A Wiser Perspective

After spending 17 seasons in the state of Iowa, Gary Close, with 22 seasons of coaching experience under his belt, brought a new dynamic to Wisconsin basketball that continues to pay dividends.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - After spending years of walking down the long corridor that separates the locker rooms from the court at Carver-Hawkeye arena, Wisconsin assistant coach Gary Close can't help but get a little emotional thinking about all the positive people and things he experienced for over a decade.

"Those were great years," Close recalled. "The people that I met really stand out. Whether they were players, administrators or people you coached with, it's a lot like the people here in that they care about the program and you want to be around."

Spending 13 years as an assistant at Iowa, Close was a part of nine NCAA tournament teams (two of which made the Sweet 16 and one making the Elite Eight) and had a hand in coaching 13 future NBA players.

So when Wisconsin (12-5, 3-2 Big Ten) travels to Iowa (11-7, 1-4 Big Ten) on Wednesday, it won't be a shock to see Close, after living in the state for 17 years, visiting with a familiar face from his past.

"You see people that you haven't seen in awhile and it's nice to catch up, but once the ball goes up, you just compete," Close said. "Now that I have done it five times, it gets a little easier."

In the grand scheme of things, nothing is coming easy for either the Badgers, who have lost two straight for the first time since February 2007, or the Hawkeyes, who were trashed by 22 at Purdue on Sunday.

But Iowa's 1-4 record is deceiving, according to Close's scouting report on the Hawkeyes, as Iowa has suffered a pair of three-point defeats, one at home to Minnesota and the other at Ohio State.

"They are on the right track without any question," Close said of Iowa. "In this league, you can be a pretty good team and play pretty well and not get the results. That's just how good this league is. They are very dangerous, because they play very well at home. They're just having trouble putting the ball in the hoop."

If anyone knows anything about shooting, it's Close.

A coach known for his abilities to teach shooters, Iowa shot better than 48.0 percent from the field five times during his tenure, including a school-record .528 in 1987-88.

So after he, along with the rest of the coaching staff, were let go after the 1999 season and finished his third season coaching Regina (Iowa) High School, UW head coach Bo Ryan knew that adding Close to the staff would only enhance Wisconsin's product.

Weighing the comfort factor of staying close to home, working for a successful product, a highly-respected coach and returning to the Big Ten Conference, it was a no brainer for Close, who was happy to upgrade his basic wardrobe with some red and white clothing. "With Coach Ryan and what he built here, a program on the rise and still being in the Midwest, it was a perfect fit for me to go to a program and a good coach," Close said "It took about 30 seconds for me to decide."

From the moment Close filled Tony Bennett's spot on UW's staff in time for the 2003 season, he brought a new outlook to a youthful staff. Working under two of the better Big Ten coaches in the last 20 years, Close was the missing piece on an already talented staff.

"The one thing that he brought (to UW) was all that experience and expertise, more so than anything else," associate head coach Greg Gard said "He had seen it and it was good to get the opinion or an idea from somebody that had those other experiences."

Not only did Close bring a new voice, but he brought some of his old contacts, contacts that proved invaluable in recruiting a hot-shooting perimeter guard from Marion, Iowa.

A four-star shooting guard that was ranked sixth in the country by Scout Media, Jason Bohannon was one of the best high school players to come out of Iowa in the past decade. With his father, Gordy, being a former Iowa quarterback, it was thought by most that Jason would follow in his father's footsteps.

Knowing Close since he was in seventh grade and after the Wisconsin assistant coach persuaded him to take a visit to Madison, Bohannon's recruiting views changed, thanks to Close, who didn't do anything different during the recruiting process other than be himself.

"He was a big part of me coming here. I had a great connection with him," said Bohannon, who was the Big Ten's Sixth Man of the Year last season. "He built that connection early. Our relationship started back then and it helped tremendously for my situation here now.

"He tells me everything I am doing wrong, what I need to improve upon and all the little things. He breaks everything down and takes it a step farther."

Since Close joined the Wisconsin staff, the Badgers have dominated the series, winning 10 of the last 11 meetings, including going 4-1 in Iowa City. With the tremendous parody in the conference this year, however, the Badgers know that losing a third straight conference game would be a huge blow to their title defense.

"This league, more than any, you just have to move on," Close said. "If you dwell too long on a loss, it's probably going to bite you more than it ever has because of the talent this year. We have guys that have been around the block and we hope that they have learned from the mistakes that they've made.

"Bottom line is we've got to get better as a team. Hopefully some of the same mistakes we made against Minnesota we won't make against Iowa, because this is as tough of a conference race has I've seen in a long time."


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