On the Podium: Wisconsin

Before Wisconsin takes on the Kentucky in the national semifinals at AT&T Stadium Saturday night, Badgers head coach Bo Ryan and players Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson addresses the media.

Q. You've had such a long career, won over 700 games and so many championships at lower levels, how much would a championship here at the Division I level mean to you?

COACH RYAN: Well, are they giving away some freebies somewhere? Is that where everybody is? When you say 'lower level,' Division III's three numbers, Division I is one number. So some people might think that's a higher level.

I forgot the rest of the question. I heard the Division I or the lower level thing and you hit a nerve, but that's all right. What was your question?

Q. Just how much would this championship mean to you personally?

COACH RYAN: Well, I tell you, I think it would mean a lot to know that it's possible, that it can be done, that the way we try to do things can be successful enough to get the final game. If you don't, it still doesn't mean anything, other than we gave it our best shot.

So at my age, I don't get too high or too low. I've seen so much, it can happen, and the right things have to fall in place. It would be tremendous for our players and our community, the state, things like that, the alumni. There's so many people involved with this that I would like to stand back and just watch their joy rather than worry about what it means to me.

Q. I wanted to ask you about the athleticism and the athletic ability of your team. How does that compare to other teams you have? What sort of level is it at? Is it something that has improved over time?

COACH RYAN: The team we have now, athleticism is defined in a lot of ways, okay? Eye hand coordination, jumping ability, strength, being able to hit a baseball, being able to drive a race car. When you say 'athletic,' this group we have is athletic in this sense: They have good perception and special skills for being a good offensive team. Defensively they understand they're only as strong as all five guys playing together. Our best defense is five versus five, not in transition.

So there's so many things athletically that if you don't have this, don't have that, how can you make it up or how can you hide a weakness? So I think our guys have been hiding some things that I see every day in practice where we have had to improve, had to improve, and we did.

So I've had more athletic teams as far as if we did a race, I've had teams that would win one through 15. Over this group one through 15. But I don't think it's all about the race, the foot race. It's about other things, too.

So they're athletic in the sense of their eye hand coordination, passing skills, basic movement, just that eye of the Tiger, so to speak as being competitors. They're very competitive guys.

Q. It comes a lot when Kentucky is involved, but like with the one and done, is there a right way or a wrong way to run a basketball program in your mind? You've got your way, they have got their way.

COACH RYAN: Frank Sinatra, wasn't that the song? We did it our way? I mean, everybody's doing it their way. If you're a coach and here's the landscape, you do it the best way you can. I was always told, You can only coach one team. So I can only talk about our program.

This is my vision of the game, this is my way of being a teacher/coach. If I had a guy that had a real good season and left, that's okay. As long as he had all his credits that year and as long as he was a student, and, of course, at our place, you don't have an option, it's pretty strenuous academically at Wisconsin. I did have one player, and I mentioned this before, I had a three and done, and that was Devin Harris. It was amazing. He came into my office and he says, Coach, what do you think?

And I told him that I would get back to him after I found out what the NBA people really felt. And when I did find out and sat down and talked to him, he was just so relieved that I would allow him to go make a lot of money.

I'm like, Devin, you deserve this. This is kind of the area you're in and I'm sure you're hearing that from other people. If somebody after one year came into my office and said the same thing, you know, there are ways that you can find out kind of where you are.

So what somebody else does is fine with me, because there's presidents or chancellors or AD's or whatever that hire people to run a program, and it's right there. So whatever people are doing must be right or that coach wouldn't still be there.

Q. In the '80s and '90s, when you were at Platteville, reflecting now on where you were then, were there hopes and legitimate expectations that you would ultimately not just break through to D 1 or get a job in D 1, but at a Big 10 level school, was that something that you ever thought could happen?

COACH RYAN: I get the gist of what you're saying. Of course. When you're coaching a team, no matter what level, what league, wherever you are, and some things go well, it's always in the back of your mind, you know, I wonder if this can happen somewhere else.

