Jan. 22, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Despite his passion for engaging friends or strangers in a healthy discussion of governmental policy or business, i.e. politics, Zach Bohannon has never thought about politicking for playing time.
It doesn’t work that way in Wisconsin basketball.
“You have to be ready for your opportunity if it comes,” he reasoned. “If it never does (come), at least you’ll know that you were ready for it. The biggest thing is that you have to live in the moment.”
Bohannon cited an example from earlier in the season.
As the Badgers were getting ready to face Marquette, he didn’t like his chances to get off the bench because “they’re one of the quicker teams we play” and quickness is not Bohannon’s strength.
When asked where he needs to get stronger, he said, “Definitely my footwork. Defense is the No. 1 priority for Coach (Bo) Ryan and if you can’t play defense, you can’t get on the court.”
But he still had to prepare like he was going to get some playing time against the Golden Eagles.
Sure enough, he heard his name called out by Ryan in the second half.
“Z-Bo, get in there.”
Bohannon was ready.
“So I went in there and played decent for the four minutes I was in.”
Trailing by 14 points at halftime, the Badgers made a mini-run midway through the second half and got within three, 41-38 – while Bohannon was on the floor – before Marquette pulled away.
“I can honestly say I did my job when I was in there and I helped my team,” Bohannon said.
Since playing in that Dec. 8 loss in Milwaukee, Bohannon had appeared in only three other games, including one Big Ten game, before being summoned Saturday night at Iowa.
The Badgers were shorthanded on their frontline – Frank Kaminsky was sidelined with an eye injury – and Bohannon helped fill the void by playing five minutes. He had two points and four rebounds.
Bohannon surely didn’t need directions to Carver-Hawkeye Arena since he was raised in Marion, a small community just outside of Cedar Rapids, and 35 miles from Iowa City.
Besides attending basketball camps on the Iowa campus as a youngster, Bohannon remembered going to games at Carver-Hawkeye and watching his brother Jason play in the backcourt for the Badgers.
Jason Bohannon, who played in 135 career games and scored 1,170 points at Wisconsin, was booed every time he touched the ball. That included warm-ups.
It’s not unlike the treatment that UW guard Ben Brust, an Illinois native, is now getting from Iowa fans for having once been committed to the Hawks.
“My mom didn’t take it (the booing) very well,” recalled Zach Bohannon, whose dad Gordy was a starting quarterback at Iowa and led the Hawkeyes to a Big Ten title and the 1982 Rose Bowl.
“It was just basketball for me and I loved the atmosphere,” Bohannon went on. “If you’re that hated amongst the entire student body, you have to be doing something right.”
By contrast, he has flown under the radar, no pun intended.
After leading Linn-Mar High School to the Class 4A state finals as a senior, Zach Bohannon accepted a scholarship to Air Force where he stayed two years before transferring to UW.
If nothing else, he has learned how to be patient during his travels.
“Kind of,” he said. “Air Force was one of those things that really tested my patience. But I feel like it helped tremendously with all the discipline and the team work that we did for basic training.”
But there were times when he had his doubts.
“We’d be waiting in line,” he said, “and thinking, ‘What are we doing?’
“All those lessons I learned back then I can apply now,” Bohannon said. “Just keep working hard, and doing your job, and you’ll get rewarded in the end.”
That’s the Ryan way, he pointed out.
“It’s a program built on seniority,” he said. “It was like my brother’s career. He got better every single year. He went from playing 12 to 14 minutes as a freshman to never coming out as a senior.”
Others have followed the same blue print. After sitting out his first year, for instance, Jared Berggren averaged four minutes as a redshirt freshman and seven minutes as a sophomore.
“I knew when I transferred here and sat out last year that there were three big guys ahead of me who were going to be seniors,” said Bohannon, listing Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz.
“You throw in Sam Dekker, a phenomenal freshman, and I knew there wasn’t going to be a lot of minutes (available). I was a bit frustrated at first. But I’ve accepted my role.”
Even though his minutes have been limited, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Bohannon – who’s undersized to play in the paint by his own admission – still feels like he’s improving.
“Absolutely, I think that’s one of the biggest testaments to Coach Ryan – everyone gets better in the program, whether you’re a walk-on or a redshirt player,” he said.
“Every day, Coach Ryan treats every player like they’re the exact same player. It doesn’t matter whether you’re one through 17 (on the roster), he’s going to get you better.
“I went to Air Force because of an opportunity to get a scholarship and I came here because of an opportunity to contribute and earn a scholarship, which I did this year.
“It’s one of the things that you can’t put a price tag on because you worked your butt off to get it. I want to play and I want to be a part of team. It might be this year,” he said.
“But if isn’t this year, I have to keep working hard and getting better. I have to take the same mental attitude, no matter the game. If my number is called then, I’ll be in there.”
If he doesn’t hear his name called during a game, Bohannon promised, “I’ll be the first person off the bench cheering for my teammates during timeouts.”
It really is academic – especially in his situation. Bohannon, 22, already has his undergraduate degree in economics and he’s moving closer and closer to completing his master’s in communication.
“When I wasn’t playing and I wasn’t traveling with the team last year,” he said, “I didn’t know a whole lot of people here outside of the basketball program when everyone was gone.”
So he immersed himself in school by taking 20 credits during the spring semester.
“I overloaded myself,” Bohannon said. “But you have to set your goals high.”
As he did when he led a Twitter campaign to attract President Barack Obama’s attention before an Oct. 4 stop in Madison. Bohannon’s teammate, George Marshall, a Chicagoan got the key assist.
Through Marshall’s insider’s connection – and maybe Bohannon’s persistence – President Obama made some time and met with the team for about 10 minutes.
“It was very special especially when he was talking about college basketball,” Bohannon said. “He knew our home court advantage and wished us good luck this year.”
He also promised if re-elected he would return to shoot hoops with the Badgers.
“But like all politicians,” Bohannon said, “there are a lot of promises made.”
Politics aside, the only one that he can personally keep is that he will be ready if called.