or ideal to win at this level is about
excellence. The Navy Seals have a great saying, 'The way you do anything
is the way you do everything.'''
That quest for excellence
extends to all corners of a successful hockey program and beyond. That
quest drives Eaves, too, particularly coming off a season in which the
Badgers failed to make the NCAA tournament. "We didn't get in, because
we ran out of games,'' he said. "At the end of the year, we could beat
anybody and nobody wanted to play us because we were coming into our
Youth was served. Growing pains were plentiful. But Eaves
is confident that the returning core of players learned their lessons
and benefited from the orientation, however rude at times. "We knew that
we were going to be young,'' Eaves said. "Then you get on the ice and
you go, 'Whoa.' That's when reality hits ... (but) we started something
at the end of the year and morphed into a team that believed.
"We're moving in the right direction.''
of the highlights of the upcoming season will be Wisconsin's appearance
in the Hockey City Classic that will be staged Feb. 17 at Chicago's
Soldier Field. The Badgers will play Minnesota in one half of the
doubleheader with Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio) matching up in the other
"It's an emotional energizer,'' Eaves said Monday.
Especially for two of his players who are Chicago-area products.
Frankie Simonelli is from Bensenville and Michael Mersch is from Park Ridge.
"I'm sure they're already talking to their teammates about getting extra tickets,'' Eaves said.
This will mark the third time that the Badgers have taken part in an outdoor game.
ask me all the time, 'Why are you doing that?''' Eaves said. "We have
one of the longest seasons in college athletics. At that time of year -
kind of the dog days of February - we get to do something that is unique
and special to bring the energy back into the season.''
energy manifests itself whenever Eaves looks out his office window at
the adjacent La Bahn Arena, which will house a practice facility for the
men's program and serve as home ice for the Badger women. The project
has many other amenities, like new locker rooms.
"There's nothing like it in the country,'' he said proudly.
Jumping out of his chair, Eaves all but pressed his nose against the glass.
the very first day (of the construction), we've found ourselves doing
this in the morning; just watching like a little kid might,'' he said.
"Wait 'til you walk into that arena. You'll go, 'Wow. Are you kidding
me? Are you kidding me?' This is the final jewel in the crown that we
call this hockey program.''
Camp Randall Stadium's new FieldTurf surface is more aesthetically pleasing to the eyes and physically forgiving to the legs than the old rug, which was first installed nine years ago. But on a blazing hot day -- when the temperature is soaring above 100 degrees -- it can still radiate heat like a griddle.
Not that UW football strength coach Ben Herbert minds.
"I think the heat is a great thing,'' he said Thursday with a mischievous grin.
The summer conditioning phase of Wisconsin's out-of-season program began on June 4 in what turned out to be an unseasonably hot and dry month. July has brought more of the same -- more heat and more humidity (and little or no rain). Madison has registered nine straight days in which the temperature has reached 90 or above, including the last two days, which have topped 100.
"Your radar is obviously on high alert to make sure you're really dialed in,'' Herbert said. "We're always like that, but you just want to make sure because of the heat. Our Sports Medicine staffers, Mike (Moll) and Patrick (Whitley), do a great job of watching the guys and seeing where they're at. At any point, if they need to step aside and take a breather, they fully understand that's what they need to do.''
Herbert likes to talk about athletes "being comfortable when you're uncomfortable'' during training. But there are limits, and his approach reflects that on a daily basis. "There are always times where you have to give some external motivation to really bring the best out of them,'' he said. "But if a guy is having trouble tolerating something, we don't approach it as, 'You're soft, you're mentally weak.'''
Herbert believes in building up players.
"Our guys have a clear understanding,'' he said, "that if there's something they're exposed to, and it makes them feel a certain way -- just something is not right -- they need to take the needed steps to get right mentally and physically. Be smart with how you feel and understand where you're at.''
The Badgers have been in a very good spot -- to Herbert's thinking -- since early June.
"Our guys came back ready to work from Day One and they're excited,'' Herbert said.
Last weekend marked the halfway point of the eight-week summer phase.
Reflecting on the results, Herbert said, "We really did hit the ground running.''
The Fourth of July, in this context, was significant to Herbert for only one reason.
"We treated it as a normal training day,'' he said.
That meant four different groups trained at 6:30 a.m. and 12:30, 2:30 and 4:30 p.m.
"For being as hot as it was, they tolerated it extremely well,'' Herbert said.
Besides a weight room session, there was over an hour of sprint work on the new turf.
"The guys love it,'' Herbert said. "It looks great and it feels good to their body and legs.''
An impish grin reappeared on his face.
"Because of the softer surface,'' he said, "the (blocking) sleds are a little heavier (to push).
"They don't slide quite as easily as they did before -- which I don't mind.''
After one more sizzling hot day, the temperature is expected to drop into the 80s this weekend.
"We address it as needed,'' Herbert said, "and we've had no guys with issues.''
If someone is struggling, he stressed, "We put him in the best situation health-wise.''
Speaking to the bottom line, Herbert went on, "We're going to get the work in we need.''
But everybody is going to be smart about it.
"If there are things they can't tolerate,'' he said, "we'll obviously back off accordingly.''
Despite the record-setting heat, the Badgers have continued to make positive gains.
"That,'' he said of July 4th, "was as good of a day as we've had all summer.''
Training under such conditions has its advantages.
"From a preparation standpoint, this is outstanding,'' said Herbert, a former UW defensive player. "I've been in a couple of training camps that were like dreams -- 60 to 70 degrees. But they're few and far apart. Usually it's between 80 and 85. This year has been unique. August is going to be hot and once they put the pads and helmet on they will be better acclimated to tolerate the heat.''
That's when the players will be forced to make some adjustments.
