He began the answer, however, by the saying the reigning NCAA tournament West Region champions were performing up to his preseason standards.
“They’ve been working hard,” said Ryan. “They know what we’re after.”
A little more than two months away from the official start of the Badgers’ 2014-15 season when they host Northern Kentucky on Nov.14, Wisconsin was at its usual September hangout Monday at Elver Park on the southwest side of Madison jogging up the steep incline to get their bodies in shape for the long haul ahead.
All 16 players on the roster were on the scene, including UW’s three incoming freshmen, to run the day’s designated 12 reps. Fourteen of the players participated while senior guard Josh Gasser and junior forward Sam Dekker ran sprints on level ground.
Running the hill has been a staple of Ryan’s preseason workout dating back to his time at Platteville (after all, his autobiography is titled “Another Hill to Climb”). Starting with 10 reps up the approximate 150-yard incline, the Badgers will increase that number by two every week until they reach 20, signaling it’s time to get in the gym and start actual practices.
The Badgers have downsized their hill workouts from twice a week to one run over the last two years, but running the hill, in Ryan’s eyes, is an important part of team building, coming together as one to achieve a common goal.
So dialing it back last season didn’t come easy but was practical with the Badgers getting extra practices due to their foreign trip to Canada, a suggestion given to him from Temple coach Fran Dunphy.
“Fran is a guy who has made a lot of foreign trips so I asked him what he did when he got back, and he said he cut out one day of conditioning,” said Ryan. “We’re not cutting out any days of conditioning, but (strength coach Erik Helland) has got some other things we’re doing.”
Joining the program last season to replace long-time strength coach Scott Hettenbach, Helland has brought a variety of new techniques from his long tenure with the Chicago Bulls and designed workouts to target different fitness areas that have resulted in noticeable growth.
Almost two years removed from a torn ACL, Gasser no longer runs and workouts with a knee brace. Dekker, who came into the college a talented player but under developed physically, is now a formidable figure with his biceps, and a number of the true freshmen from a year ago have made noticeable gains heading into this season.
“Being the strength coach is a lot about personality, a lot about keeping the guys enthused about coming to workouts and being ready,” said Ryan. “Scotty Hettenbach did a great job. Erik’s doing a great job. They’re working at it. A lot of it depends on the individual. Only the person who is doing the exercise knows if he’s putting in 100 percent, 80 percent, 50 percent.”
Dialing back on the hill also comes after a change in NCAA legislation last summer, permitting basketball coaches to have eight hours per week with their players during the summer, with a maximum of two hours for on-court instruction.
“We can be around them and they can be around us,” said Ryan. “Those new rules have helped.”
The preseason work last year provided dividends. Although Wisconsin didn’t win a Big Ten title, the Badgers (30-8) advanced to the program’s first Final Four in 14 years, falling 74-73 to Kentucky in the national semifinals in Arlington, Texas.
Losing only one significant on-the-court contributor from that team and returning a roster with plenty of veteran and experienced leaders, many are predicting Wisconsin to win and win big this season. Ryan may think that way privately, but don’t expect him to let that slip publicly.
“We’ll find out when we get on the court,” said Ryan, “if they’ll be any better defensively, better offensively, better rebounding.”