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MADISON - For a man that only gives opening statements when he's forced to (and even then sometimes skirts the issue), Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan opened a 30-minute meeting with local reporters by talking for 10 straight minutes without coming up for air.
After sitting on this issue for the last 72 hours, it's amazing he didn't spontaneously combust in his Kohl Center office.
"Believe it or not, this kid from Chester had to bite his tongue," Ryan said. "That's hard. That's the hardest thing of all."
In a period known in the college basketball landscape as the ‘dead period,' the news coming from the Wisconsin basketball office has been anything but quiet since redshirt freshman forward Jarrod Uthoff's transfer process became very public last Thursday.
Uthoff – a 6-8 forward from Cedar Rapids, IA – shocked the UW staff when he said he didn't feel he could ‘fit into UW's style of play' after thinking about it ‘for months.'
Ryan has dealt with one transfer in the last 10 years and in that instance, Mickey Perry sat down with Ryan during the 2007-07 season to tell him he wanted to go to Dayton, More importantly, he explained the reasons why. With the open dialogue the two shared, Ryan had a clear indication of what his former guard wanted to do.
What has become lost in the Uthoff case is the forward and Ryan never talked face to face, which Ryan said, ‘wasn't his choice.' According to Uthoff, he called Ryan, who was on a postseason vacation, to tell him of his decision. Uthoff said he would have talked to Ryan after the season but ‘I hadn't come to my final decision yet.' Uthoff instead spoke to assistant coach and recruiting contact Gary Close ‘a couple times' in person.
Ryan said he called 10 coaches for their opinions on how they handled transfer restrictions, some of which said they knew of coaches that restricted 100 schools, but none had a situation where a player left with so many questions unanswered. With Ryan wondering what recourse he could take to get the player to tell the university what he was thinking, he said the only opportunity a coach has to try to get answers is making a player appeal a coach's decision.
"By blocking, you then get the player to talk to somebody at the university," said Ryan. "Here I am in 40 years of coaching looking at something for the first time. I just wanted to know what recourse a coach would ever have to simply say on behalf of our players, our fans and everybody else … how can we at least get dialogue to have somebody say this is why I want this school?"
Ryan said the restricted list included the ACC because UW could face any of those teams over remainder of Uthoff's eligibility in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge while Iowa State and Marquette were programs from major conferences in or connected to Wisconsin. DePaul would have been on the list, but it wasn't one of the schools on Uthoff's "permission to contact" list.
The only thing in the transfer process to try to get information is a temporary block, not a denial, causing an appeal process were dialogue between both parties is exchanged. That point was glossed over by the members of the national media pushing for more freedom for players. Seeing what they felt was an overly long list of restrictions, they ran with half the story, turning Uthoff into the victim and his former coach into the villain for why the transfer rule needs to be tweaked.
"The only way to get a kid to talk is to appeal. That's not my rule," Ryan said. "If someone knows a better way for the University of Wisconsin to have the opportunity to talk to the young men … throw it out.
"In this situation as a coach and a university, we wanted to hear something. There wasn't anything that was out of the ordinary."
And because there's no good answer to the process, Ryan followed the rules, and has been unfairly painted as the vindictive coach because of it. Those that know him recognize that couldn't be farther from the truth.
The national media will compare a paid coach with the power to leave a program without restrictions to an unpaid player who wants to leave with restrictions, but Ryan said the player's scholarship is a binding contract. If Wisconsin wanted to take away a scholarship without notice, that player has the right to (you guessed it) appeal and be heard.
Fact of the matter is that Ryan, unlike some other coaches, honors a scholarship (look at the case of J.P. Gavinski or Rob Wilson if you need examples), a reason why so many of his former players and assistant coaches tweeted their support for him during yesterday's brush fire.
"There are so many more people you could be talking to about transfers that could give you a lot more information than I have," he said.
Ryan spent the all of Thursday meeting with current players for their prescheduled end-of-season exit interviews, unaware of the criticism he was receiving on social media and national talk shows. Naturally he didn't care – ‘do you hear what people say when we go play in gyms?' – and said he doesn't expect to do any damage control. He's right in the fact that he shouldn't, but the ESPN mother ship will make that a challenge.
Truth of the matter is Ryan's course of action was simply a truth-seeking mission, not one of payback. As of Thursday, Ryan still doesn't have the reasons why Uthoff is leaving because the meeting between the player and the administration is ‘confidential.' If that says classified, it'd be the only thing in this entire process that has stayed that way.
Uthoff said he will visit Creighton on Monday and will look at Iowa State, Florida and Northern Iowa among other schools. He originally said he would appeal the decision to block Indiana and Iowa, but is unsure if he will go that route now. Even after what has happened, Uthoff declined to answer the question if he regretted not sitting down with Ryan to talk things over.
"I don't want to get into a battle," said Uthoff. "I really didn't want any of this. I thought it was going to be a quick and easy process."
It's too late for that. One thing is for sure, Uthoff and Wisconsin aren't parting on good terms, all of which could have been avoided had the two parties talked in person. It didn't seem like much to ask for Ryan, who had spent hundreds of hours recruiting and teaching Uthoff.
Unfortunately for Uthoff, it was, and the damage has been done because of it.