"When you put that helmet on, it changes everything,'' Herbert said. "The majority of heat that escapes from your body is through the top of your head. When you trap that heat with a plastic shell, it changes the dynamic of how your body must tolerate that heat. From a heat acclimation standpoint, it would be outstanding if we could prepare them with their helmets on (in June and July).''
Regarding changes in NCAA legislation, he conceded, "I fully understand and agree why it is the way it is. But maybe at some point down the line they could understand how it would be beneficial.''
Herbert was speaking Thursday from his new office. The weight room has been relocated from the basement of the McClain Facility to its footprint under the stands in the north end of Camp Randall. For now, Herbert is sharing some space with the makeshift training and equipment rooms.
"I wouldn't even say there has been an adjustment,'' he said of the ongoing construction.
That's noteworthy considering the players have been shuffled to a temporary locker room area in the stadium -- space once used by Badger football teams in the '70s and 80s -- while the old room is being remodeled in McClain. "It has been as smooth as it could possibly be,'' Herbert observed.
"It has been as seamless of a transition as I could have ever hoped for. We're excited about the temporary space and some of the things that we've been able to do. And it excites you that much more knowing what it's going to be like when it's done. It will be unbelievable.''
Give the new weight room some time to evolve, he suggested, and it will develop a personality.
"No doubt,'' Herbert said. "That was one of the things that I realized was going to be different because of all the sweat and sacrifice and just the aura that the old space had in McClain. The guys liked to grind in there.
"The new setup has no frills. It's not the prettiest you've ever seen. But it sets up well and it's very conducive to putting in the work that we need to put in. The guys have responded well.
"It's definitely already taken on an identity of its own.''
Given his own personal odyssey in professional basketball, Brian Butch is more than willing to share some of his experiences with another former UW player, Jordan Taylor, who's just embarking on the journey. What would be the first thing he would tell him? "Buckle-up, it's a great roller-coaster,'' he said. "Honestly, he just needs to know that it's a job now.''
The 27-year-old Butch stands to be much more than just a sounding board to Taylor, 22. He's also set to become an NBA Summer League teammate. Butch and Taylor have agreed to play for the Atlanta Hawks' entry in Las Vegas; marking the first intersection of their playing careers. "It will be nice to see a familiar face,'' Taylor said. "But at the end of the day, you have to go out and play ball.''
Both are walking into the unknown from the standpoint of what Atlanta's roster might look like at the end of the summer. The Hawks have reportedly not only traded Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets, but they've unloaded Marvin Williams to Utah for the expiring contract of Devin Harris, the No. 5 selection in the 2004 draft, and another former Badger point guard.
Reports have Atlanta positioning itself for a run at Orlando's Dwight Howard, the No. 1 overall pick in '04. The only certainty is that the Hawks' new general manager, Danny Ferry, is shaking things up. At the start of the week, Atlanta had only six players under contract. That is subject to dramatic change with the pending Johnson and Williams transactions that can't be consummated officially until July 11.
"It's July,'' Taylor said, "and a lot of things could change between now and October.''
Atlanta is offering Taylor and Butch access to a stage where they show what they can do.
"It's an opportunity,'' Butch said. "All you need is a chance.''
Resiliency also helps.
"There are going to be ups and downs,'' Butch acknowledged. "Even in the Summer League, there are going to be days when the coaches think you're great and there are going to be days when the coaches think you're horrible. You have to be ready for everything.''
Speaking directly to what Taylor needs to learn, Butch said, "The biggest thing is that he has to be confident in what he does best -- that's take care of the basketball and create for others. If he does that, he can make his way on to a team. There's no doubt that he can play in the league.
"What's the difference between guys who make it, and don't? It's opportunity, it's staying healthy and it's timing. If he (Jordan) gets into the right situation, there's no reason that he can't be the third point guard or even the second guard for someone (in the NBA).
"Everyone is so good at this level, the separation between what makes a guy stick, and what doesn't, isn't much. It's all about the fit and the timing. Everybody knows what you can and can't do.
"I can shoot the ball, but can I rebound? Jordan can take care of the ball, but can he distribute?''
Taylor is counting on answering some questions in the Summer League; a small window of five games in seven days. Milwaukee and Cleveland each offered a roster slot. Why the Hawks? Taylor didn't even work out for Atlanta prior to the draft. "It's more of an impulse thing,'' he said.
It wasn't like he studied the various rosters and determined that Hawks were the most guard-needy. "At this point, there's going to be competition everywhere you go,'' he said, "so you can't really try to duck and dodge (better players) or hand pick a place where you don't think they have any guards.''
It's more about the playing opportunity than the team affiliation, too. "The nice thing about being undrafted,'' Taylor said, "is that if I play well in the Summer League, maybe I'll have a chance to get invited to a lot of different training camps as opposed to just one (if he had been drafted).''
Asked whether Wesley Matthews could be utilized as a model -- Matthews was an undrafted free agent out of Marquette who used the Summer League as a stepping stone to his NBA career -- Taylor said, "It shows that it's not impossible. My goal is still attainable, still reachable. It might be a little tougher, it might be a little harder route this way (as a free agent) but it's not impossible.''
Taking the lead from UW coach Bo Ryan -- a huge fan of the movie "Dum and Dumber'' -- Taylor alluded to the exchange between Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) and Mary Swanson (Lauren Holley).
Upon inquiring what were the chances that he could wind up with a girl like her, she responded, "Not good.'' He countered, "You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?'' She replied, "I'd say more like one out of a million.'' After a pause, he shot back, "So you're telling me there's a chance?''
Opined Taylor of his Summer League audition and NBA dream, "As long as there's a chance ...''
Butch can relate, especially after the injury setbacks that he has endured and overcome. After keeping his career alive overseas, bouncing from China to Germany to Greece, Butch used the NBA Developmental League as a springboard to a roster spot with the Denver Nuggets.
