Ryan responds to ‘attack' on Butch

Wisconsin coach defends redshirt freshman forward Brian Butch after comments from an ESPN analyst

MADISON – If you were not at the Wisconsin/Illinois game Tuesday night, you were probably watching it on television. If you caught the halftime show, and you are a Badger fan, you probably found yourself a little offended by the comments of ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb. In case you missed it, here is a quick recap.

When asked who he thought was the most overrated team in the Big Ten this season, he said Wisconsin, citing that, in his opinion, the Badgers had not played well on the road. Gottlieb was then asked who he thought was the Big Ten's most overrated player. His answer was UW redshirt freshman forward Brian Butch.

The 6-foot-11 Butch has come off the bench for Wisconsin in 16 contests this season, averaging 4.6 points and 3.4 rebounds, playing in 12 minutes per game. Gottlieb stated that based on the fact that Butch was a Parade High School All-American coming out of Appleton West High School, he was the most overrated player in the league this year.

Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan did not take too kindly to the analyst's thoughts and, after meeting with Butch, read the following statement to the media following the Badgers' practice Thursday:

"As a coach, I feel it is necessary to respond when someone outside attacks one of our players on an individual basis. To have a player individually called out in this manner is a sad commentary in this day in college athletics, especially by someone who has not seen us practice and, as far as I know, has never seen Brian play in person in college.

"I told Brian I would respond only if asked about the situation by the media and wanted to have something prepared after talking with Brian. He does not feel the need to add anything personally and simply wants to continue being the best student-athlete he can be.

"High school players making the transition to college players have different biological clocks in regards to their development. Brian understands this and is preparing diligently for his future.

"After talking with Brian, I felt it necessary to share some of the things he has been dealing with. His mother was diagnosed with breast cancer last spring and underwent surgery and treatment and was recently given a clean bill of health. Brian was a pillar of strength for not only his mother but his father and younger sister, Laura, as well.

"As those that have covered us on a regular basis know, Brian has missed close to 25 percent of our practices this season due to injury, and because of his body type, this has slowed his development at this point. His attitude and work ethic are as good as any player that I have ever worked with and have never wavered.

"While dealing with his mother's ordeal and the struggles with injuries, I would just like to add that he earned a 3.46 GPA this semester. Brian has also taken time to visit the UW Children's Hospital on numerous occasions and has made school visits as well as an appearance at "Community Awareness Day" in Fitchburg promoting the Madison Police Department's Keys Program.

"In closing, I'd just like to say that Brian has been nothing but an overachiever during his life, both on and off the court. It is a pleasure to coach such a complete young man who has the character and determination to succeed at whatever he does."

He did not quit there. Ryan, who normally applies the attitude, "It doesn't matter what people say about us," spent additional time with reporters Thursday, backing up his young big man.

"One thing as a coach you do, you don't let people attack your players, in that kind of form. Totally uncalled for," he said. "I talked to him coach-player and ‘this is what I'd like to do, you tell me if it's ok.' Brian said fine. But he has no comment. There is no reason to. This is a coach protecting a player. If you let something like this go by, then you're free game for everybody.

"My goal in life as a coach and teacher is to make sure these young men have a fair chance to develop to their fullest and I'll back them every chance I get."

Ryan said that Butch was handling the criticism fine.

Said Ryan: "He's fine. He knows he's developing. He knows it's been tough with a couple of the injuries that he's had and things that have happened that way. He's going to keep battling through them. But he's doing things. He's knocking them dead in the classroom, he's going to these things, helping kids. C'mon, nobody ever checked that out. Nobody ever looks at these guys that way. If it isn't somebody doing something negative, there's not a whole lot people on that level would ever check on."

As far as the other players went, the old attitude continued to apply.

"Sometimes people say good things about you, sometimes people say bad things," senior forward Mike Wilkinson said. "You never pay too much attention to either one. You just got to go about your business. We know what we need to do. It's to get wins. It doesn't matter what anyone says about us."

Wilkinson said that there had not been much discussion of Gottlieb's comments inside the Wisconsin locker room, a sign that the Badgers will not let it become a distraction as they take to the road for a matchup with Penn State Saturday evening.

Butch sat out practice Thursday as he continues to recuperate from a left foot injury suffered in the Badgers' win at Michigan last Saturday. He is officially day-to-day.

Arvind Gopalratnam contributed to this report

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