Senior Writer

Flourishing Five No. 4: Ryan molding parts into winning Wisconsin machine


(Second in a series. Some schools have great football teams. Some have great basketball teams. But a select few have the best of both worlds. ranks and profiles the schools who’ve positioned themselves for success now and into the future in both sports. Today, No. 4 Wisconsin. Thurs., July 29, No. 3 revealed.)

LAS VEGAS -- Bo Ryan sat behind a goal at Bishop Gorman High and watched the future of Wisconsin basketball late Saturday night, and I sat and watched right there with him. First thing I noticed is that the future looks a lot like the past and the present. You could've put me in a room by myself, shown me film of Jarrod Uthoff, and without knowing much about the 6-foot-8 forward, I would've told you he looks like somebody who ought to be a Badger.

"People say it all the time," Ryan said between possessions of a game featuring Uthoff's Iowa Barnstormers here in the inaugural Fab 48 summer basketball tournament. "They tell me, 'You lose three guys and then you get three more guys, and those three guys play just like the other three guys.'"

It's not an accident.

Flourishing Five: No. 4 Wisconsin
Wisconsin football
Dennis DoddDennis Dodd
Want excitement? Wisconsin isn't for you. Instead, the Badgers are a boring Big Ten bully that just wins. Read >>
Wisconsin basketball
-- Held No. 1 ranking for first time in school history during 2006-07 season
-- 2007-08 Big Ten regular-season champions
-- 2008 Big Ten tournament champions
-- Advanced to Sweet 16 in 2008
Draft picks
PlayerPick (Year)Team
Alando Tucker29 (2007)Phoenix
Related links Marquee recruits in sight
Wisconsin Badgers official athletic site
Series rundown
No. 5 Pittsburgh: Football | Basketball
No. 3 Ohio State: Football | Basketball
No. 2 Texas: Football | Basketball
No. 1 Florida: Football | Basketball
Blog: Honorable mention | Who's the worst?
Bo Ryan has been doing this long enough that he knows exactly what he wants in a player, knows exactly what he likes, and it doesn't matter if it's the same thing the coaches at Kansas, Kentucky or Ohio State want or like. Ryan doesn't care whether prospects have two stars or five stars beside their names, doesn't care whether North Carolina or Northern Iowa is the school also intrigued. "One thing about me is that I don't worry about what other guys are doing," Ryan said, at which point Uthoff -- just a three-star prospect at -- picked and popped and buried a 3-pointer in a very Wisconsin-like way.

"I want to coach the top 20 kid by the time he's playing with us," Ryan said. "I'm not worried about a kid being a top 20 recruit when he comes in. I just like guys that end up there by the time they're done playing with us."

This is not a philosophy I typically endorse, by the way. I'm usually all about talent and athleticism and, yes, even recruiting rankings because those things usually dictate who wins in college basketball. Bill Self, John Calipari, Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, Ben Howland, Thad Matta and Billy Donovan are some of the sport's most successful coaches over the past six or seven years primarily because they routinely sign the nation's most heralded prospects. That is why I really do believe 99 percent of the people who tell you recruiting rankings don't matter are full of you know what.

And yet I believe recruiting rankings really don't matter to Bo Ryan.

He's the exception to the rule, the one percent, the main reason why Wisconsin landed on the list of the nation's best combined football/basketball schools. "Coach Ryan has a lot to do with that," said Wisconsin senior Jon Leuer, a 6-foot-10 forward who averaged 15.4 points and 5.8 rebounds last season. "He recruits the right kind of players who buy into his system, guys who are willing to put in the time and who understand that he'll make you better if you're willing to work hard in his system.

"It's amazing how much better you can get in four years with him," Leuer added. "He's just a phenomenal coach. That's where it starts."

None of this is to suggest Ryan can't or doesn't recruit elite prospects, because he does. He's signed heralded prospects in the past, and I'm sure he will again. So that's not the point as much as the point is that Ryan doesn't recruit prospects simply because they're heralded. Rather, he recruits prospects who possess attributes he desires, and it hardly matters whether the recruit is heralded or unheralded, ranked or unranked, a future NBA player or not. Ryan pays attention to skill sets, work ethics and even personalities because he doesn't see any sense in bringing in players who won't naturally mesh with the players already on his roster.

"You know how many hours these guys spend together?" Ryan asked. "They don't have to be buddy-buddy. But players not appreciating each other kills teams."

Consequently, Ryan recruits players who will appreciate the players already in the program, which is to say players who understand Wisconsin is a place to learn and grow into a role. It's an approach that's helped the Badgers make nine consecutive NCAA tournaments and not finish worse than fourth in the Big Ten, an approach that ensures new faces will develop into reliable pieces by the time they're needed to be relied upon, an approach that wouldn't work for 99 percent of coaches but works brilliantly, year after year, for Ryan at Wisconsin.

"You're going to jinx me," Ryan said with a smile.

Somehow I doubt it.

My guess is that Leuer will lead the Badgers to a 10th consecutive NCAA tournament this season, then move to the NBA, at which point some player most have never heard of will be ready to contribute major minutes, at which point the Badgers will be on their way to an 11th consecutive NCAA tournament, at which point Uthoff and some combination of other guys should be capable of helping Wisconsin prepare for a 12th consecutive NCAA tournament, and on and on it will go until Ryan -- a 62 year-old who hasn't had a losing record in any season as a coach since 1984-85 -- decides he's ready to retire.

And that day isn't coming soon.

Yes, opposing coaches try to tell recruits it is from time to time.

But Ryan counters it with a simple question.

"Look at me," Ryan said. "Do I look like I'm ready to retire?"

No, I told him.

Then I asked how long he wanted to coach.

"For as long as they keep listening," Ryan said. "Or until I can't communicate with them anymore."

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.

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