But in early July of 2010, Butch dislocated his left patellar tendon while playing for the Nuggets in a Summer League game against the Lakers. After months and months of rehab, Butch went to training camp with the New Orleans Hornets and tore his MCL, which put him on the sidelines again. After more rehab, he joined Bakersfield (Calif.) in the D-League and let the team in scoring over the final 21 games.
"I don't know if you're ever left with a good taste playing in the D-League,'' he admitted. "But that was huge -- as far as confidence -- and what I needed to do. I feel good right now. I'm in great shape. I've changed my diet. I've changed my training a little bit. I've done everything I could do for this.
"Do my knees hurt? Yeah, they hurt. But it's about as good as they're going to feel and it's not like a 'bad' hurt. It's just more of, 'You're getting old' type feeling. The frustrating thing is that I have to be in the Summer League again. But I understand that because I've been hurt so many times.
"Hopefully I'll play a lot in the Summer League, and play well, and that leads to a training camp invitation wherever. Hopefully it's Atlanta. But if not, hopefully it will be to a camp somewhere. I've got to play really well so people can see that I'm healthy again.''
The window, he conceded, is beginning to close. So what keeps him going? Maybe it's the realization that former UW teammate Greg Stiemsma kept grinding overseas and at the lower levels of competition until finally catching a break. The Boston Celtics were short on "bigs'' and he filled the void.
"As you can see with Greg,'' said Butch, "it's a matter of what you do with that timing.''
What else is driving Butch?
"I'm just stubborn,'' he said. "I'm going to decide when I'm done on my terms. It's not going to be because my knees don't let me do something. When push comes to shove, I still love the game of basketball. I'll deal with all the BS because I love the game. It's that simple.''
Butch knows that some NBA general managers may do a double-take when they spot his name on Atlanta's roster for the Summer League. "They'll be thinking, 'What is Butch still doing this for?''' he said. "It's just who I am, and what I do. I want to play at the top level and I know that I'm good enough.''
Butch and his wife, Megan, will soon be celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary. The couple purchased a home in Neenah, Wis., to be close to family. "I've told her, 'If I was a little better player or a little worse player, our life would be a lot easier,'' he said. "But I am what I am. We're stuck with it.''
If he doesn't make the NBA in the next two years, Butch said, "I can go overseas and still make a good living.'' But he agreed to play in the Summer League "to try and reach my goals and dreams.''
Not unlike the timetable that Taylor has set for himself. "At this level,'' Taylor said, "you have to take everything in stride and remember it's nothing personal.''
He's a quick study.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema sounded excited to be a part of college football history with the advent of a four-team playoff that will replace the BCS model beginning with the 2014 season.
Doing the simple math, though, he expressed the one obvious concern that is shared by all of his fraternity brothers in the coaching profession. There is a concern, you ask?
"Yeah, if I'm No. 5,'' he said, grinning. "Everybody used to talk about the No. 3 and No. 4 teams that didn't get to play for the championship. Now they're going to be talking about No. 5 and No. 6.
"I think it's probably legit to say that every year you're going to have teams that can play the excuse game on why they should be there.
"But to have four teams that will have a shot to win it all now is really cool.''
The Rose Bowl will not only be part of the six-bowl rotation for the two semifinal games, but it will be locked into a 4 p.m. (CST) kickoff on Jan. 1 through 2026 (Jan. 2 if New Year's Day is a Sunday).
The Tournament of Roses also announced Thursday that the Rose Bowl would continue to honor a Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup in those years that it's not playing host to a national semifinal.
That type of stability and/or continuity is priceless, Bielema pointed out.
"Of course, we're all a little biased,'' he conceded. "I've been there as a player and a coach. I know the Rose Bowl is a sacred, hallowed ground for college football, especially for the Big Ten.''
The new system will render polls virtually meaningless in their current form, thereby eliminating what has always been a healthy source of debate and controversy for fans, players and coaches alike.
The preseason polls, in particular, were problematic; especially from Bielema's viewpoint. The Badgers were off the radar in 2006, his first season; yet fought all the way back to a No. 5 final ranking.
"I was a new head coach with a new team and people had questions,'' he recalled. "But we finished 12-1 and I felt like we were a BCS (bowl) level team (that had to settle for something less).
"I've always been in favor of ranking teams later in the year because you have a chance then to truly find out who has good teams -- and it's not based on just good projections.''
College football is expected to adopt the NCAA's basketball model for a selection committee, which would include a collection of current athletic directors and league commissioners.
That would eliminate the importance of two BCS staples: the USA Today Coaches Poll and the Harris Poll. There have been reports, too, that the tweaked system will rank teams by tiers; another notable departure from the past.
Winning a conference title will carry weight with the committee, especially if teams are comparable in other criteria. Strength of schedule will also become a key component in the equation.
Bielema, for one, has long been an advocate of spacing out the non-conference opponents, as opposed to playing all four games at the front of the schedule in advance of Big Ten competition.
Alabama, for example, will open SEC West play the third week of the season: Sept. 15 against Arkansas. The Tide will then go out of conference for Western Carolina on Nov. 17.
"Playing those (FCS) teams is just a fact of life,'' Bielema said. "But I think a conference's strength of schedule is going to be a big part (of the new formula).''
One of football's greatest strengths, he noted, is still the regular season.
"I hear basketball coaches talking all the time about how they've got to win six games at the end of the year to win a national championship,'' he said. "Well, we've got to win 13, sometimes 14.
"I like that element to our sport -- the importance of the regular season -- which is unprecedented in the world of college sports. I like the hype around our college game day.''
By extending the season with a playoff, some questions have been raised about the physical toll that the extra games might take on those players who are involved, however many are exposed.
It might be the greatest argument, in fact, against the potential for an eight- or 16-team playoff. University presidents have addressed these concerns by locking into a four-team playoff for 12 years.
Bielema, the quintessential player's coach, recognizes the risks.
