Oct. 14, 2010
• Field House Madness
MADISON, Wis. -- Before he had even set foot in the UW Field House as a Badger assistant coach, Bo Ryan had already been challenged to prove that he belonged at a higher level of competition.
Ryan was the head coach at Sun Valley High School in Aston, Pa., when he got the phone call from Bill Cofield, who wanted to hire him on his Wisconsin staff.
“Are you ready?” Cofield asked.
“Of course, I’ve got my bags packed,” Ryan said excitedly.
The Sun Valley superintendent didn’t share Ryan’s enthusiasm and tried to talk him out of taking the job. “Why would you leave now to take a college job as an assistant when you’re a head coach with such a bright future?” he posed.
“You don’t understand, it’s the University of Wisconsin,” Ryan countered. “It’s the Big Ten.”
“You can have the job at Sun Valley for the rest of your life,” the superintendent shot back.
“I’m not looking for any security,” Ryan said. “I’m going to Wisconsin.”
The superintendent then suggested, “You’re making a big mistake. I don’t think you know what you’re doing. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.”
On March 17, 1976 -- St. Patrick’s Day -- Ryan signed his contract with the Badgers. He was going to make $16,000, an upgrade from the $11,800 he was making at Sun Valley High. His first order of business was scouting the WIAA state basketball tournament.
Even though he was familiar with Madison -- having coached with Cofield at Dominican College in Racine -- Ryan had never been inside the UW Field House until he went there looking for players.
There were some good ones in that state tournament field, including South Milwaukee’s Kurt Nimphius and Beloit’s Bill Hanzlik. But they were already committed to Arizona State and Notre Dame.
Ryan didn’t leave empty-handed, though. He landed Milwaukee Washington’s Bobby Jenkins and Milwaukee Pius’ Joe Chrnelich. His recruiting pitch to Chrnelich was BO-dacious.
“Joe, you need to be here,” Ryan instructed. “You need to be in red and white.”
There’s a very good chance Ryan might think about his first visit to the “Barn” and his first two recruits (Jenkins and Chrnelich) during Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage at the Field House.
Or, he might think about Wes Matthews’ 50-foot shot at the buzzer that knocked off Magic Johnson and Michigan State (which went on to win the national championship).
Or, he might think about the Platteville team that he brought to the Field House for a non-conference game against North Dakota. The Pioneers won by 29 and went unbeaten.
“I remember the smell of popcorn in the Field House,” said Ryan, reminiscing. “Having been around the Palestra (in Philadelphia), I remember thinking, ‘This is a basketball gym.’”
There was another characteristic that was more defining.
“I remember it being loud,” Ryan said.
Staging a sneak preview in the Field House, he added, is a great opportunity for his players and a new generation of Badger fans to experience the charm and intimacy of the Old Barn. In addition, there will be appearances by Michael Finley and former UW coach Johnny Erickson, among others.
“The idea is to get out there and have some fun and to get our guys used to playing in front of a crowd,” Ryan said. “It probably won’t look like a fine artistic piece. But that can happen any time.
“I want our younger guys feeling like, ‘Hey, this is what the players before you have created, an atmosphere of excitement and here’s how we’re going to gear up for the start of another season.’”
Jon Leuer, one of six seniors, has worked summer camps in the Field House. “And I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like to play in there,” he said. “It’s got the feel of Cameron Indoor Stadium (Duke’s home court), where it’s really compact and the noise just echoes off the walls.”
If there was a price of admission (and there is not, the scrimmage is free) Leuer would be worth it. Especially after spending his summer playing for the USA Select team against NBA all-stars.
“I learned that I can play against some of the best guys in the world and that definitely helps my confidence,” Leuer said. “But it still doesn’t change the fact that every time you step on the court you have to prove something and bring the same intensity and work ethic when you play the game.
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How much has Leuer’s game improved?
Is there a noticeable difference in how he carries himself today?
“Jon has carried himself very well throughout his career,” Ryan said. “But now, when you look at him, he’s stronger. He knows that this is his last year in college and he wants to be a part of a real good team. He has been a real good leader this fall. You can see his focus in the things that he has done. He’s ready. That’s the best way I can put it. He’s ready.
“Jon will be better in April than he is now. And he’ll be better two Aprils from now. There’s a term that covers the way that he has developed: late-bloomer. If you looked it up, you’d probably see his picture in the dictionary. I know it’s a cliché, but that’s Jon. He just gets better every day.”
That would also apply to point guard Jordan Taylor.
“By the time he’s done, he will be one of the best point guards who has ever played here,” Ryan predicted. “And that isn’t because he’s going to jump over anybody or blow by anybody. But with Jordan, it’s about the tangibles and intangibles. I feel like he’s a born leader.
“Jordan will be one of those guys that people will remember for a long time for his leadership, his guts and moxie and his basketball IQ. The main thing? He wants to win. He wants to beat people. And he wants to be proud of the jersey that he’s wearing.”
He needed to be in red and white.
That’s what Bo Ryan had to be thinking now.