Wisconsin's Bo Ryan sustains passion despite trying year
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MILWAUKEE--The NCAA Final Four was their home court, whether the basketball was played in Minneapolis, New Orleans, East Rutherford, N.J., or Seattle.
It was their time to bond as father and son, their time to share decades of colorful memories.
The 2014 Final Four, to be played April 5 and 7 in Arlington, Texas, will be the first in about three decades that Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan won’t be able to attend with his father, Butch, who died on Aug. 30 at the age of 89.
“This Final Four won’t be the same without Butch,” UW associate head coach Greg Gard said. “But I know we’ll have a heck of a lot of good memories and a lot of laughs.”
UW (26-7), seeded No. 2 in the West Regional, starts its quest for a Final Four berth at 11:40 a.m. today in the BMO Harris Bradley Center against No. 15 American University (20-12).
Two victories in Milwaukee and two in the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., would send UW to the Final Four for the first time under Ryan.
“That would be unbelievable,” Gard said. “To have the timing where it’s the first one Butch is not at for about 30 years, to have that happen would be amazing.
“That would tell you that there is a little power from above. If Butch is up there pulling strings for us, that would be great.”
Bo Ryan, 66, lost his father eight months after he lost his mother, Louise, on Dec. 27, 2012. She was 86.
Both parents lived in Fort Myers, Fla., since 2009.
“Bo did everything in his power to maximize their retirement,” Gard said, “from getting them a place in Florida to being able to have access, to get there as much as he could.
“His success has produced resources and he has used his resources to help people around him, to try to make those later years better for his parents.”
Bo Ryan is in his 13th season as UW’s head coach and 30th overall as a head coach.
Neither age nor the loss of his parents has muted his passion for competing and teaching.
“As a competitor nothing has changed,” senior guard Ben Brust said. “He hates losing more than he likes winning.”
Kelly Ryan, who has been married to Bo since 1974, hasn’t seen any demonstrable change in the man who has a record of 700-223.
“He doesn’t internalize a whole lot,” she said. “I think if he were more emotionally distraught I would pick up on it.”
Bo Ryan was able to travel to Fort Myers to be with both parents before they died.
“We just felt fortunate we could be there in time to say goodbye,” Kelly Ryan said, referring to Butch. “He had a great funeral and then you just kind of move on.
“He was 89…. And Bo just has tons of great memories…. We buried him in red and white Adidas.”
Wisconsin colors, Wisconsin shoes.
“The day his mother died we got the phone call at 11:30 that morning,” Kelly Ryan said. “The girls were here and we hugged and cried and he went to practice and never even told the players.
“He was out the door and didn’t tell a soul.”
After the players learned their head coach had lost his mother, then-senior Ryan Evans reached out to offer condolences and a thank you.
“He got the nicest message from Ryan Evans that night,” Kelly Ryan said, “thanking him for his dedication and bringing the same energy level… and how awful he felt that none of them knew.”
Gard has worked under Bo Ryan since 1993—six seasons at UW-Platteville, two at UW-Milwaukee and the last 13 at UW.
When Butch Ryan died in August, Gard predicted no one would see any change in the manner in which UW’s head coach attacked practices and games.
“I still see the same energy, the same level of expectations,” Gard said. “He has always said as long as kids are listening to him and buying in and he has the energy and the health—and you can check off all those things—I don’t see him slowing down.
“He enjoys it. He’s got good kids in the program. That is going to continue. I know he enjoys this group.
“I think as long as his health stays good and kids still listen and he still likes teaching—I don’t see any of those things wavering—he has got too much to give yet.
“I wouldn’t say that the end is anywhere near.”
Bo Ryan is an interesting figure.
He can be prickly with the media, particularly if he doesn’t care for a question. But get him talking about growing up in Chester, Pa., and he will wax poetic at length.
His facial expressions and emotional gestures on the sideline when he disagrees with a call are hilarious. However, first-time visitors to practices are surprised to learn that he rarely raises his voice when working with the players.
The tone is more that of a teacher going over a lesson with his students.
Players say he jokes around this season more than he has in the past.
“I think part of it has to do with the personalities on this team,” redshirt junior Josh Gasser said. “We’re a lot younger, looser group and he has had to handle that.
“I think just the relationships he has had with the players this year have (deepened) more than in the past.”
When Gasser, Brust and Bo Ryan met with reporters after UW learned its seeding and second-round opponent, the two players talked about their intense battles playing Mario Kart.
UW’s head coach had no idea they were talking about a video game.
“What’s that Mario thing?” he asked.
“A video game,” Brust said. “Do you want to come over and play?”
Bo Ryan looked at Brust and asked: “Is it spaghetti and dinner? It sounds like a restaurant, Mario’s.”
Brust asked: “Are you serious?”
Ryan replied: “I’m very serious, what is it?”
Gasser smiled and said: “Racing, it’s a game.”
UW’s first NCAA game is Thursday. Several analysts have the Badgers pegged to reach the Final Four.
“I think it would be surreal for any of us,” Kelly Ryan said. “It is something you dream about.”
Particularly this season. Without his father by his side, Bo Ryan will need company at the Final Four.