"I think we're at the limit right now,'' he said of the 15 games that the two finalists would play. "We're maxing them out. If we did anything more, we'd have to change the way we train them.''
Added Wisconsin defensive coordinator Chris Ash, "These guys are still 18- to 21-year-old student-athletes and there's already a lot on their plates.''
Even though it will only impact a few teams, Ash was pleased to hear the semifinals will be staged on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day and the championship on the second Monday of January.
"These kids are here all summer and show up for training camp in August,'' Ash said. "They're here all fall. They don't get a Thanksgiving break. They don't get a Christmas break.
"If you were to take away their winter break -- between the first and second semesters (in January) -- it would have been really tough on the student-athlete.''
Ash, like Bielema, is excited to see how the playoff is going to fall into place logistically.
"You knew it was going to come and I'm kind of curious to see how it will all work out once we get to that point,'' Ash said. "Change is good, and it kind of seemed like it was going in that direction.''
Expanding to four teams that will compete for the championship is one thing. "But honestly,'' Ash said, "there are probably only about 20 to 25 teams who have a shot of getting there.''
Wisconsin has definitely put itself in that company. Over the last three years, the Badgers are among the winningest programs in the nation; their overall run includes 10 straight bowl appearances.
UW offensive line coach Mike Markuson believes the playing field nationally is more level than people think, despite the fact that the SEC has won the last six national championships.
Markuson coached at Mississippi and Arkansas, so he has a good frame of reference.
"College football is every changing and a playoff is something that people have been screaming about for awhile,'' Markuson said. "To me, it's going to give somebody a chance that was maybe hovering out there (among the top teams) and thinking, 'Why not us? Why weren't we involved?'''
Given that backdrop, he added, "I'm excited to see what it's all about up here (in the Big Ten).''
As someone who has already personally invested so much in college football -- as a former player, head coach and current athletic director -- Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez is convinced that a four-team playoff will pay off big dividends and ensure the continued success and popularity of the sport.
"I was pleased that the commissioners were able to come to an agreement on the playoff model,'' Alvarez said. "There was a lot of positioning -- and a lot of give-and-take in the end -- and I liked what they came up with. I'm also pleased the presidents approved the changes.''
Alvarez was one of the ADs invited to play a role in the discovery phase of the process. As a result, he has tried to keep an open mind to all potential options or scenarios. One of his points of emphasis -- making sure that nothing compromised the integrity of the regular season.
"I think everyone agrees that we have the best regular season of all sports,'' he said of the competitive element that exists from September through November. "That's why I've always felt it was so important to preserve the regular season, which we have with this four-team playoff.''
Preserving the bowls -- especially the Rose Bowl -- was also at the top of Alvarez's list. With a six-bowl rotation for the two semifinal games, the Rose Bowl will be assured of a traditional Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup two out of every three years (or eight times over the length of the 12-year contract).
The Big Ten has been matched against the Pac-12 in six of the last 11 Rose Bowls since 2002.
"You have to give up a little bit; much like we gave up in the BCS's four-year rotation with the Rose Bowl,'' Alvarez said of the league's negotiating approach. " But this allows us to be in the mix (for a national championship) and still have our relationship with the Rose Bowl.''
When the dialogue began to heat up on the proposed playoff to replace the BCS model, Alvarez supported the concept of a selection committee, not unlike what has been used to determine the field in the NCAA basketball tournament.
"I've been a proponent of a committee all along,'' he said. "And with that comes transparency where all the criteria are known. I've never been a big fan of the computers. There are a lot of people who know football and I trust the human element more than I did the old BCS formula.
"I like the fact a committee will be taking a lot of things into consideration; they'll be giving credit to the league champion and weighing different things, including strength of schedule.''
Does that mean that Wisconsin will attempt to strengthen its schedule?
"Bret (Bielema, the UW football coach) and I have talked about that,'' Alvarez said. "In 2017, we'll add a Pac-12 opponent every year. That will leave us with three non-conference dates to fill.
"If you want to be competitive and in the (final four) mix, you have to be cognizant of your nonconference schedule. I'd like to see us put another BCS opponent on the schedule (circa 2017).
"We can go from there still knowing we have to play at least seven home games each year.''
Would Alvarez be willing to serve on a national selection committee? "I would be interested,'' he said. "With my background, I think I'm knowledgeable enough about the business.''
Alvarez would not have a problem with former head coaches on the committee, either.
Regardless of the selection guidelines, he knows that a healthy debate will likely ensue.
That comes with the turf, new or old.
"A lot of people complained about the BCS, but it was very good for college football; the sport has never been more popular,'' Alvarez emphasized. "People have said all along that it needed to be tweaked. If you go back and read my statements from previous years, I said the same things.''
Alvarez recognizes that the four-team playoff is not a panacea.
"Everybody is not going to be satisfied,'' he conceded.
But it was a positive move, he insisted, that will only enhance the product.
"You now have a chance for a truer national champion,'' he said.
There was Mohammed Ahmed's fifth-place finish in the NCAA cross country championship that helped spark Wisconsin to its fifth national team title the in sport, and first since 2005.
"One of the greatest moments of my life," he said.
There was Ahmed's run in the 10,000 meters at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational that easily met the Olympic "A" qualifying standard and broke the school record by nearly 30 seconds.
"A lot of pressure was relieved from my shoulders," he said.
There was Ahmed's win in the 5000 at the Big Ten outdoor championships that was a meet record and one of two first-place medals UW captured in winning its first crown since 2007.
"The way we came together was true teamwork," he said.
And there was Ahmed's seventh-place finish in the 5K at the NCAA outdoor meet that validated his All-America status a second time despite limited training because of an Achilles injury.
"I wasn't happy with the way I finished, but running is a great metaphor for life," he said.
In other words, you take the good with the very good -- or the exceptional -- in Ahmed's case. Given his list of individual and team accomplishments, what would rank at the top of his list?
