KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan took his place among the best in college basketball Sunday night, joining a star-studded group as part of the 2017 National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame class.
The winningest coach in program history, Ryan took the Badgers to the NCAA tournament all 14 years he was in Madison, including a pair of Final Fours. That was on top of the success he had in turning UW-Platteville into a Division III power in the late 1980s and 1990s, winning four national championships.
Ryan retired in December 2015, leaving the program to his long-time assistant Greg Gard, who was in attendance with his team, including nine players that played for Ryan.
In addition to Ryan, the 2017 class included Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan, Duke’s Jay Williams, Indiana’s Scott May, Gonzaga’s John Stockton, Creighton’s Paul Silas and Purdue’s Rick Mount.
Here is a sampling of what Ryan discussed with hosts Fran Fraschilla and Doug Gottlieb at the Midland Theatre in downtown Kansas City.
What growing up in Chester, Penn., taught him:
“Without a doubt being able to handle yourself but not always [being] physical. Be able to handle yourself mentally. Know where to pick your fights. Where you need to stand up. Where you need to make sure you don’t back down. Because Chester will challenge anybody when they’re young into being somebody who can deal with things in life. I really owe a lot to Chester.”
Wisconsin’s ability to maintain excellence unlike it ever had before:
“One thing I always did was that every assistant coach that I hired was a teacher…What I realized was that the most important thing is, are you developing the players on and off the court. And I want to hire teachers. People that know the game, can instruct the game, can disseminate information to the players. That’s what I tried to do with the staff.
“Everybody that worked in my office was a team player. I never used the term about [having] all the oars in the water [rowing as one]. It’s very popular right now, but that’s absolutely, positively the reason that we were steady, successful and not trying to do things that we couldn’t. We were who we were. The guys bought into it. And I would rather take a guy that had a lot of questions rather than the guys who had a lot of answers. And we did a lot of nice things with the guys that wanted to get better and learn.”
On Greg Gard’s ascension to the top spot:
“It’s Greg Gard’s team for a reason. He paid his dues. He was very loyal. And I watched him go through things in his life knowing he could handle the big stage. Not everybody can handle the things that are going on now … But I knew he would do it the right way. And he will continue to do that with the staff that he has.
“I’ve had some very good assistant coaches that have done very well in the game, but Greg was a guy who stayed, stayed, had some opportunities but in my mind, and as Coach Alvarez knows, in my mind, he was the guy that I really wanted to see take the program over. And fortunately it worked.”
How his patented swing offense came to be:
“When I was an assistant coach at Wisconsin [in the 1970s] for Bill Cofield, who gave me my first opportunity to coach in college — and I’ll be forever thankful — we would do live scouting reports … let me tell you the coaches I scouted. Jud Heathcote, Johnny Moore, Lou Henson, Bobby Knight, Lee Rose and then Gene Keady, who were great teachers, great coaches. I’m doing these scouting reports and I’m getting all these different offenses, no tape, no film. And there were certain things that I liked from each one.
“In the swing, I put together a motion offense, four out, one in, and I looked at it one day in practice. We had a window [high] up in the [practice facility] at UW-Platteville, I’m looking at it and we’re changing sides of the floor. Every coach says change sides of the floor, move the ball and bodies. It looked like a swing going back and forth. About two or three swings. So that’s why I named it the swing.”
Going to his first Division I Final Four in 2014 just months after his dad, Butch, passed away:
“That was really tough, because he had passed away at the end of August (2013). He had always said, ‘You’re going to have your team here [at the Final Four] one day.’ I said, ‘Well, dad, that would be great. But isn’t this fun, you and I getting to bond at the Final Four?’ And then he passes away six months later and we beat Arizona to go to the Final Four.
“That was a tough interview with [the late] Craig Sager afterwards … [Butch] wasn’t there. But he was there. I felt his presence. And then to do it again [in 2015], I think I was a little more relaxed the second time. Little more in tune with everything. The experience of the Final Four, I wish everybody could have the opportunity.”LISTEN: Bo Ryan on “The Joe & Ebo Show”