This in-state battle between Division I Wisconsin and Division III Platteville will be the first time either of these two teams has met but it will still bring back memories for much of the Badger coaching staff. Prior to coaching at Wisconsin, head coach Bo Ryan garnered much of his coaching success during his 15-year stint at Platteville. During that time frame, Ryan established an endless list of accomplishments which included four Division III national championships and a 353-76 overall record.
"It always adds just a little bit more when you can be a part of something that has been successful and is successful and represents good times," Ryan said regarding his time at Platteville. "As a coach we're always trying to make sure players have a positive experience but winning those championships probably for those guys makes it a little bit more special."
Not only is this a great opportunity for Ryan to reunite with his old team but he is thrilled that his program is playing against other in-state schools. He commented facetiously that if he had received the opportunity to play Wisconsin during his time at Platteville they would have forgotten about a bus and crawled the 60 some miles to play the Badgers.
Now that Ryan is at Wisconsin, he is sticking to the same coaching philosophies he used in Platteville and has seen similar winning results. He has compiled a 68-28 record in his three years at Wisconsin and more impressively, a 43-2 record at the Kohl Center.
"I just tried to set the example that all coaches do," Ryan said. "When we went down there it starts with guys committing, buying in, dedication, sticking to your principles, involving the community, involving the students. You couldn't get a ticket for our games at Platteville, it's kind of nice that it's that way here now. That's two things that I'm extremely proud of as a coach is that people must have liked what they saw because they wanted to come see the players perform."
Wisconsin assistant coach Greg Gard also has a close connection to Platteville. He graduated from the school in 1995 and was an assistant under Ryan from 1993-1999. But even more important, he has a strong tie with someone sitting on the opposing team's bench. This game will give Gard the opportunity to go head-to-head against his brother and Platteville assistant coach Jeff Gard. Jeff is in his second season as an assistant under head coach Paul Combs at Platteville and prior to this coaching job, both were on the coaching staff at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, Wis.
While the winner of the game will provide one Gard brother with bragging rights in the family, Greg knows that there is much more that matters with this final exhibition game for the Badgers.
"I think once the ball goes up and the players start playing, that's what it's all about," Greg Gard said. "Its much bigger than him or I, we're both doing it out of a passion for the game…I think the players are the most important things in the game. We'll enjoy it, our parents get a chance to see us both in the same gym at the same time, they don't have to worry about spitting and rushing from one game to the other. Once the game starts you forget about who's on that other bench and you worry about how to get our guys better."
The Gard family will undoubtedly have a large showing Tuesday night. Greg commented that his grandmother will make her first trip to Madison and see both of her grandsons coach for the first time. As far as who will support what team, the family is opting for both.
"I think the word is they're going to be wearing half and half," Greg said when asked which team colors his family will be wearing. "Whether they switch at halftime or switch every media time out. I know definitely they said they get a chance to cheer for every basket that's scored, no matter what so it will be neat for them."
All this nostalgia aside, there is still a basketball game to be played. Wisconsin's first exhibition game against UW-Parkside went in its favor, 81-42, but there are still a lot of questions going into the Platteville game. One concerns the starting lineup. Against Parkside, Ryan went with the lineup of senior guard Clayton Hanson, sophomore guard Kammron Taylor, senior center Andreas Helmigk, sophomore forward Alando Tucker and senior forward Mike Wilkinson. There may be some adjustments throughout the season for the starting five but Ryan commented that he will most likely keep the same lineup on Tuesday.
Another question still up in the air is the status of freshman forward DeAaron Williams, who is still deciding if he wants to redshirt or not. Coming into the season, it appeared as though there was little debate about Williams playing right away but after he did not suit up against Parkside, redshirting could be a viable option. If he is to play against Platteville, he can no longer redshirt due to NCAA ruling.
One thing that the Badgers did find out in their first game was the amount of depth they can look forward to for the upcoming season. Minus Williams and junior guard Boo Wade still on an indefinite leave of absence, the Badgers rotated a 13-man roster. In the game, Tucker and Wilkinson both posted double-doubles with 14 and 13 respectively and 10 boards a piece. Most notably, redshirt freshman Brian Butch took his first steps as a Badger and added 13 points.
Gard was most impressed with newcomers like Butch and true freshman Greg Stiemsma's performances during the first game.
"I think our young guys as they adjusted on the fly and they developed a comfort level as the game went on; especially Brian and Greg," Gard said. "I thought each time they went back into the game, they came back out with a more relaxed look on their face and ‘ok I understand now what it's about'. There was a lot of development…and they have a ways to go, they're not there by any means. But I thought for the young guys we got them a lot of good experience and I thought each of them got a little bit better as the game went on."
Platteville posted a 16-12 record last season and returns seven players from last year's roster; including two of their top three scorers. Senior guard Brad Reitzner's 17.8 points a game led the way for the Pioneers while senior forward Brandon Temperly added 13.0 and junior guard LeVon Crawford averaged 8.4.
The outcome of the Platteville game will not be determined until 40 minutes of hard-fought basketball are finished but it is certain that these two exhibition games were a great idea for all of collegiate basketball in Wisconsin. Instead of playing exhibition teams in the past like the EA Sports All-Stars or an NBA Developmental League team, the Badgers, as well as their in-state opponents, are getting a better test and more significance out of these games.
"[The players] know this is an opportunity for us to get better and we need this type of test especially against the systems that we see and the organization that we see," Gard said. "It's a lot better than going against an AAU team or some of the other foreign exhibition team's that we've played because these [Division II an III] teams are preparing for a season. Once the exhibition teams are done…then their season is done. They're preparing for something just like we're preparing for something. We can get something out of it and they will as well."
And ultimately for Ryan, he will get some "fuzzies" when he finally gets to play the place he called home for so long.
"There'll be some fuzzies, warm and fuzzies going on, but then the ball's tipped up, you know, it's time to go," Ryan said. "It was like going to college and then coming back and playing at the playground that you grew up on. It was kind of neat going there and playing against some of the younger guys, and it was kind of neat going, boy, I remember when I was like that guy a real long time ago, like two years ago. You remember, as you get older the time thing expands a little bit. When you're younger a year is an eternity. So for me it'll be exciting."