"Winning nationals as a team, that's number one," he said. "Cross country was a magical year. The title will be something I'll cherish for the rest of my life. It was a beautiful moment."
Beautiful, he said, because of the chemistry with Elliot Krause, Ryan Collins, Reed Connor and Maverick Darling. Beautiful because it rewarded coach Mick Byrne with a much-deserved title.
It was also beautiful, he said, because of what it told him about his running skills. "Finishing fifth told me that I belonged at the top of the NCAA," Ahmed said. "That helped me a lot."
Ahmed spent the indoor season "training very hard with the focus on going to the Olympics -- and with my first race (the Payton Jordan) I got that out of the way."
That's where the confidence gained from his success competing during the cross country season really kicked in -- in what was, at the time in late April, the fastest 10,000 meters race in the world.
"I thought to myself, 'If you can race with the guys in the NCAA, you can keep up with them, why not here?"' he said, convincing himself that "I can definitely do it."
That confidence carried over to the outdoor season and the Big Ten meet in front of the home fans. "Everyone was doing it for the seniors," said Ahmed, a junior from St. Catharines, Ontario.
Few, he noted, will ever forget senior Kyle Jefferson's true grit during his leg of the 4x400 relay.
"The amount of toughness that he displayed is going to be his legacy," Ahmed said, "and something we talk about every time we see each other or at team reunions.
"It didn't take one person to win the Big Ten title. It took everybody. It took throwers, distance guys, sprinters. Everybody came together. It was a great feeling."
Despite dealing with his Achilles injury, Ahmed is feeling much better in advance of Sunday's departure for Calgary and the Canadian Olympic Trials. He will race Wednesday in the 10,000 meters.
Ahmed is one of two runners who met the "A" qualifying standard. The other, Cameron Levins, who won the Payton Jordan event and claimed two NCAA titles, will compete in only the 5000, though he will double at the Olympics.
"Physically, I'm at a good spot; I'm not burned out yet, I still feel fresh," Ahmed said. "It's all mental now. And I'm going to treat this race just like it was any other race.
"I've learned that you've got to use the nervousness to your advantage. It's good energy if you use it to get ready. I'm not putting this race on a pedestal just because it's the Olympic trials."
Ahmed is looking forward to running for Canada in London.
In a sense, the truest sense, he said, he would be also running for the Badgers.
"Being a Wisconsin Badger," he said, "whether it's my identity on the track as a runner or that of a student, is something that is going to be a part of me forever and ever."
Darrell Bevell, Chris Maragos, Russell Wilson and John Moffitt have found a home with the Seahawks
Prior to Monday's Legends of Wisconsin golf outing, Darrell Bevell, Scott Tolzien and Chris Maragos were engaged in some good-natured banter outside the University Ridge clubhouse.
Someone mentioned that Bevell was one of the earliest if not original "legend'' -- the starting quarterback on the 1993 UW football team that returned to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1963.
Tolzien also took note of Bevell's "old school'' footwear that he once wore with the Badgers; high tops which fell just short of rivaling Herman Munster's boots. Bevell laughed.
Of course, Bevell got the last laugh in the 1994 Rose Bowl when he broke contain and "sprinted'' 21 yards for what would turn out to be the game-winning touchdown against UCLA.
Even Bevell had to chuckle at the verb. Sprinted? But his run was "legendary'' in that it links him with Mike Samuel and Brooks Bollinger as the only Wisconsin quarterbacks to ever win a Rose Bowl.
Meanwhile, the Badgers are coming off back-to-back trips to Pasadena thanks in large part to the contributions and leadership of their most recent starting QBs -- Tolzien and Russell Wilson.
Last season, Tolzien caught on with the San Francisco 49ers and served as the No. 3 quarterback behind Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. Wilson is targeted for that same role, maybe better, in Seattle.
The Seahawks offensive coordinator is none other than the 42-year-old Bevell who has already seen enough of Wilson, a third round pick, to recognize that "he carries himself well --that 'it' factor.''
Seattle did their homework on Wilson. "We talked to him a bunch at the Senior Bowl, the combine and his own pro day,'' Bevell stressed. "There were a lot of things to like about him.
"He loves to play the game. He works hard at this craft. And he seems to have 'it.'''
Wilson put "it'' on display during the Seahawks recent minicamp in competition with Tavaris Jackson, the returning starter in Seattle, and Matt Flynn, the free agent pickup from the Packers.
Each quarterback got one day to work with the No. 1 offense.
"We're letting them all compete,'' said Bevell, echoing head coach Pete Carroll. "Russell came in and did well enough in rookie camp to put himself in the race.''
How will the practice snaps be distributed in training camp?
"That's a good question because it's not something we've done before; I don't think many people have,'' Bevell said of trying to maximize a three quarterback rotation during the drills.
"Just like we did in minicamp, we're going to spread the reps evenly and try to get them all in the same situations so we have something to compare.''
Some comparisons have been made between Flynn and his Green Bay mentor, Aaron Rodgers. "You can see some of Aaron's mannerisms, which is a positive thing,'' Bevell said.
Citing Flynn's "presence'', he also noted, "I see the veteran's knowledge that he has. He understands the game and his strengths and weaknesses. He also carries himself very well.''
Bevell and Jackson have been together the longest, dating to their days in Minnesota. "He's still learning and improving,'' Bevell said. "He's athletic and strong and coming off his best year as a pro.''
You could tell that Bevell almost anticipated the next question because he gets it so often.
What about Wilson's height?
"There are times when it will show up, without a doubt,'' Bevell said. "There are plays where you can see that it does (have an impact). But he's played with that (question) his whole life.''
Wilson has been listed between 5-10 and 5-11.
"That's who he is; that's what he is,'' Bevell said. "He knows his abilities -- when to move, when to slide and do all those different things in the pocket. Most of the time it won't show up.''