Well, I had been an assistant in Division I, so I knew about recruiting, so that never intimidated me about it because some people say, Well, the reason a lot of D 3 guys that are real successful never move up is because they have no idea what the recruiting is like on the Division I level.

Well, I was fortunate enough to recruit players like Cory Blackwell, Claude Gregory, a lot of guys ended up playing in the NBA, I'm talking about the elder Wesley Matthews, and had a chance to recruit those guys. So going to Division III after doing that, the recruiting was never an issue in my mind. So I didn't have doubts there.

Okay. Can the things that you're doing work against this team, that team? Well, at Platteville, we beat, as a Division III school, some Division I schools. So then you start thinking, Hey, you know, this isn't bad. We maybe can take this thing.

But in the back of my mind, if somebody hired me for a nickel, I always wanted to give them a dime's worth. So I never talked to the AD or the people at the school where I was coaching about going somewhere else. I was either going to do it or I wasn't.

So I truly felt after being very successful and we beat several Division II schools also I said, Well, if we're doing this here with a lot of engineering students at Platteville and the guys that we have here, then maybe we can do this thing.

And UWM, the chancellor and the AD came and we had a long conversation. I said, Okay, yeah, let's give this a shot. Having had some conversations with some other schools before.

Then when Patrick Richter asked if I wanted to come to Wisconsin, it was, Okay, I think we can do this thing. Dick had done a great job, and his staff, and it can work, as long as your vision becomes the players' vision.

There's a lot of coaches that are really good with X's and O's, and there are a lot of coaches that are real good and real powerful motivators. You got to have a little bit of all of that to ever get any of this done. So it's kind of nice to see that in a breakthrough, because we were in the weekend before, we had been in that one, and now to be in this weekend, okay, does that make this group special? Sure it does, because they're here.

But are they different, no, than the other teams that I've had. But this one has just proven they're right time, right place, and just a little cut above.

Q. From the outside looking in on paper, this looks like a really interesting matchup because it looks like two contrasting teams. Do you buy into that and see that as well?

COACH RYAN: I don't know about contrasting. The way they're playing right now, they're taking care of the ball. They're hitting the glass. They're sharing the ball. They have got different guys coming in off the bench helping them out like we have. I see a lot of similarities.

So I don't try to offer analyze the other team, but they are doing some really good things now that if you looked at them earlier, they're just better and that's how they got here.

So they're taller at guard than we are. They're maybe bigger up front. They're this, they're that. Then meanwhile you could look at our team and say, Well, Wisconsin's this, Wisconsin's that, I would imagine. But when people want to make something out about styles, I get a little leery. So I can't make that contrast or comparison.

Q. You and Coach Cal have taken very different paths to where you are right now and I'm curious how your path gives you perspective on Coach Cal's season this year, where they have gone from hype to struggling to finding themselves.

COACH RYAN: I really haven't looked at it to that extent that you're talking about. But Cal's seen a lot of basketball, been around a lot of teams. He doesn't miss much. He's perceptive guy.

I can see a lot of things in the way he does things that are similar to people that I know and a lot of things that I do. What's really neat in our sport is that it can be done a lot of different ways. I know the controversy in football is you got to have X number of seconds between the snap of the ball supposedly. I don't know exactly where that stands now. I don't know whether it was shot down or whatever. There's different styles of football. In basketball it might look like there's different styles, but I'll tell you, we're trying to do two things: We're trying to get more shots than the other team and we're trying to get better shots than the other team.

How do you get more shots? You don't turn it over. Another way of getting more shots is hit the offensive glass as hard as you can. So those two things right there will enable you to have more shots than the other teams.

How do you get better shots than the other team? Closer to the basket. A layup is a higher percentage shot, a dunk, than an 18 foot jump shot. Wide open threes by people who have proven they can hit them, that's a way to get better shots. The best way to get better shots is get to the free throw line. There's nobody guarding you and you get a free throw.

