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Still teaching, still learning

ON WISCONSIN <b>Bo Ryan entered both the WBC and Pennsylvania Sports Halls of Fame in October.</b>
Bo Ryan entered both the WBC and Pennsylvania Sports Halls of Fame in October.

Oct. 13, 2011

First appeared in Varsity


MADISON, Wis. -- Hall of Fame inductions never get old.

Neither does the game of basketball for Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan.

There are some things that never change.

File away the preceding thought and you will later see how it has come to define Ryan.

"Longevity in coaching is a lost art anymore," Ryan explains.

Five Big Ten trophies and the seven winningest seasons in UW history serve as just the latest chapter in a storied coaching career.

For the last 27 years, Ryan has been a head coach in the state of Wisconsin.

Overall, he has spanned five decades, including his tour of duty as a Badger assistant.

Whether he was coaching at UW-Platteville, UW- Milwaukee or UW-Madison ...

Whether he was coaching in the '70s, '80s, '90s or through the turn of the century ...

Ryan has continued to coach basketball for reasons beyond rewards and recognition.

"I still have more lives to influence," said the 63-year-old Ryan. "I still think that I can help players. As soon as they stop listening, I'm done coaching, that's it.

"But if I've got guys who are willing to listen, who have the work ethic, who play together ..."

If he has all those pieces, he will have the makings of a team, a Ryan-coached team.

You could put those words on a hall of fame plaque. Maybe somebody already has.

He has been honored as a player: the Chester (Pa.) and Wilkes College halls of fame.

He has been honored as a coach: the Ashton (Pa.) and Delaware County halls of fame.
With one of the top career winning percentages (.763) of any coach with his experience, the list is just beginning to grow; an impressive feat considering he's still an active coach.

On Saturday, Ryan will go into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Mike Lucas
UWBadgers.com Insider

"It means so much," he said of the WBCA honor, "from the standpoint of coming to the state of Wisconsin as a 28-year-old and the fact that I've stayed here and coached every year here.

"It's a tremendous feeling to know that you can basically be in one place -- the state of Wisconsin -- and have all those kinds of relationships with so many generations of players."

The family theme resonates with Ryan, especially whenever a former player sends his son to Ryan's summer camp. "I've even recruited some of their kids," he said.

The WBCA recognition serves as a confirmation, too. "The fact that they feel what we've brought to the table is good for basketball in the state," Ryan said. "We're very proud of that."

Ryan started rattling off names of some high school coaches, Hall of Famers, who influenced him:  Neenah's Ron Einerson, Madison La Follette's Pete Olson, Cuba City's Jerry Petitgoue.

He also named some coaching adversaries from the Wisconsin State University Conference: Eau Claire's Ken Anderson, Stevens Point's Dick Bennett, Whitewater's Dave VanderMeulen.

"I've learned things from every level of coaching in the state," Ryan emphasized.

Knowing that he couldn't drive all the way to the rim without upsetting someone if he didn't mention them by name, he settled for a pull-up jumper. "I'm stopping there," he said.

Actually, it doesn't stop there.

On Oct. 22, Ryan will be inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.

The 2011 class also features Troy Vincent, a former UW cornerback and five-time Pro Bowl pick with the Philadelphia Eagles; and Vince Papale, whose story was made into a movie, "Invincible."

Papale and Ryan were once teammates on a touch football team in the Philly area.

Princeton's legendary basketball coach Pete Carril is also in this Hall of Fame class.

"For me that's pretty exciting," Ryan said, citing Carril's strengths as a teacher were "his movement of players away from the ball and his spacing of the floor.

"He took bright guys and made them even brighter when it came to basketball IQ. Their execution was really something to watch.

"His teams played tough, scrappy defense and they respected the game. That's what I liked about coaches like Petey -- and we try to do the same things. We try to respect the game and when you have a player that's maybe a little more talented, you also have to be able to turn him loose. He had some pretty good players, too."

Playing without the ball is certainly a point of emphasis with Ryan. But it's not limited to basketball.

"Whether it's spacing of a court, a field, or an ice surface," Ryan said, "whatever the sport, there are some things that you're trying to do with angles so that you never let one guy guard two.

My theory on defense is to have five guys playing against three guys."

He has many other theories on how the game should be played.

"It's basketball, OK?" Ryan said about players buying into his system. "Don't turn it over. Get good shots. Play good D. Rebound. Is that a system?

"I've said this before, if that's a system, then everybody has a system, and it should be the same thing. There are just different styles depending on the type of players that you have.

"Do we have a fast team? Do we have a slow team? Do we have a tall team? Do we have a short team? Or do we have a team that is somewhere in-between?

"I mean, we're going to have to play differently this year as a team. We don't have the two bigs that can stretch defenses like a Jon Leuer and a Keaton Nankivil."

Preceding that duo on the frontline were Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry.

"They were a little different type of player, too," said Ryan, adding that every year there will be tweaks to what the Badgers are doing depending on the returning personnel.

"And people say it's always the same system -- no, it's not," he insisted. "Sometimes there's more ball screen action; sometimes there's more up-screen action.

"But there are some things you should never change."

He paused and said, "Can I show you something?"

Sitting in front of a cabinet full of trophies and memories from his hall of fame career, Ryan slid in front of his office computer and called up what he was looking for: a pair of commercials that he taped for a cable company that serves Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point. They were produced and directed by John Roach.

In one commercial, Ryan looks at the camera and says, "People say I make a lot of faces during the game.

"I do because I care. I care about doing things right every time with people who play with passion; people who have a shared goal, who do it right consistently.

"Things change all the time. That's fine. I get it. But you know how to win? With the things that never change."

Some of those basic tenets that have led Ryan to 626 career wins were enumerated in the second commercial.

The spot begins with Ryan saying, "Whenever someone says to me, `Bo, why don't you play some zone, fast break a little more?

"There are always suggestions and new things to try, but you have to do the little things right.

"You have to take care of the ball every possession; play as a team every minute; do the little things well every second.

"And then you know what happens? You win."

There are some things that never change; nor should they.

"John Roach said, "Bo, this is you,'" Ryan recalled of the script. "For everybody in every business, there are certain things you've got to do every day to be successful, don't you?"

That might be fitting for his next Hall of Fame plaque, whenever it arrives.

And it will as long as they're still listening, which they are.

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