Maragos, a backup free safety for the Seahawks, offered a unique perspective.
"Maybe not a lot of people realize this,'' said Maragos, who's entering his third season in the NFL, second with Seattle, "but when I'm back there playing at deep safety in practice, he (Wilson) gets covered up by those linemen and I can't see where he is or where he's looking.
"As I'm backpedaling, I can't get a good read on what side of the field he's looking at to know which way I should lean. At that point, I'm at a disadvantage. A lot of times I see this little arm coming up over the top of the helmets. Usually I'm getting a slow break on the ball because I can't see him.
"Everybody has been talking about his height as a disadvantage. To me, I feel like it's an advantage having played against him a little bit now in practices. He also has a high release point and does a good job of extending the play. He might have had only one ball batted down.
"Boy, I tell you what, Russell has been very impressive for a rookie. Anytime you transition to a level up (from college to the NFL in this case), there's a big learning curve. But I was really impressed with the way he hit the ground running. Russell has that 'it'' factor. You can just see it.''
Jackson has some distinguishing characteristics, too. "He's got so much knowledge within the offensive scheme,'' Maragos said. "He knows his stuff and has a good command of the system.''
No one had to remind Maragos of Flynn's background with the Packers and Rodgers.
"You can tell that he's a savvy player,'' he said of Flynn. "He makes throws that are very difficult to defend. He'll drop back and he'll be looking right at the middle safety, seeing what I'm doing.
"Without looking to see where his receiver is, he'll just step, turn and throw -- he'll let it fly trusting his receiver and knowing where he's going to be. He's been taught well in Green Bay.''
Maragos has experienced his own learning curve. That's why this season is so important. "This is when you really start establishing your identity and the type of player you are in the league,'' he said.
"The next couple of years are going to be big in terms of continuing to establish myself and taking advantage of the opportunities I have -- hopefully laying a foundation for the years to come.''
As for the immediate future, Maragos will focus on his football skills camp, July 6-8, in Kenosha.
JJ Watt, DeAndre Levy, Brian Calhoun, Jim Leonhard, John Clay and Luke Swan are among the former Badger athletes who have provided instruction and, perhaps, inspiration.
Maragos, for one, has definitely been inspired by Leonhard, who kept "grinding and grinding'' during his early years in the NFL before finally somebody noticed and gave him a chance.
Maragos seems to have the same survival instincts, and timetable.
"No matter what your role is on the team, you always want more,'' he said.
Right now, the Badgers are four-deep in Seattle: Bevell, Maragos, Wilson and John Moffitt; who started at right offense guard as a rookie before getting injured.
Bevell sounded like he really enjoyed coaching under Carroll. Maragos, for sure, loves playing for him. "Oh, man, coach Carroll is awesome, he's the coolest,'' he said.
What makes him so cool? "He lets you play, he lets you be you,'' he replied, "and the guys play hard for him because they really respect him. He's a player's coach.''
Maragos also loves jabbing him about the UW connection. "I told coach Carroll we're finally starting to get some Wisconsin guys out here,'' he said, "guys who really know how to play football.''
Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt and Bill Nagy arrived together Monday morning for the Legends of Wisconsin Classic golf outing at University Ridge.
That seemed only fitting since the three former UW offensive linemen also "arrived together'' as rookie starters in the National Football League last season.
But that's not where the symmetry ended. Carimi, Moffitt and Nagy each sustained season-ending injuries after earning spots in the starting lineup for their respective teams.
What are the odds of that happening?
"Probably has never happened before and won't happen again,' 'suggested Carimi, a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears. Carimi dislocated his kneecap in the second game.
"That was just crazy -- that's the game (of football), though,'' rationalized Nagy, a seventh-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys. Nagy broke his ankle in the fourth game.
"That's a freak thing, isn't it? Probably illuminati or something,'' jested Moffitt, a third-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks. Moffitt tore his MCL and PCL, but not his ACL.
At least they had somebody to communicate and commiserate with during their rehabs.
Long distance bonding.
"I talked to those guys once a week,'' Nagy said. "They're some of my best friends.''
"We never really talked about the injuries,'' said Moffitt. "We just got updates.''
Since returning to Madison, "We've been hanging out the last couple of days, too,'' Carimi said.
Their friendship is strong enough to survive just about anything, Moffitt and Carimi ventured.
"We'll always talk,'' Nagy added. "We'll always stay in touch.''
Despite the injury setbacks, each is confident about their NFL future.
"I'm healthy now,'' pronounced Carimi after going through the OTAs and minicamp with the Bears. "It was rough having to sit on the sidelines. It made the season really long.''
But he noted all the rehabbing "has made the off-season really short.''
Carimi was cleared in May to resume full workouts.
"But you're always rehabbing,'' he acknowledged.
As a rookie on the injured list, you're always playing catch-up, too.
"There's a little bit of a detachment,'' Carimi said, "because you would have had a stronger bond with your teammates if you were playing with them the whole time.
"But I felt good about the way I played in the first two games (of the regular season before being injured). Did I answer all the questions? Not really. But it's good to have some success.
"I'm feeling comfortable playing right tackle; I'm feeling good about it.''
Some NFL pundits have contended that the success of Bears offensive line is dependent on Carimi's development and whether he anchors the group.
Does he feel such pressure, such expectations? "I can't say that's 100 percent true,'' he said. "An offensive line is a group of five guys. All of us need to play well.''
Going into the draft, Carimi was projected as a rookie starter. That comes with being the Outland Trophy winner. That was not the case with Nagy, who wasn't even a starter at Wisconsin.
Yet, he won a starting job with the Cowboys.
"It was a crazy process,'' Nagy reflected. "Because of the lockout, you just kind of showed up for training camp. Everything was going so fast you really didn't have time to think or be nervous.
"I think I probably did surprise some people. But I knew that I could do it. If you don't believe that, then you shouldn't be out there.''