So Cal, or any other team that gets to this point in the season, has done those things. They have gotten better shots and they have gotten more shots on offense. On defense, just flip the two around. You don't want the other team getting as many shots, or try to turn them over. Try to make them do things they're not comfortable with. Try to take them out of shots that they have made all year so they're lower percentage shots. There's different ways of tweaking that or doing that, but I still say this game boils down to those two things, get more shots and better shots.

Q. You touched a little bit on this yesterday, but what role do you think the coaches need to play in some of the issues facing the NCAA right now, in particular extended health insurance, making up the difference between scholarships and the actual cost of attending school? How would you feel if, whether it was Wisconsin or the Big 10 or the NCAA, came to you and said, Hey, we want to take X percent, meaning all of the coaches' salaries or bonuses, and use it to pay for these things.

COACH RYAN: Well, first of all, I'll be consistent. In all the venues, regional and everything else, that's a topic. There's no quick answer that's going to answer what you asked. I'm on the NABC board. I'm on the executive board. We are discussing these matters, so I'm not going to go there during this tournament. So there are things coming down the road where they end up I'm not sure. But it's not something that needs to be discussed here in this forum.

Q. How do you prepare to face a Julius Randle and does he compare to anyone you guys have come across this season?

COACH RYAN: His strength, his ability to put it on the floor and get to the rim and finish on shots, I'm sure there's some, but when we're preparing for a game, I see a guy as him, I don't necessarily say he's like this guy or like that guy. For a combination of strength and size and the way he hits the glass, I think in that category, he's as good as anybody I've seen. So I'll just keep him in his own category.

Q. Is there anything about coaching and competing in Division III that you miss today and wish could be more of an aspect of Division I?

COACH RYAN: Well, let's see. The day before we played the National Championship game in the years that I was in Division III, I had a diet pop I always say soda until I got to Wisconsin, now it's pop and a cream donut at the Krispy Kream place, and enjoyed that, read the paper, did some crossword puzzles, and went to the game the next day. The difference? I haven't had a cream filled donut today. I haven't had a diet pop. You get to answer a lot of questions that you don't get asked in Division III.

So it's this (Indicating). It's the whole ambience of this takes over from the outside, and that's okay. We realize what this is. I just found out how much I make now a year, because as a state employee I guess it's published anyhow. I've never seen a check in 40 years.

Every place, wherever I was an employee, it always went into the account. My wife gives me $150 a month as allowance, whether I need it or not. So I don't get caught up in all that other stuff.

But Division III was fun, exciting, for those young men. Are you kidding me? And young women that compete in Division III, there's no difference. As a coach, I realize that once I got to this level, that if I ever got a chance to coach in this, that there would be a lot more scrutiny, a lot more questions, a lot more analysis.

I try to make sure it's never paralysis by analysis. So I try to keep it pretty basic with my team. But I'm hoping to get that donut here later today. I tell you that.

Q. Kentucky is so different here just very recently. Do you trust that or do you try to test whether they can do the things that they have just been recently doing more of, especially shooting from the perimeter?

COACH RYAN: Very much a concern to watch them recently without a doubt, because they're doing everything you need to do with the talent that they have. So the guys with their physical and mental and basketball IQ's together is much higher, as with most teams as the season goes on. But I would say there's has made a jump more so than any team I've seen.

Q. My question is, you guys are the second game tomorrow night. You have to wait all day. Now I know you played night games before, but this is not your typical night game?

COACH RYAN: You think it's past my bedtime? That's where you're going (laughter).

Q. No, that wasn't my question. What is going to be your routine tomorrow and how are you going to keep your players focused all day knowing they may not tip off almost until 9 o'clock?

COACH RYAN: That's a tough thing on the road, like in the Big 10, if we have the late game, it is. Maybe you sleep in a little later. We still get out of the hotel. We do our shoot around, so we get the guys out and get some things done that way.

We still have some guys working on projects academically, so they will have some time to do that also. This year, I don't know about the past, but I understand it's fairly new. There's a room for our players that have video games and pool tables and ping pong and televisions to watch different programs and games. Games forgot me after Pong. That's the one I remember, and that was too fast for me.

