MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Somewhere in a Wisconsin basketball media guide or highlight DVD is a photo that made coach Bo Ryan especially proud this past week.
Ryan remembers it well. He’s there with then-assistants Rob Jeter, Tony Bennett and Saul Phillips celebrating a big Badgers victory. Now they’re all in the NCAA tournament together as head coaches.
The Ryan coaching tree is in full bloom this March.
“Everybody that’s in that huddle is in the NCAA tournament,” Ryan said. “It’s always nice to be dancing.”
Second-seeded Wisconsin opens the tournament Thursday against 15th-seeded American in Milwaukee. Ho-hum, just a 16th straight year in the NCAAs for the Badgers.
Bennett, a Wisconsin assistant for Ryan’s Badgers debut season in 2001, has Virginia one better as the top seed in the East region after winning the ACC. The Cavaliers face Coastal Carolina on Friday in Raleigh, N.C.
Phillips, an assistant under Ryan at Wisconsin-Milwaukee before following Ryan to the Badgers for a few years, is now head coach of Summit League champion North Dakota State. His team plays Oklahoma on Thursday in Spokane, Wash.
Jeter, the current coach at Milwaukee, had the toughest road after leading a team picked last in the Horizon League preseason poll to the conference tournament title and an automatic NCAA bid. Milwaukee is a No. 15 seed in the East and plays Villanova on Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y.
Jeter and Ryan have been in touch a few times over the past week, and Jeter may reach out again before Thursday. But he knows not to pester Ryan too much. You know “how he gets,” Jeter told reporters.
And that would be?
“His attention to detail is so obvious. He just really demands – OK let’s move to the next thing. Let’s make sure that we’re ready. I think as an assistant, you wonder if he’s really enjoying the moment,” Jeter said before practice Monday. “He really is, but he’s so competitive.”
The students don’t just all copy the Wisconsin playbook. Heck, even Wisconsin is a little different this season with more offensive balance and firepower.
But other things learned from Ryan stick. During one of Milwaukee’s rough patches this season, Jeter asked his players if they were also watching Wisconsin. At the time, the Badgers were in also in the midst of a slump of five losses in six games.
The players noticed that defense was a problem.
“I said, ‘But have you noticed anything else? They haven’t changed a thing. They didn’t change defenses. They didn’t change how they cover. They just walked harder at it,'” Jeter said. “To me, it’s just a reminder of staying the course, work your plan and you’ve got to believe in what you’re doing.”
After learning Sunday of North Dakota State’s fate, Phillips gave credit to Ryan and his late father, Butch Ryan, who passed away last summer.
Phillips said Butch Ryan “was like a crazy uncle to all of us … I can’t help but think somehow Butch is up there orchestrating this all so all Bo’s guys get in. It’s pretty special.”
On Phillips’ coaching staff is Ryan’s eldest son, Will Ryan. He played for his father on the Division III national title teams at Wisconsin-Platteville in 1998-99, and followed his dad to Milwaukee the following two years. Later, Will Ryan joined dad on the Wisconsin staff as a volunteer assistant.
“It’s awesome just being from a tree where you’ve got a lot of support,” said Milwaukee assistant Sharif Chambliss, another former Badgers player under Ryan. “But with coach Ryan he’s not going to give you anything. Nothing with coach Ryan is given.
“You can ask his sons probably about that the most,” Chambliss said. “You’ve got to earn it and then he’ll support you.”
Every year at the Final Four, Ryan takes former assistants or players to dinner no matter what has happened to their respective teams in the tourney. It could be a big bill this year.
“The dinner is going to be a lot more fun this year,” Chambliss said. “He has a lot of guys in there.”
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