The Top Prospect

One of the people responsible for helping build Wisconsin's success through his relentless recruiting efforts, Badger basketball assistant Greg Gard is turning into an attractive prospect himself, as other programs continue to inquire about his interest in leading their program.

MADISON – Success comes at a price.

Winners of 84 of its last 114 Big Ten conference games under Bo Ryan, Wisconsin has the fourth-best record among BCS teams in the past seven years, has won three conference crowns and is one of five teams in the country to have won 30 games in the last two seasons.

While success gets placed directly on the shoulders of the players and in the coach's lap, a head coach is only as strong as his assistants.

With Greg Gard at Ryan's side for the past 14 years, success has followed the duo from Platteville to Milwaukee and now to Madison. Praised by Ryan as being one of the most thorough and organized coaches he's been around, the question becomes how much longer until Gard is no longer on Ryan's bench and is ready to take on his own program.

The question comes up every year but the answer to that question appears to be drawing closer every passing season.

With the accomplishments Wisconsin basketball has generated year after year, the job offers for Gard, widely considered one of the top assistants in the country, to take over his program have continued to pop up and the offers get better and better with each successful year of Wisconsin basketball in the books.

"One of the best ways a program can generate their own success is steal one of the assistants away from a successful program," Gard said in an interview with Badger Nation. "Without the success of our players, none of that would be possible because they wouldn't be acquiring if we were 15-15."

With an overall record of 11-19 and a fourth-place finish in the western division of the Mid-American Conference, the University of Toledo decided to fire Stan Joplin, who had been the coach for the previous 12 years, and go for a new start and approached Gard about interviewing for the position.

One of the three finalists for the job (along with former Badger head coach Brad Soderberg), Gard had at length discussions with Toledo about the position that was eventually offered to Notre Dame assistant Gene Cross (another talented top assistant). Although Gard's goal, much like other assistants, is to run his own program some day, Gard decided that Wisconsin, for the time being, was the better fit.

"The people were great in Toledo that I talked with but for my situation right now, Wisconsin is the best thing for me and my family at this point," Gard said. "When the right time comes and the right fit, and that has always been my stance, I'll go for it. I'm not going to just jump or go after every job. There have been a lot of inquiries but none that have peaked my interest in terms of right situation or timing."

When that time comes, however, Gard admitted that leaving Wisconsin won't be the easiest thing in the world. At the same time, Gard, like any other job, had emotional connections to people and players at UW-Platteville and UW-Milwaukee that he had to sever in order to move up the basketball ladder, something he expects to do again someday.

"There's always going to be emotional ties when you are dealing with coaches and players," he said. "That's going to be a never ending cycle when you are developing relationships with student-athletes and that's always going to be the case. You have to try to separate the emotional side of it from the business side of it. From my standpoint, both my wife and I have family here, our parents are within an hour from here and that's something that goes into decisions."

One of the reasons Gard has been an attractive hire is his ability to recruit and recruit well, helping Wisconsin get solid high school talent that fits into the Ryan system. While Gard has done his fair share of travelling this year, most of his recruiting has been done by popping in a DVD and studying a player's tendencies using modern technology.

"A lot of our evaluation is done now on tape because of the travel aspect. You're able to see more people and we have tape stacks a mile high of people we've inquired about," Gard said. "Everybody on staff gets to evaluate and compare and contrast people we're looking at and trying to find the right fit.

"After that, then you start doing the leg work and start doing the background check. What type of kid is he? What type of student is he? How does he interact at school with his teachers that he deals with day to day? You find those combinations that work for you and then look if the player can meet the level of competition we have here. If everything works, we have found a winner."

With hundreds of DVDs to go through from prospects across the country, Gard is looking for anything that catches his eye and stands out from the rest of the pack. When he popped in the highlight tape of Arizona prep forward Ryan Evans, Gard had that reaction.

"When I saw him on tape, I was like ‘How is this kid still available?' That's the first thing you look at when you pop in these DVDs that show up, you're hoping to find that diamond in the rough that not a lot of people know about," he said. "With the Internet and AAU tournaments and the exposure these kids get, finding a hidden gem is harder and harder. Ryan did a lot of things that made him standout and that he was very gifted.

"The thing that jumped out about Ryan right away was his personality," he added about Evans. "His persona, his outlook on things, his energy and how, as we talked to people, he had strongly progressed. He had a growth spurt his sophomore year and his best basketball was being played out in front of him. I think that combined with his family's Big Ten background, this isn't a kid that doesn't have a clue what the Midwest was like. He's the total package with his length, athleticism, ability to get to the rim and finish. He's got to get stronger, as they all do. There aren't too many ready-made high school players coming in to college and making an impact. He's just scratching the surface of how good he can be."

The commitment of Evans on April 8 was right in the middle of a busy 2008 for Wisconsin, in which the Badgers got commitments from five prospects in a three month span, filling their 2008, 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes. People questioned, however, why the Badgers would use their last remaining scholarship for the 2008 season on a developing prospect and not hold onto it with there being plenty of good solid talent in the 2009 and 2010 high school classes. As Gard explained it, Evans was the right piece to the puzzle they were looking for.

"We weren't dead set that we had to use it but we were also aware of the fact that if we found the right fit and the right piece," Gard said. "There are a lot of good players out there that we are not going to be able to fit here academically or socially that it wasn't a good match. Some names kept coming to the top and those are the ones we zeroed in on and looked at. We looked at every avenue from high schools, prep schools, junior colleges you name it and we went from there. The recruiting process never stops for us, even if we have a full class signed, because you never know what could happen down the line but we are very happy with what we have on our plate right now."

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