Ryan Keeps Pushing UW Forward

When this little-known coach who made it big at UW-Platteville took over nine seasons ago, many weren't sure what direction Wisconsin basketball was headed in. After beating Marquette for his 200th career victory at Wisconsin, Bo Ryan continues to push UW towards bigger things.

MADISON - Striding into the Kohl Center media room in his customary sport coat and red tie, holding nothing but the final stats and a diet coke in his two hands, nothing was out of place for Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan Saturday.

It didn't matter that the Badgers dispatched in-state rival Marquette by leading from start to finish, the look and demeanor of Ryan is unchanged – even-keeled, to the point and not putting more weight on this win compared to the other 582 career ones that came before it. So with UW's 72-63 victory in the bank, his fifth over Marquette in his nine seasons at the helm, Ryan becomes only the third coach to win 200 games at the university, owning a 200-75 (.727) record at a school where he once was an assistant.

"It's pretty exciting from the standpoint to believe that I could get back here as a head coach and have a chance to be on the court and direct traffic here," Ryan said. "I am a pretty lucky guy."

The Ryan-era has been earmarked with historic achievements, although Ryan would never admit to that. He'll never put too much stock into one win or one loss because he's too humble, something that comes from his parents, his time in military and growing up in Chester, Pennsylvania – a time in his life he loves to reminisce about, even if you don't directly ask him a question about it.

Wisconsin basketball was on the verge of a train wreck when Ryan was hired in the spring of 2001. Although the Badgers were one season removed from a Cinderella run to the Final Four, Dick Bennett had run out of gas and interim coach Brad Soderberg's admirable job was quickly tarnished by a NCAA Tournament first-round loss to Georgia State.

In comes Ryan, a one-time and hardly-remembered Wisconsin assistant that led tiny UW-Platteville to four Division 3 National Championships and had started to push the boat in the right director at Milwaukee before his dream job opened up.

In nine seasons, he's taken Badger Nation on a ride that could only be considered dream-like.

It started with a team that was losing Mike Kelley, Andy Kowske, Mark Vershaw, Maurice Linton to graduation, Ricky Bower and Julian Swartz transferring and Andreas Helmigk for the season tearing up his knee, forcing Ryan to recruit track and walk-ons to fill in with the eight scholarship players he had at his disposal. It ended with when UW earned a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1947.

Certainly Ryan couldn't top that? He remembers snickering when pundits told him it couldn't be done again. They were right, he couldn't win a share of the conference title two years in a row; he had to do it outright. The Badgers set a then- school record with 24 wins and earned an outright Big Ten title, securing back-to-back championships for the first time since 1923 and 1924, and a trip to the NCAA tournament Sweet 16.

He's been the conference's coach of the year twice (02 and 03), he added a third conference championship in 08, two Big Ten tournament titles in 04 and 08 coaches an unheralded team to the 05 Elite Eight and has increased the school record for wins to 31.

He is the first coach in conference history to lead a team to at least 11 Big Ten wins in each of his first four seasons (UW had won at least 11 conference games just seven times, and only once since 1941); has averaged 24.1 wins in his eight seasons and has never finished outside the top four in the Big Ten standings.

That's all ancient history, especially since this could be Ryan's best coaching job yet in his UW tenure. Sure, the 2002 Championship was improbable and helping UW become the first team to rebound from a six-game conference losing streak and make the NCAA tournament as an at-large selection last season took a lot of will power.

But these are different times then when Ryan first came – the Big Ten is arguably the strongest top to bottom it's been since he arrived – and this year's squad was left on the scrap heap before the season even began, being picked anywhere from seventh to ninth and left out of 90 percent of the preseason NCAA Tournament fields. Shame on them.

All Ryan has done with his mixture of savvy veterans and talented freshman is come blazing out of the gates with a 7-2 mark, a third-place finish in the rugged Maui Invitational and have gone from receiving no votes in either polls to No.20 in the Associated Press Poll and No.23 ESPN Coaches Poll, a reflection of UW beating ranked ACC teams (No.21 Maryland, No.6 Duke) in back-to-back games.

"I think Wisconsin is a very good team," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "They are really well coached and, I think, how they play never beats themselves. You have to play with perfect possessions. We were down eight at the first media timeout. We end up losing by nine, and that's a testament to how thorough and disciplined Wisconsin is on both ends of the floor."

Now Ryan sits at 200 career wins at Wisconsin – 583 overall – and is a mere 61 victories behind legendary Walter Meanwell for top billing at the Badgers. A big deal to Ryan? Anyone around him knows better. He was indifferent after beating rival Marquette at home for win number 100; he shrugged off win number 150 over Green Bay in 2007 and number 200 was all about his team getting better.

What will career win number 600 be like (he may reach that historic plateau this season) or number 262 at Wisconsin? It will probably yield the same reaction all the other ones have. Enjoy it tonight with the team and start preparing for the next one.

"You have to remember that I didn't make a basket in those 200 and I haven't guarded anybody in those 200," Ryan said. "I told the players in the locker room that they tend to put (wins) to a name, but I would like to put the name to all the players because they were here for them."

That's why Badger Nation loves Bo Ryan because before he relaxes for the night, he'll be sure he's got the game film on Cal Poly ready in the DVD player.

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