Everybody took notice of Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan last night, when after the Badgers’ 68-63 loss to Duke in the National Championship game, he had some bitter words about the officiating, the current state of college basketball and how he prefers to build his rosters.
“We don’t do rent-a-player,” Ryan told reporters after the game. “You know what I mean? If other people do that, that’s O.K. I like trying to build from within. It’s just the way that I am.”
He was referring to players like Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, along with Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, the University of Texas’ Myles Turner and Kansas’ Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander, who will all undoubtedly bolt for the NBA after only one season in a college basketball uniform.
Some might call it sour grapes, while others might label Ryan’s comments as being petty. I simply think he spoke his mind immediately after a disappointing defeat, without having enough time to decompress and compose himself. But there was nothing ingenuine about his remarks.
The beauty of this magnificent game of college basketball is the utter diversity in playing styles, philosophies and team-construction that eventually meet up in the tournament.
For every fan who delights in the microwaveable nature of elite recruiting and roster turnover, which is most closely associated with Coach John Calipari’s embrace and mastery of the elite, one-and-done player, there are those who celebrate a more sustained, long-term approach to building a team.
The Duke-Wisconsin game was a great look at those two contrasting philosophies. Ryan has taken the Badgers to the NCAA Tournament in each of his 15 years at the helm, and no player exemplifies the Wisconsin way of assembling a roster more than All-American and Naismith National Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky.
Coming out of high school, Frank the Tank was a three-star recruit in a class that was headlined by Anthony Davis. It’s almost laughable to look at those recruiting rankings now and see other big men like Norvel Pelle, Adjehi Baru, Jakarr Sampson, Michael Chandler, Willy Kouassi, Amir Williams, Marshall Plumlee, Nnanna Egwu, Hunter Mickelson, Jarion Henry, Malcolm Gilbert and Adrian Diaz ranked ahead of him.
In fact, Kaminsky’s name and recruiting profile does not appear anywhere in the Rivals Top 150 rankings for the Class of 2011. He was the classic, fly-under-the-radar recruit.
After committing to Wisconsin, Ryan released this statement about Kaminsky’s signing, “He’s long, skilled and has a knack for finding the basket. His dad was a former college player and coach so he’s been taught the right way from day one. A very good student at a very challenging school, he fits the profile of what a student-athlete has to be at Wisconsin in order to be successful…Badger fans will enjoy watching him mature in Cardinal and White.”
Kaminsky went from averaging 1.8 points and 1.4 rebounds a game as a freshman to one of the most skilled and dominating players in the country, leading Wisconsin to back-to-back appearances in the Final Four, along with being the team to shatter the myth of the perfection of this year’s previously unbeaten Kentucky Wildcats.
It’s a shame that Bo Ryan’s accomplishments and philosophy have only recently been noticed by fans outside of the Big Ten, because Duke’s Coach K was not the only one chasing his fifth national title last night. Ryan won four national championships while coaching at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville. His four title teams were a combined 119-5, with two of them going undefeated.
Ryan didn’t get his shot at the D-I level until he was in his 50’s when he took over at UW-Milwaukee. Prior to his arrival at Wisconsin, the school had won a mere nine NCAA Tournament games. Since he got there, they’ve been a March Madness fixture. The back-to-back Final Fours and last night’s appearance in the title game are a testament to his gifts as a coach, and he deserves to be recognized as one of the game’s all-time greats in the college ranks.
His teams won’t dazzle you with athleticism and rim-rattling dunks, but basketball junkies are enamored with their passing, defense, spacing, points per possession and offensive efficiency. He recruits players that create nightmares for opposing coaches because of their versatility and ability to play the game well in varying styles and nuance.
Going into this tournament, it was all about Kentucky. But despite losing to Duke last night in a thrilling title game, this year’s March Madness became defined by Wisconsin.
They were the anti one-and-done, a fun group of skilled kids whose Final Four victory over the Wildcats will be cherished by fans of real basketball, by folks who understand the true magic of a talented team that blends their individual uniquenesses to make the sum much greater than the individual parts.
They didn’t win the National Championship, but they won the hearts of many, with an alternating philosophy about what makes basketball so beautiful.
And in Bo Ryan, a tough, brilliant and shrewd evaluator of a player’s potential, Wisconsin gave us a lovely and suitable substitute to the “Rent-a-Player” phenomena, a team whose talents don’t simply get thrown in the microwave, but prefer to develop its succulent flavors over time.