I can remember the first time Bo Ryan called me.
I was 17 years old and thinking it was the craziest thing ever, because it was "Bo Ryan." I was nervous as could be talking to him and trying not to sound like an idiot. When he walked into the gym to watch me play for the first time, I kept peaking in his direction to see if he was actually watching me and not someone else. Now, as a 23-year-old professional basketball player, he is someone we half-jokingly refer to as "pops," and I realized he is just a normal dude who loves to teach, joke around and win.
I wanted to play at Wisconsin so bad, but to be honest, never thought I would get that opportunity. I did what I could, some luck went my way, and Coach gave me a chance. You know the rest.
Usually when I talk about Wisconsin basketball and Coach Ryan, it's hard not to talk about all the wins, championships and underrated success the program has had over the past 14 years. But today feels a little different. It's more about what one person has done for a bunch of aspiring basketball players like myself away from the court.
All I ever wanted when I committed to the University of Wisconsin was to win a Big Ten championship, make a Final Four and win the whole thing. I basically got to achieve all those things and create memories on the basketball court that will never go away. But in the end, I ended up learning valuable life lessons from Coach Ryan that you can't learn anywhere else. He forced you to be mentally tough, to improve, to work together, to compete and to get the most out of yourself and your team.
Even more important, for me, is creating a culture where I have developed relationships and friendships that will last a long, long time. Over the years, I have gotten to know tons of players from various programs around the country. I can promise you there is no program anywhere like what coach Ryan has built at Wisconsin.
So when getting asked what Coach Ryan means to me, it's nearly impossible to say other than: everything. He made my dream come true of just simply being a Badger, leading to everything I wanted out of my college basketball career. He established a culture where we could be bros, learn and win. I can't thank him enough for giving my teammates and I the most memorable years of our lives and in talking to various former teammates a lot over the past 24 hours. They all feel the same way.
Coach Gard has had a similar impact on my life. I have known Gardo since he started recruiting me as a sophomore/junior in high school. Without him, I wouldn't have been at Wisconsin. Nor would have Sam, Bronson, Berg, Jordan, Jon, and about 95 percent of the players you watched over the past 14 years.
Once I got to Madison, it didn't take long to realize what he meant to our team and program as a whole. I feel like he literally has 10 jobs in this program and does everything. And I probably only know half of what he actually does. He has been the familiar "glue guy" to everything we do and nothing that we accomplished would have happened without him.
Coach Gard deserves this opportunity more than anyone and I am excited to see his future success.