Badgers hoops back to work

Wisconsin men's team begins running the hill at Elver Park

Even though it is only the start of the fall sports season, the UW men's basketball team is back to work in preparation for the upcoming year. Beginning this past week, the men's squad is working on conditioning with one its most infamous routines—the hill at Elver Park.

Since head coach Bo Ryan took over in 2001, the hill has been a staple in preseason conditioning workouts for the UW men's basketball team and this year is no different. The trip to the hill Thursday afternoon was the first time the coaching staff was able to see all the players together since students returned to campus this fall. It is also the first chance for the coaching staff to gauge what type of condition the guys are in entering the new school year in preparation for the new season.

"They've obviously been doing some stuff over the summer and in the offseason," Ryan said. "They showed me today, they're pretty much ready. It's not only condition, but you get a sense for how they feel about one another. I saw some good communication taking place. It's not always with what you say, it also is how you handle certain things. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the guys in their experience today."

Players were not available for comment Thursday.

Recognized by current and past Badgers as one of the toughest things they have ever had to do, the workouts on the hill are a true test of one's stamina, endurance, persistence and determination to get mentally and physically tough prior to the beginning of the season. The players are required to run up the hill, wait 45 seconds, jog down and then run back up. During the first week of conditioning, the team runs up the hill eight times, increasing two each week thereafter until the team gets to 20 on the final week before the official start of practice in October.

"Basically, I do it just to get everyone out of the gym for a while. For me, this is the 21st year of having a team to the hill in September. It is kind of like a right of passage. " Ryan said.

"It's obvious these guys have been doing a lot on their own, because that's as good of an eight hills I've seen by a team in 21 years in being a head coach having teams run hills," Ryan added.

Of the eight hours the Badger coaching staff is allowed with players each week until practices begin, six are devoted to conditioning and the other two are one-on-one workouts between players and coaches. In the individual workouts, the players are tested on agility, footwork, rebounding and several other skills tests.

However, for right now, the Badgers have a chance to "enjoy the college life" as Ryan put it and a chance to focus on school before the season starts.

One former Badger that is also around with the team is Freddie Owens, who is primarily on campus to finish school and receive his degree. Freddie was with the team on Thursday and will be for much of the season during workouts and practices.

When asked about Owens and his role this season, Ryan responded, "Yeah, he'll be doing that [practices] at times, but he also wants to get his degree, so he's making sure he's got everything covered there. Then he'll help us in some other ways. And if he ever wants to look at this profession down the road, he needs to learn a little more about why we do things the way we do them as coaches. Then he can find out some of the psychology that ‘old man Ryan' uses every once in a while."

In addition to Owens, all 15 members of the current team made the trip to Elver Park. The returners included: seniors forwards Mike Wilkinson and Zach Morley, center Andreas Helmigk, guard Clayton Hanson, juniors forward Ray Nixon and guard Boo Wade, sophomores forward Jason Chappell and guard Kammron Taylor.

Sophomore forward Alando Tucker ran all eight hills despite returning from a foot injury that forced him to redshirt last season. Ryan expects Tucker to be ready by October for the start of regular practices.

Senior guard Sharif Chambliss also attempted the hill for the Badgers while rehabbing from knee surgery in the spring, completing half the workout. He and Tucker are still being monitored by Badgers trainer Henry Perez-Guerra.

Redshirt freshman guard Brian Butch returned as well for UW in addition to three true freshmen: center Greg Stiemsma, guard Michael Flowers and forward DeAaron Williams. Butch impressed Ryan with his first day efforts on the hill in comparison to his first day last year.

"I don't know if any of you guys were out here last year, but Brian Butch has made the biggest strides by far. Knocking those eight out that way," Ryan said. "But, I was real impressed with the freshmen, because freshmen sometimes get excited about being out here with the group the first time. But, I have a feeling those two have been out here before—DeAaron [Williams] and Michael [Flowers] really showed good drive, good stamina."

Stiemsma was one that did struggle with his first attempt at the hill. His teammates, however, helped him finish his last two laps by running with him and providing encouraging words.

"Oh, I was there last year," Butch yelled as he helped his teammate down the hill.

Also there with the team was the new, 15th member of the squad—Tanner Bronson. A sophomore, native of Nicolet, Bronson was a team manager last season.

"We have a walk-on this year. A spot opened up after Clayton went on to take Devin's [Harris] scholarship," Ryan said. "And he worked really hard for us last year. He said it was his dream to play with the Badgers."

The Badgers' new walk-on will be able to begin running the hill on Monday.

By the end of the first workout, Ryan was very happy. In reference to the hill and his team's effort, he said:

"Is there a better view than that? That is one of the best views in Madison. But, this is good. The guys come out here together, they accomplish something together, you can see if there is a guy who struggles or two that the other guys help to pick him up and encourage him. Because they've all been there. It is really nice to see that camaraderie developing already."

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