Bo Ryan has been head coach at Wisconsin since 2001. His Badgers haven’t missed the NCAA tournament once during that time. They’ve never finished lower than fourth in the exceptionally loaded Big Ten. Think on that, and consider the persistence and consistency Ryan imparts to a team that changes in makeup every season.
The grit that characterizes Wisconsin basketball under Ryan is born in the preseason, as the Associated Press recently discovered. Ryan has his team run a hill in Madison’s Elver Park that the AP writer estimated to be 150 yards from bottom to top, at an 8 percent grade. As if the hill itself weren’t bad enough, the team has to face the famously unpredictable Wisconsin weather as well.
“The elevation and the pulse. The stamina, the team building. There are days when guys struggle,” Ryan told the AP. “We’ve had days where it’s 90 (degrees). We’ve had days where it’s 40, windy, blustery.”
The hill run is Ryan’s version of the Boot Camp training that other high-profile coaches like Bill Self use to get their players in shape. Somehow, it seems fitting that the grind-it-out Badgers use something so low-tech to get ready year-in and year-out. It’s as much mental as physical, of course:
Ryan, looking fit and rested in shorts, a vest over a sweatshirt and cap, clocked his players with a stopwatch. Midway up, a trainer shouted trivia questions.
The fastest group gets to the top in about 25-26 seconds, while the fourth group gets up in about 29 seconds, Ryan said. Generally, the guards get up the quickest, the big men the slowest.
They went about 10 times this offseason. Each time out, the reps build, from eight the first time to 22 or 23 the last time out.
Wisconsin has talent this season, with Sam Dekker tagged as one of the best players in the Big Ten and guard Josh Gasser back from an injury redshirt season to join a backcourt with Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson. With all that talent learning how to grind it out and work together in the preseason, the Big Dance will likely hold a place for Wisconsin yet again this season.