Head Coach Bo Ryan
You had the lowest turnover amount in the league last year, how much do you think losing a player with the experience of Kirk (Penney) is gong to affect that statistic?
"Well we used to kid Kirk that he was hurting our average, by the way, at times. Notice I said we used to kid Kirk. That was just to put a little heat on him. Kirk became very good with the basketball, as a matter of fact. He went from a guy who could catch and shoot as well as anybody. Kirk needed to be a bit of a better post-feeder so we tried to help him with our drills. And at times, because he knew how important the ball was, he would pass that along to the other players too. In our leadership now, I think we're in good shape because they also understand the value of the basketball. So I think we'll still be okay that way. Remember [statistics will change] if we had 70 possessions per game last year and we go to 75 or 80 this year, or to 60. As the possessions go down then usually the turnovers are at a lower number because you've actually held onto the ball longer and you're not putting yourself in position to make a feed that puts a little more defensive pressure on it. By that I mean if you're pushing it a bit you're making decisions with a quicker pace, and you tend to make more turnovers in a game if you're defensive pressure is amplified. We're possibly doing some things defensively where we'll put a little more pressure on but if we go from 70 possessions to 80 possessions, there might be a few more turnovers per game, but that doesn't mean you're doing a poor job of taking care of the basketball. We've had seasons in the past, where we would force 20-some turnovers and but have 13-14 ourselves. But if you have 13-14 and you're forcing only 13 or 14, you're going to be minus for turnover ration, when the key is to be in the positive. So, with an increased up-tempo game, if we turn the ball over a little more, don't be alarmed. It won't be because Kirk's gone necessarily; it'll be because there are more possessions. Other teams slow [the tempo] down on us. It's also what they other teams try and do too. We got caught in a high possession game against Wake Forest and that didn't turn out in our best interest. Their points per possession were better than ours and that's still the key.
Does being a two-time defending Big Ten champion give the players confidence, does it matter that they're the two-time defending champions? Do you want them to walk around with a swagger knowing that they are the best over the last two years, or does that not have anything to do with this team this year?
"Well, to say it has nothing to do with it, that's not fair to the players that put the hardware out there that's being displayed right now. A lot of sweat went into that by the players – they're proud of that, but they also know that that doesn't give them any advantage this year when it comes to each and every game and each and every possession. It's a whole new season, and they're proud of their accomplishments. The reason some of the recruits you end up getting year-in and year-out come is because of some of the accomplishments of the players that were there the season before or seasons before. So to say it has nothing to do with it, that's not correct, but we don't talk about Big Ten championships when we do our two versus two help and recover drill. The only thing that's important there is that you get your feet to get your body to this spot, stop the ball, recover to your man, close out. I keep it pretty simple, so right now we're just doing the basics, and there's not a whole lot of conversation about back to back titles."
You guys snuck up on people two years ago and I'm not sure anybody believed it going into last year but now you are two-time defending champs and you have 85% of your people coming back. Is this the team to beat?
"Not so fast about 85%. 40% of our starting group is gone right now, did you know that?
"Sometimes there are coaches that will tell you ‘Yeah we won X number of games, lost X number of games last year, but we have most guys back' and then they'll say ‘That's the good news we hope.' Sometimes I've heard people say, ‘That's the bad news.' Hopefully for us, that's the good news in that people are accustomed to the system, more than the year prior, and guys pick up for other players in the lineup, add in the plus column, eliminate some of the minuses, based on the strength, the experiences that they've gained in the off-season. And speaking of Tucker, by the way, that's where in the off-season you could see that he had improved. Anybody that watched him when he came back, and some of the other guys have improved also, but I think he was the guy that improved more-so than anyone else. Hopefully the sitting out will not affect him to a great extent. But it's good to have experience out there when you say something in a drill, I think the players can tell you I don't miss a lot, my selective memory on certain things is pretty good. Devin (Harris) always gets a good smile when I say, ‘Well we don't want anyone going back door here on a high-post entry, because, let's say, somebody like Dee Brown gets two backdoor baskets, and it ends up being a close game at the end of the game – those four points that we gave up could mean a lot." So Devin of course remembers getting burned twice back door. So you can always float something out there that the players with more experience can relate to "Yep, we need to work on this drill, we can't let this happen, because this is what happened against Wake, this happened against Kentucky, this happened against whoever we played." So that's what experience will do. It helps in the teaching process when you're going through your drill. When we play we're going out there with the idea that we're going to try not to beat ourselves. We're going to try to give ourselves a chance. That's the way I approached it as a player and I do as a coach. I don't know of any other way, I've said that many times over the years."
