“This is for Butch.”
That’s what Bo Ryan told Craig Sager in his post game interview after his No. 2 seeded Wisconsin Badgers advanced to the first Final Four in Ryan’s 13-year tenure with the program with a thrilling, exhilarating 64-63 overtime win over top seed Arizona.
If you don’t know the story, it’s touching and heart-breaking all at the same time. Butch Ryan is Bo’s father. Butch and Bo were mainstays at the Final Four every year, with Butch decidedly the more popular of the two.
“More people knew my dad at Final Fours than me,” Ryan told ESPN.com after their win over Baylor on Thursday night. “It was our bonding time. Hell, I always had time there ’cause I’ve never been able to play in one of the dang things.”
Well, now he will be, but he’ll be doing it without his dad there to see him. Butch passed away in August. Saturday would have been his 90th birthday.
“I’ll tell you, it’s going to be tough to be there coaching without him,” Ryan said, holding back tears, during his postgame interview. “I can’t imagine him or my mom being any happier. I’m happy that I’ve been able to be on the sideline and do this thing called coaching because my parents gave me the opportunity.”
For Wisconsin, this will be their first Final Four since 2000, when the program was still under the watchful eye of Dick Bennett. Ryan took over in 2001, and while he’s finished in the top four of the Big Ten regular season standings in every single season that he’s been in Madison, this was just his second trip to the Elite 8 and his first to college basketball’s final weekend as a coach, not a fan.
And here’s the kicker: Wisconsin is going to have a real chance to win this thing. Frank Kaminsky may be the single most difficult matchup left in the tournament, Sam Dekker is a future draft pick, Nigel Hayes will be a star next season and Wisconsin’s back court is as tough as any that you’ll find.
The Final Four is still a week away, however, so for now the Badgers are going to celebrate this win.
They’re going to celebrate with their coach.
“I’m honored to be a part of this,” Kaminsky said.