But they do have some things that they can occupy their time with. So we'll try to keep them moving a little bit. But we try to treat it just like when we went to play Purdue and it was a late game or whatever team, Michigan, on the road, Indiana, anybody in the Big 10.

Q. In the Michigan game, Kentucky brings a guy off the bench who has not played hardly at all for two months, has a huge impacts on the game. Just from the scouting standpoint, how difficult is that when you only have tape on a guy from one game and he was out of this world? How much do you focus on that?

COACH RYAN: As I'm looking at the game, Coach Gard, who the hell is this number, what was it, double zero? An as he tip slams three put backs? That's who you're talking about? Coach, who is this guy? That's what I did. I called my assistant coach and he had to fill me in. Wow. It was pretty impressive. So we got to keep him off the glass. That's all I know. How about that for an addition off the bench? Scary.

Q. Going back to the Oregon game, early in the tournament, late in the game, y'all ended up getting four offensive rebounds and it was an one possession game. Finally you get a wide open three. Talk about that momentum and just that fighting will of your team to carry that momentum to the Final Four?

COACH RYAN: Well, that was huge. I had taken out Ben Brust, our best three point shooter, because he had shot a really low, a fatigue three. He looked like he was wearing down a little bit. He can go forever. So as we kept getting the offensive rebounds, and it's kind of, Okay, I'm going to get a timeout here and get Ben in so in case we get three or four more, that maybe we can get the ball in his hands and he'll be rested.

So he, sure enough, came in off the bench and hit the three. And I think just for the crowd and for the moment, how huge that was to have maintained possession for that period of time and still get something out of it, even though three parts of it were bad, were shots that weren't close. I think the reason we got the offensive rebounds was because they were clunkers.

Q. For Traevon Jackson, as it is said, y'all are the best offense in 20 years, how does that feel? You're averaging 73.9 points per game and how does that feel to be here in the Final Four as a team?

TRAEVON JACKSON: Honestly, I think that that is a big testament to our defense, because you can't get into the opportunities that you want to do in terms of offensively if you're not handling defensively. So we're a versatile team, we like to share the ball, very confident in one another. I get on guys when they pass up open shots. They get on me the same type of way. So we're just versatile. It's good to play with guys like that.

Q. Frank, I'm curious, a long time ago, Bo remembered there was a guy at Kentucky who is no longer with us named Melvin Turpin. In high school, he couldn't walk and chew game, and he eventually became a great basketball player. Big guys develop late. When you started, was it easy? Was it tough for you? Did you have trouble walking and chewing gum and now you can obviously play? A lot of big guys it takes a long time.

Frank Kaminsky: It was difficult growing so much so fast. My biggest battle was with doorways. I used to hit my head on everything. Learning to duck was my first big battle. But I knew once I conquered that, that I would be good going forward.

Q. Josh, you've had some tough defensive assignments in the regional out there, but I'm sure you'll acknowledge you haven't hit the shots that you wanted to. Has it been just missing shots or some shots selection?

Josh Gasser: Definitely just missed a couple that I am confident in making. Teammates are probably confident in me as well in making them. You take a couple shots a game and you're not going to make them all. But the worst thing you could do is to lose your confidence and to lose the other stuff that you could help your team out.

So I'm just trying to focus on helping my team out anyway I can, defensive side of the ball, rebounding, being unselfish, and that's what I'm going to try to do.

Q. For Frank, I talked to Josh and Sam about this, but, of course, last week you mentioned the whole white guy thing. Do you think there's a form of disrespect because guys will see you guys come on the court and it's like, Oh, well, these white boys can't play? But at the same time, you guys go out and you show that you're just as athletic and as talented as everyone else.

FRANK KAMINSKY: Obviously, I said it last week, sometimes we kind of fail that eye test. I know that me personally, I've heard comments about how I look like I'm asleep all the time. I don't know where that came from.