Can his storyline serve as inspiration for other players who might have flown under the radar?
"I hope so, I really do,'' he said. "It just kind of shows that if you get an opportunity, it's in your hands. That's the big thing that I learned through the whole process. I just felt so prepared to compete.''
Nagy credited the UW football environment -- namely the rich tradition and history of Badger offensive linemen -- for facilitating a smooth transition to the NFL.
He's now working for a former UW offensive line coach, Bill Callahan, who was on Barry Alvarez' coaching staff in the early '90s and tutored the likes of Joe Panos, Cory Raymer and Joe Rudolph.
"Coach Callahan loved his time in Madison,'' Nagy said. "So we can relate.''
So can Moffitt, who's planning on training here until reporting to training camp.
"I love this place,'' he said."Our O-line tradition is the best in the country.''
The Legends of Wisconsin Classic dinner drew All-Americans like Paul Gruber and Joe Thomas.
Two current UW starters, Travis Frederick and Ryan Groy, took part in the golf outing.
"Groy is the most athletic offensive lineman I've seen here other than Joe Thomas,'' Moffitt said.
The Seahawks didn't draft Moffitt for his footwork as much as they wanted his toughness.
And he didn't disappoint, either.
"It's just crazy how much you can learn about football and how deep you can go into it,'' Moffitt said of his evolution. "You grow as a player; you become more mature as a student of the game.
"The thing is, everyone is so good across from you. Every week you're facing another great player that you have to gear up for; you have to learn him and how to play him.
"In college, there are some really good players. But there might be a few games in-between great players. You might play against Cameron Hayward from Ohio State one week.
"But you might not get another player like him for three or four games.
"In this league (NFL), you're playing against the best guys every week.''
Moffitt admitted that the injury rehab "was painful and it can wear on you mentally.''
But he's ready to prove himself all over again.
In this context, the three friends have arrived together at that same conclusion.
"I'm dying to get back to playing football,'' said Moffitt, speaking for Carimi and Nagy.
College basketball coaches have gotten their wish for more communication and contact with players during the summer. Ru ready 4 this? That includes unlimited texting and calls to recruits.
"I absolutely love it,'' said UW associate head coach Greg Gard. "It allows you to speak directly to the parents or the kids and you don't have to worry about anybody relaying a message.''
"It will help coaches get to know players better, and vice versa, they get to know you better. As long as everybody abides by the parameters, it will be good for college basketball and help the process.''
That would be the recruiting process. In the past, the NCAA limited calls between coaches and recruits to one or two a week. But it was very difficult to monitor and enforce.
"What we've found since the rules went into effect (June 15),'' said Gard, the UW's lead recruiter, "is that it's helpful to have multiple times during the day or the week to access prospects.
"You can have a short conversation and call them back later in the day, or tomorrow, or next week; however you want to do it. Now a dialogue can take place with the kids and parents.''
Besides unlimited texts and calls to prospects who have finished their sophomore year of high school, the NCAA is allowing coaches to send private messages through Facebook and Twitter.
UW head coach Bo Ryan is pragmatic about the changes.
"If a kid doesn't want to take your call, he doesn't take your call,'' Ryan said. "If a kid doesn't want to read your text messages, he doesn't read your text messages.''
Thx but no thx.
"I really would find it hard to coach someone for four years that constantly needed to be texted or tweeted or whatever,'' Ryan opined.
"In recruiting, I'm not looking for people who are so needy that they have to have someone talking to them -- or doing some form of communication -- 25 times a day.
"Be a teenager -- be a teenager.''
Ryan's plea is for kids to be kids.
"It isn't about the next step yet,'' he went on, "but when you're interested in a school, or a school is interested in you, then there are ways to communicate without being obsessive.''
Ryan is more excited about the NCAA allowing "court time'' in the summer. That amounts to two hours a week during the eight-week summer school session. Players must be enrolled to practice.
The Badgers held their first two-hour workout last Tuesday. Some coaches have elected to split up the time and hold two one-hour practices or three 40-minute practices per week.
Because of class schedules, Ryan said the two-hour window worked the best.
"We did a lot of competitive drills,'' Ryan said of the first workout. "I've already started to break that one down and some things we want to emphasize in the next one.
"We used it (the first practice) to get a little better idea of where the guys are -- those filling positions where you have guys graduating -- and who's stepping up in different areas competitively.
"You see, this is all we ever wanted as coaches, to have some kind of contact and be around our kids in the summer while they were playing; even if it was just to watch pick-up games.
"The fact that we can be on the court with them (two hours a week) is even better because now we can help them through some different situations.''
The old rules frustrated coaches who were left in the dark; out of the loop, if you will. "Unless our guys were working our summer camp, we didn't have any direct contact,'' Gard said.
There are just so many benefits to the NCAA relaxing those standards, he added, not the least of which is helping build more lasting relationships between the athletes and the coaches.
"It's not only good from the instruction and teaching standpoint on the court,'' Gard said, "but it also gives you more contact; such as helping the younger guys (freshmen) in their transition to college.''
That would be to the benefit of UW freshmen Zak Showalter and Sam Dekker, who was a member of the USA under-18 national team that won the gold medal at the FIBA Americas Championship in Brazil.
"We're talking about two very talented and extremely competitive players who grew up being huge Badger fans and have worked extremely hard to put themselves in this position,'' Gard said.
"Anything they've gotten so far as high school players -- or will get down the road as college players -- will be because of their work ethic and the fact that they've both earned it.''
That would be the operative word in Ryan's vocabulary -- earn.
"There's never an excuse for not getting better (over the summer) whether we're teaching them on the court or not,'' Ryan said of a player's implied commitment to out-of-season development.
"We give them things -- the breakdown drills -- which they can work on.
"But this gives coaches a better understanding of the competitive level of the incoming guys and if there's been improvement since April with the returning guys; strength-wise and everything else.