Coach, after winning back-to-back Big Ten titles, what's more difficult, getting to the stop or staying at the top?
"Well anybody that's going into this season, if their coach didn't say staying there, then he needs to go back to school. Well of course a coach will say staying there if you've been there. And we've been fortunate enough to have a nice little ceremony at home the past couple years – that's good – that was fun. But to be back in that same spot, that's going to be tough to do."
Last year you played seven or eight pretty consistently. Would you prefer to have seven or eight guys that you can count on, or 10 or 11. Do you have a number in your mind that is good for you to play?
"Depth is all relative to your style, to the conditioning, what type of bodies you have one through seven, one through eight. Are the guys who are maybe bigger, thicker, tire a little easier, so they need more rest? So it all depends on your team makeup, your team chemistry. Can they add? I'll bring guys off the bench if they can add something to what's going on on the floor. No one substitutes with the idea of subtracting. If I have 10 guys that can add, they'll be on the floor."
Bo, what's a realistic contribution from Brian Butch this year?
"Right now we're asking him, in each one of these drills, where freshmen tend to be behind, don't get frustrated and keep working hard. That's all we're doing right now. It's day-to-day. Some of our other guys are a little bigger, a little thicker and it's pretty competitive in there so we just tell him, Zach (Morley), Kammron (Taylor), all three guys in there. But we just tell them, don't get frustrated, when we do this 3-on 3 drill, this 4-on-4 drill, whatever it is, just try to remember things. If you're getting burned, don't get burned twice. And there's some burning going on out there with the young guys. But it was the same thing last year. I think about (Alnado) Tucker, and the year before with Devin (Harris) and Mike (Wilkinson), and just thinking about some of these young guys. The new guys get exposed, and that's okay too."
What does a freshman have to prove to you before you put him on the floor? Is it mostly defense? Does he not have to be a liability defensively?
"Yeah, you take a look at how Alando Tucker got his minutes [last year]. We've said this many times, he shows, obviously the propensity for getting off the floor, which he did in high school, but there's so much of the game played on the floor, that the great thing about Tucker was picking up everything so quickly, his support defensively, his block-outs, his tenacity. And he's a lot stronger than people realize. As I've said before, a former player at Platteville that coached against him talked about him being an undersized post-player but a guy who he thought would do real well in our system. And he was right; Tucker does do real well in our system, so he played as a freshman. So, to answer your question, how did Alando get on the floor? Defensively, he moved his feet, he got to spots, he blocked out, he didn't give up a lot of second shots and he learned to take care of the basketball better. So, on the defensive end you can't be a liability and on the offensive end you can't be a liability. If you have four areas and three of them you're real strong, then we'll try to camouflage that fourth one."
Bo, what are you looking for from the guys who might replace Alando (Tucker), and who's in the mix?
"There are a lot of possibilities. Right now it's too early to tell. There's a lot of jockeying, as far as one day one guy will look better one practice or half the practice do well here, and we're just looking for the most consistent play out of an individual or individuals to get those minutes."
Last year [the state of] Wisconsin had three programs in the [NCAA] tournament and you've had three successful programs for a couple years. Is that starting to show up when you go out of state to recruit? Is this becoming a basketball state?
"We've answered that question quite a bit here in the fall with different people inquiring, and very simply it's over the years, number one, the high school coaches have done a better job of going to clinics and working their systems, creating their systems. There are more basketball coaches in the state of Wisconsin who do only basketball, as opposed to years before where the coaches I ran into were doing more than one sport. Now there are a lot more basketball coaches doing just basketball, and I think that helps you a lot as a teacher and a coach. The AAU programs in this state are doing a really good job of being legit, being people that are truly trying to help student athletes for the most part. I think that if you have people doing their part on that end, the high school coaches doing their part, and you have the non-Division I programs that are being successful then you have places to play for student-athletes in the state of Wisconsin. It isn't just because somebody noticed three Division I schools going to the NCAA tournament that all of a sudden the people who know anything about basketball knew that there was basketball in the state before. Eau Claire, Stevens Point, Whitewater, somebody said Platteville was good for a while. There's been good basketball in this state for a while. You didn't just discover that. Nationally they've just discovered it with three programs in [the tournament], but I think Wisconsin has had pretty good basketball here for more than just a brief period. Having watched the Badger State games, having watched all the different types of basketball played in the state of Wisconsin, having watched the Wisconsin players go out to [Las] Vegas, to play basketball, and Orlando and other places in different tournaments – Wisconsin people can play. And I think from the coaching end and the teaching end, I think the reasons I just talked about before are some of the reasons why it's even better along those lines also."
