Bo Ryan: "You know, I did. And I know Billy Packer keeps telling me that he made him what he was as a player. Now, you know Billy was the point guard on that team, and I was only kidding about that, I think they helped make each other good players. He came to Milwaukee and I know he was around the area when I got here. He was a tough player. I know he was a guy that enjoyed playing. In Pennsylvania he scored a lot of points. Someone sent me a picture of Lenny back in high school and now I know see where Jason got his looks from… because they are both very similar in build and features. Lenny was a heck of a player. I always admired the way he played. He played hard."
I'm wondering if you could talk a little about what you've seen of Julius Hodge this season and in particular in the postseason and talk a little bit about the challenge he presents for you not only skill-wise but emotion-wise on the court.
"You ask me what I've seen and I tell you I've seen too much. I've seen all the good things that he brings to the table. And you just said it and I'm going to agree with you, emotionally he brings a lot to that team…. He brings not just what physically you can see on the stat sheet, but emotionally you are right, he does do a lot to inspire and motivate the people around him. And we have some guys like that too. There isn't a team in the Sweet Sixteen that doesn't have that. But he is the guy for them that really is a go-to guy. They have other players…but he does seem to be the guy that makes the statement for North Carolina State as far as his actions, statistically and emotionally."
Who is your emotionally leader?
"I think we have two guys that have really been, and in different way, Mike Wilkinson and Alando Tucker, and then also now that Sharif Chambliss is settled in at the point guard position and is doing what he's doing, he also has a sense of stability and leadership. So I would say pretty much those three guys, and as far as a quiet emotional guy, Clayton Hanson, who was a walk-on who has just exceeded all expectations by anyone and everyone. I know he's admired a lot by his teammates and leads by example too."
You always hear in the NCAA Tournament, guard play is so important. You hear that it seems like every year. Is that overstated, or do you think that is an accurate statement?
"I think most people in the media, if they did play, they probably played point guard or shooting guard. So I think that's why they say guard play [laughs]. No, but… I'm a former guard too, but that has nothing to do with the answer I'm going to give you.
"Guard play leads and can direct and it does start there a lot of times in conversion from defense to offense. And if you have big players, in order for big players to be successful, they need the ball. So transporting the ball, getting the ball into position. Also, you need people to stretch the defense to help your interior. Therefore shooting guards obviously are very valuable to teams because not only do you need a point guard to get it going but in order to stretch the defenses, to keep them honest, you need shooting guards. Yeah, guard play is important, but, you know, forwards and centers, last time I looked they still have those guys on the court, and they're much needed."
There are three teams from the ACC and three teams from the Big Ten heading into this Sweet Sixteen. Can you talk about that particular challenge and is there any additional motivation to sort of represent the Big Ten?
"We always as coaches take a sense of pride in our region, our conference. Because, lets face it, conference championships are still something that players, when the year starts, they are building with the non-conference schedule to get ready for their conference schedule. We like to represent our league just like anybody else would, in the best way possible. We are happy that there is three teams still dancing. We hope that there is not a hole in the shoe and the shoe wears out. We hope to keep going. Eight teams will, eight teams won't. We're going to try to be on that left-hand side just like the ACC schools and the other conferences would too. We're proud that we have three and we hope that we keep it going."
You talked about being a man-to-man disciple, I guess Bobby Knight's influence there. Do you use any other defensive wrinkles or do you pretty much just lace them up and go man-to-man?
"I've been accused of using some others but believe me it was by accident. It was an observation made by somebody thinking that we did something different. But everything that we do is based on certain rules with our man-to-man and there are times, obviously any good man-to-man has zone principles. It is known as weak side help. It is known as rotating players, pinching backsides, I don't what terms each coach uses that you're familiar with, but there is a lot of zone principles in everybody's man-to-man. I think coach Knight was one of those that had that influence on a lot of people and, of course, it has to be tweaked a little, because the clinic I went to in 1972, after I got out of the Army — by the way I went to basic training in North Carolina, so the fans down there can take it easy on me. I spent some time there at Fort Bragg. But when I got out the Army and went to the first clinic, it was in Valley Forge, Pa., and Knight was speaking and when he was talking on defense and what he did in explaining about weak side help and where to force the ball the things like that. It is the principle that I've always taken from that is to try to always get five defensive guys to play three offensive guys. That seems to work for a lot of coaches around the country and I don't think that will ever change."
I was wondering how a Philly area guy ended up at the College of Racine?
"It doesn't even exist anymore. But Bill Cofield took the job there in 1973. I was coaching a junior high school at the time in the Philly area. And he had coached at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He had asked two of his former players to be his assistant and to be the head baseball coach. Both guys had just taken jobs in the Philly area and were not interested in coming to Wisconsin. Strangely enough then, these to guys lived 100 miles apart, one on the north side of Philly, one on the south, and they both said, ‘But we know a guy who just got out of the Army, who is a gym rat and he's a coach and he's going to be a college coach someday and you ought to call this guy.' He called two different guys, both guys give him my name, and it wasn't anything that was set up. So Bill Cofield called me and I flew out to Milwaukee, drove to Racine, interviewed, he hired me. And then the school got into some financial problems. Not because of athletics or anything. It was a private school and there were three schools in the state of Wisconsin that were pretty much struggling.
"So he went to Virginia with Terry Holland. [Holland] was the first black coach in basketball. Terry Holland hired him in '74. He coached there with Terry Holland for three years and then he got the Wisconsin job. Meanwhile, I went back to the Philly area to coach at high school, against my old high school, Chester. The high school I coach was Sun Valley.
"So he contacted me at Sun Valley and said, ‘you want to get together again at Wisconsin?' I said, ‘Are you kidding me? Sure, let's go,' and that's how I got back to Wisconsin."
"And I met my wife at the College of Racine too. So it was a good year."
Where did you go in the Army?
"I was drafted, so I was crazy enough to walk by that contraption where they have the paratroopers, where they practice. I said, ‘boy that looks like fun.' So I was going to sign up for the paratroopers. But I found out you had to enlist for more time. And I thought, ‘Well, I'm a draftee, I'll be in for two years.' So, I said, ‘No, that's OK.' So I ended up going to military police school at Fort Gordon, Ga. And they kept me right there at Fort Gordon and put me through a specialists school on corrections, working with prisoners in the stockade.
"So for a year-and-a-half I worked with prisoners in the stockade at Fort Gordon. And in 1969-71 there wasn't an empty bunk in the stockade because there were a lot of AWOLs and a lot deserters and a lot of things going on. So, that was an interesting experience."
You probably remind your players of that too? You know how to handle tough cases I guess
"You know what, I've been pretty fortunate to have some really good guys to coach. But I also know what it's like to have to deal with the people that maybe haven't quite figured some things out yet. We always try to help them figure it out some way."