Kirk Penney had what can be described as "perma-smile" as he gazed around the Kohl Center, minutes after being carried off the floor with fans chanting his name and "MVP" as they stormed towards State Street for a celebration that will go on all night long.
"I don't think words can express what that meant," Penney said. "It's an unbelievable feeling that all of us feel right now."
Penney certainly wasn't alone. It's going to take a while for the impact of Wednesday night's victory to sink in. With a gritty, 60-59 triumph over Illinois, the Badgers took sole possession of the 2003 Big Ten championship, winning back-to-back conference titles for the first time since 1924.
What Coach Bo Ryan has accomplished is simply unbelievable, and there is no doubt he deserves Big Ten Coach of the Year honors.
The facts speak for themselves. Wisconsin has yet to lose a Big Ten game at the Kohl Center in Ryan's two seasons as head coach (16-0). Ryan is one of only three coaches in league history to win back-to-back titles in his first two years as head coach.
And make no mistake about it – without Ryan, there would be no championships. Ryan and his staff have made everyone in the program believe in themselves and commit to a system that can win.
The way the Badgers closed out the monumental victory Wednesday night caused many media members on press row to smirk, because it was exactly how Wisconsin ends each practice under Bo Ryan.
Devin Harris was left on the floor with one task – hit a free throw and the day's work was over. Miss, and nobody was going home anytime soon. It was the exact scenario Ryan presents to his players at the end of every practice, and Harris acted like he had been there, done that, a million times before.
"I just cut off the option of missing the second free throw," Harris said. "I had no doubt in my mind it was going in."
Ryan has taught his players how to get the most out themselves through hard work, determination and intense focus on every small task at hand. The result is a development as unfathomable as the Badger program's rise to prominence throughout the 90's.
As Athletic Director Pat Richter suggested in the postgame ceremony, this might only be the beginning. First of all, the Badgers are gaining momentum and are a force to be reckoned with in the NCAA Tournament.
And taking a look at what the future holds for this program, one can't help but think Ryan has set the foundation to develop Wisconsin into a national powerhouse program.
With bigtime recruits Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma a few feet away, Richter addressed the future of the program to the boisterous crowd following the victory.
"You've got those big guys coming," Richter said. "This is a dynasty…no pressure."
But before the Badgers look towards the future, it's time to do what they do best, concentrating on the present. Now that their No. 1 goal is taken care of, winning the conference championship, the rest is icing on the cake.
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