Junior forward Mike Wilkinson
Do you have more confidence going into this season than in the past years knowing that you guys are what you are, the two time Big Ten Champs?
"We have a lot of confidence in each other that we can go and try and repeat again, but it is a difficult conference this year. Every team is good; every team has a lot of guys back. We still have a lot to prove - a lot of people still doubt that we can go out there play with all these other teams, especially with some of the guys we have. We still have a lot to prove about our team."
Do you really think that people doubt a team that has four starters back from a team that won the Big Ten in consecutive years?
"Every one is talking about how we lost Kirk [Penney] and stuff like that, but the reason is probably because we have a bunch of young guys. Some guys are ready to step up now that didn't step up last year. We'll be ready; we still have stuff to prove."
Does having a lot of depth on the team make it easier for you as players?
"It definitely makes it easier, especially if we look to push it a little more. Last year we pushed a little more than the year before and this year we're going to try to do a little bit more than we did last year. The more people we have the more people we can keep fresh and keep the pressure on opposing teams both offensively and defensively."
Junior guard Devin Harris
Can you talk about what some of the younger guys will bring to the team?
"We'll start off with Brian [Butch]. Brian brings another outside threat, another shooting big man, another big body for us down low. He is just another guy we can throw in and increase our depth off the bench. Kammron [Taylor], he is a very, very quick guard – one of the quickest guards I have seen. He can shoot a little bit and can get in the lane and make good decisions and will play a lot for us in the backcourt giving me a break. Zach [Morley] is a very good four man. He can get an offensive rebound and pretty much is solid all around. He will be tough on the outside."
Do you get positive things out of having Sharif Chambliss on the team this year even though he won't be playing?
"Yes – chasing him around screens in practice. Are you kidding me? He's got to get me ready for other guards. He's one of the best shooting guards in the Big Ten and being able to guard him in practice and get us ready for the guys we will be playing in games will help us out."
Do you guys have any expectations coming into this season after winning back to back Big Ten titles?
"We just take it one day at a time like we always have. We are not looking forward to anything – the high rankings, none of that matters. If we don't win we won't stay high, so we'll take it one day at a time and one team at a time. We'll attack it that way."
Senior guard Freddie Owens
Would you prefer having seven or eight guys play consistently or having a deeper bench?
"It really doesn't matter. That's coach's call. We're just going to go out and give it our all no matter what. We've got good guys returning from last year along with the new guys. Everybody is making strides to get better and they're willing to do the things that they need to do."
As one of the three seniors, do you think you will take on more of a leadership role this year? Or who do you look to as the leaders of this team?
"The seniors are leaders no matter which team you are on. They've been around the block a few times and they can try to pass on what they've learned the last three or four years on to the younger guys. Senior leadership is very key."
What is the biggest key for this year's team to get further than last year's team?
"We just need to close out games. Last year the games that we lost we did not do a good job of closing out. We need to take care of the ball and continue to do the same things that made us successful last year."
Freshman forward Brian Butch
What has helped you to adapt to playing at this level?
"I think it is just my learning curve more than anything. I have been making mistakes left and right, that is one of the things a freshman does. It is just being able to make those mistakes and learn from it and try to know what position you're going in and what way you are going through it all."
Are you at all curious about how much playing time you are going to get?
"Right now it is not a concern. Right now we are just trying to get better as a team. The big thing right now is worrying about what we have to do right now as a team."
Freshman guard Kammron Taylor
Are you physically drained?
"I'm drained. Coming in I had a feeling it was going to be like this, but actually coming here and playing against Freddie (Owens) and Devin (Harris) every day… the physical contact has worn on me this week. The longer we go, the more I'm going to get used to it though."
Devin said the number one thing you are struggling with is some of the drills, particularly on defense, which is pretty common for a young guy. Would you agree with that?
"Yes. That's probably the thing I struggle the most with. Coming off screens you've got to learn how to stay low. I have a small body frame, so I have to use my quickness to get around the defense and that's what Devin is teaching me how to do."
Is there any significance to your number 23?
"Well that has been my number since the second grade. I love the number 23. I do wear it because of Michael Jordan – everybody loved him when he was young. A lot of people didn't stick with it as they got older, and I did.