"Still, they're going to have to do a lot if it on their own because two hours is nothing. Good players spent a heckuva a lot more time than two hours a week working on their game in the summer.''
Yet, he fully endorses the NCAA changes; the additional contact which adds up to eight hours a week (two on the court and six for weight-lifting and conditioning) while attending summer school.
"It's an historical period,'' Ryan said, "because basketball coaches have been fighting for this for a long time. (UW men's hockey coach) Mike Eaves asked me how we went about it.
"I just said, 'You have to keep knocking on the door,' because I can see other sports wanting to do this also. It just so happens in our sport we've been clamoring for it a longer period of time.
"If we have more contact with our players, it means that they're not running around with some of these third parties and runners and other people telling them things they don't need to be hearing.''
UW men's hockey assistant coach Gary Shuchuk is hoping that Davis Drewiske, a former Badger captain, will be treated like a King, a Los Angeles King, a Stanley Cup-winning Los Angeles King.
"As of right now,'' Shuchuk said, "it's a shame to be a part of a franchise and when they finally do win the Stanley Cup knowing that you're not going to get your name on that Cup.'
Shuchuk, a former King, understands that the Los Angeles organization would have to tweak the protocol because Drewiske didn't play in enough games to qualify for having his name on the Cup.
Drewiske, 27, skated in just nine games overall for the Kings this season and didn't see any action in the finals against the New Jersey Devils. His last actual game appearance was in December.
"He waited for his call,'' Shuchuk said.
And it never came whether through injury or coach's decision.
Sporting his No. 44 sweater, Drewiske still celebrated on the ice Monday night with his teammates following the Kings' first Stanley Cup-clinching win in franchise history, dating back to 1967.
"I hope the Kings are able to do something to get his name on the Cup,'' Shuchuk went on. "I got to know Davis and he's a great young man and leader. When he wasn't playing, he never asked for a trade, never complained. He went to the weight room and to practice and he waited for that call.
"They brought up another kid from the minors and Davis didn't get his chance. That's just the business. But he was a part of the organization; probably a big part of the scout team against the Devils; so he helped make those guys better in practice and had something to do with winning the Cup.
"Davis is going to get a big, beautiful huge ring that he's never going to wear because they're so massive and gaudy. I just hope the Kings can do something to get his name on the Cup. Talk to some of the guys who have done it, like Adam Burish (another former UW captain). It means a lot.''
Why is it so important to be formally recognized on the Stanley Cup? "There's the mystique of the Cup,'' Shuchuk emphasized. "There's all that history and when you have your name on the Cup you become a part of that history, and they can never take that away from you.''
Have you ever heard anyone ever talking about the Lombardi Trophy in the same reverent tones, he then asked rhetorically. "I don't even know what they call the baseball trophy,'' he added. "But when I was growing up in Canada (Edmonton) all I wanted to do was get my name on the Cup.''
Shuchuk came close in 1993 as a member of the Wayne Gretzky-led Kings that lost in five games to Montreal in the Stanley Cup finals. Shuchuk had an impact on the post-season run by scoring the game-winning goal in double-overtime against Vancouver in Game 5 of the Smythe Division finals.
Not that he remembers the specifics.
"Midway through the first period, I was coming through the middle of the ice and Gerald Diduck laid me out with an elbow to the jaw,'' Shuchuk said of the Canucks' 225-pound defenseman.
"I came out of the game and I didn't know what hit me.
"They gave me some smelling salts on the bench and when our coach, Barry Melrose, came over and asked, 'Are you OK?' I said, 'I'm ready.' I'm not going to lie, I was real foggy.
"I played the rest of the game and I can remember being out there (for the overtimes). It wasn't like I totally blacked out or anything like that.
"But when I got interviewed afterward on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), I had to look at the teleprompter to see how I had scored because I honestly didn't know what happened.''
Shuchuk, now 45, has never forgotten the friendships that he made with those Kings.
He's still very close with Melrose, an ESPN analyst; and Tony Granato, a former UW center and NHL assistant. Occasionally, he'll cross paths with his old roommate, Mike Donnelly, a Kings scout.
"The hockey world is so small that I still get to see some of my ex-teammates,'' he said, listing Kelly Hrudey, Charlie Huddy, Corey Millen and Rob Blake, among others.
During his four seasons in Los Angeles, Shuchuk and his wife Michelle got to be friends with actor Ted McGinley and his wife Gigi, who's also an actress.
Among his roles, McGinley was Roger Phillips, the gym teacher, in the "Happy Days'' sit-com. Later, he was Jefferson D'Arcy in "Married ... with Children'' and Charley Shanowski in "Hope and Faith.''
"I'd get him tickets to the Kings and we'd go to the tapings of Married ... with Children,''' Shuchuk said. "We keep in contact all the time through our kid's graduation and birthdays.''
Shuchuk is still loyal to the Kings.
"I've always had a special place in my heart for them,'' he said. "I lived in Los Angeles. My son was born there. It was a special time in my life and I still feel like I'm a part of the organization.''
He was delighted to see Kings announcer Bob Miller, a Hall of Famer, finally get a chance to hoist the Cup. Miller was the original voice of Badger Hockey before relocating to the West Coast.
"Over the last 19 years,'' Shuchuk said, "I've always cheered for the Kings.''
One of his many acquaintances during his playing days was the late John Candy, a Canadian actor and comedian. Prior to the '93 finals, Candy gave each of the players a bottle of champagne to toast winning the Stanley Cup. Shuchuk still has his unopened bottle.
"It came from a special person and it means a lot to me,'' he said.
Resisting the temptation to pop the cork after Monday's game, Shuchuk said that he plans on not opening the champagne "until the time is just right ... maybe when we win in Pittsburgh, I'll crack it open then.'' Pittsburgh is the site of the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four.