His system is out dated, they said. The perception that Wisconsin is projecting is all wrong, they clamored. If UW can't get a highly-touted recruit from its own city, then it's time to change course.
So the Badgers lost Blue, but consider this, had Ryan changed his recruiting approach in 2005, Wisconsin would not have senior guard Trevon Hughes in the lineup.
A native New Yorker, Hughes came to Delafield St. John's Military Academy having never heard of Wisconsin, only knowing of the Big East and the talent in the conference (sound familiar?). But once he got a closer look, Hughes could see past the stereotypes.
"The talent level that's at Wisconsin is just ... it's great," said Hughes, who chose UW over Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa and Marquette. "Like people don't like take it for granted any more that Wisconsin basketball is just for big guys that (are) slow, but we can play. We've shown people that we can play with any team out there and it's good basketball."
Hughes has been a big reason as to why Wisconsin has been playing good basketball over the point guard's three-year tenure.
Appearing in 99 career games, including 56 consecutive, Hughes has eclipsed the 20-point barrier eight times, finished second on the team in points (11.2) and ranked fourth in the Big Ten in steals (62) in 2008 and hit a pair of game-winning shots (at Virginia Tech, vs. Florida State in the NCAA Tournament) last season.
"When I was being recruited, Marquette told me that I would play in the Big East and I would be close to home, but Bo Ryan is from the East Coast and he made it out here," Hughes said. "He's won at every level – from Division III to Division I level. Everything about it was good – the coaching staff, the players and even the players before me. It was a family here, so that's why I came. There was no comparison to Wisconsin."
A consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten the last two seasons, Hughes has thrived in Ryan's system because of how it has utilized his strengths. Coming from high school, Hughes' mantra was making the flashy play, getting the crowd to react favorably. When he got into Ryan's system, Hughes learned that sometimes, making a good play is better than a great one.
"Coach always beat it in my head that don't try to make the great play, make the good play," Hughes said. "The way we play, it's a team game and when we need to, he lets us play. I wanted to get better, that's why I came here."
The results can be traced. Starting 34 games his sophomore year, Hughes has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.18, registering 86 assists to 73 turnovers. One year later, Hughes improved that ratio to 1.51 (94 assists, 62 turnovers), good for ninth best in the Big Ten.
"A great play will work about once every four or five times while good plays will work four out of five times," Ryan said. "So on passes, make the good pass, doesn't have to be the great pass. I learned that from my high school coach, because that was one of the reasons he kept me on the team was because I could deliver the ball to the scorers.
"The key is if you can make it happen, then results are still what it's all about. There's no question Trevon has improved and I think he understands, if you're turning the ball over, you can't get a point on that possession, and the statistics tend to go against you."
Despite the statistics going against Ryan on the recruiting scene, the Wisconsin head coach continues to receive verbal commitments from talented recruits, despite not being a recognizable brand. Ryan pointed out that while some head coaches are doing endorsements or getting national marketing and exposure, the Badgers don't get the ‘national freebies,' but that hasn't stopped Ryan from winning three regular season and two tournament championships in his tenure.
"We're still a part of the game and we still think we can get players that can play and we still think we can compete," Ryan said. "I've never turned away somebody who said, hey, I really want to be at your school, but I only want to stay one year. I mean, I don't know of too many people that have done that.
"But the guys that we have have a connection. Academically, it is very, very difficult at Wisconsin. There aren't any shortcuts at Wisconsin … and we have had obviously very good players. Players drafted in the first round and players that have played overseas and players that are very successful in business and other areas."
And it's not like Ryan doesn't have a great product to sell on top of that. Coaching at a top academic institution where the tickets have become a hot commodity, Ryan has won by using a system that allows players to utilize their strengths while developing their weaknesses.
That's why Devin Harris, Alando Tucker and Marcus Landry are on an NBA roster, while Dominic James, Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal – Marquette's top three guards the last two years – are without an NBA contract.
That's why Ryan has gotten top 30 players like senior Hughes and Jason Bohannon, juniors Tim Jarmusz, Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil, sophomore Jared Berggren, Jordan Taylor and Rob Wilson and freshman Mike Bruesewitz.
That's why Wisconsin wins and, more importantly, that's why Wisconsin will continue to thrive in the future.
"I think it's hilarious when people say, ‘Oh, he gets the guys that fit his system,'" Ryan said. "If taking good shots, taking care of the ball, playing solid defense is a system, why doesn't everybody else have the same system? I have never been in a clinic and heard somebody ever talk about a different system than what we have been preaching."
"When you say what type of person are they? Do they play hard? Are they passionate about the game? Are they coachable? Are they respectful? Do they have a vision of trying to be a better person and to make things better for others? I know that sounds idealistic, but all those things tend to make for some pretty good players in what we do."