But, you know, it doesn't matter once the game starts. It doesn't matter what we look like. It matters how we play. I think we have been playing our best basketball of the year. So people can say we look like this and we look like that, we look like a bunch of white guys, but it doesn't matter at the end of the day.

COACH RYAN: And, please, everybody remember the question was asked of the players. If somebody were to say about you, How would you be described? So that's the way Frank answered, because they have all heard it. So just so they know, because they weren't there, not all of them.

Q. Sam and Frank, John Calipari was in here earlier and compared the defense that Julius Randle has faced to that that Shaq would have faced with three players on him frequently. Do you see him as that kind of challenge and what is your impression of him overall?

Sam Dekker: Obviously, Julius is a very good player. You got to respect everything he's been doing on the floor this year. He's going to be a test. He's a good player. But just like I said last week, with some of the guys we faced, as competitors, you want to play against the best players in the nation, and I think Julius Randle is one of them. He's proven it. As a competitor you want to go up against that and you want to see what you can do and you want to get a win over those guys.

So I'm going to be working for that. Frank and all these guys are going to be working for that, too. We respect Kentucky very much, and we see them as one of the best teams in the nation. They wouldn't be here if they weren't. We're excited for the test and excited for the battle.

FRANK KAMINSKY: Like Sam said, Julius is one of the best players in the nation. There's a reason he is talked about so much. He's a difficult matchup for anybody who he's going against. Obviously teams have to throw things at him that he hasn't seen before to try to throw him off his game, and hopefully we can do that. We can try and frustrate him, because he's a very important piece for their success. If we get a player like that a little frustrated, it will be good for us.

Q. For you, after you lost five of six coming off starting 16 0, how did you get the guys to turn it around? And for this group, specifically, how did you get everybody to buy in?

COACH RYAN: Well, first of all, I made sure that in any conversations, that it could have been at any time during the year those five teams that we played, where we played them, when we played them, whatever, could have been spread throughout the season and you still end up whatever we ended up at the end of the regular season.

So you don't make too much about how many in a row or whatever. We had a year where we lost six in a row and then came back and won seven of our next eight. I think it was 2009 or 2010. I can't remember. But it was let's take a look at the reasons that we're not getting it done.

There was some things that we worked on more conscientiously about transition defense, going over on screens. But it wasn't anything that we hadn't done before. It's just some teams did some things where they exposed weaknesses and we didn't shoot it well. The same shots we were making in the 16 games before and the 10 games after, if we took a shot chart and we looked at all of the shots and said, These aren't any different, it's just in that spell, it was a batting slump for a baseball player, but it was three or four players rather than just one guy having a batting slump.

So then we got back to the mean and it worked out for us. Then we regained some confidence, which always helps. We got to the free throw line. Another reason our scoring is up is because we shot more free throws this year, made more free throws. So that increases, obviously, your yearly output. But we didn't panic. We just made sure we stayed true to who we were.

Q. Josh and Sam, first off, any memories from that 2000 Wisconsin Final Four run and just what it means to be a Wisconsin player, being able to take a part of this historical run for this program.

SAM DEKKER: Well, I was five, five or six, so I don't really remember it. That stuff doesn't really stick out in my mind. But it's an honor to be part of this. Growing up in Wisconsin, you watch the Badgers all the time and your family is Badger fans, the whole city. So it's an honor to be a part of this and to put that jersey on every night and just realize what it represents. To when coach extended that offer to me, I couldn't pass it up.

So it's a dream come true for me. And to be in this position with these guys, it's a dream come true. I'm very honored and I'm not going to take it for granted.

JOSH GASSER: I really don't remember it much either. I remember some of the guys on the team, but I think the big reason is that it's because they made it to the Final Four. So I think that's kind of something that we can always take with us.

People remember this team for awhile, but we're not quite finished with that goal yet. We still got a few more games to play here hopefully. It's an unbelievable experience to be here and to be able to play in front of our fans and have all the support that we have gotten all year. It's just awesome.

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