Saluting Bo Ryan and his Badgers
I wish I had made it to more than one Badger men's basketball game this season. Cheryl and I got to the win over UW-Milwaukee—a surprisingly easy victory given that the Panthers made the NCAA Tournament field—at the Kohl Center. I had a chance to buy tickets to the game against Northwestern but turned them down because it was in the middle of a hectic week. I'm glad I did because I would have been frustrated at paying $30 apiece to watch the Badgers stumble against the Wildcats—at home, no less.
That was in the middle of that terrible stretch in which the Badgers lost five of six games after starting the season 16-0. Who would have imagined they would rebound so dramatically and make the Final Four for the first time in Ryan's 13 seasons at the helm?
I know I didn't. In fact, I've been a faithful follower of Ryan through the years, despite the criticism of his plodding style. After watching that loss against Northwestern on TV, I'll sheepishly admit I started to join the critics, wondering whether Ryan's style would prevent him from ever recruiting the type of athletes needed to truly compete on the big national stage.
And now, here they are. I had a lot of things on my weekend to-do list, half saved for the nice weather forecast for Sunday. After Saturday night's victory, Cheryl and I talked about joining the welcome home celebration at the Kohl Center but decided not to. I kept it in the back of my mind, however, and we discussed it again Sunday morning and decided to go for it. We hurried through chores and figured we could get our desired walk in by parking at Paisan's on Wilson Street and taking the mile jaunt to the Kohl Center for the celebration, then return to Paisan's for our favorite pizza.
The plan worked perfectly. We arrived at 3 p.m., when Kohl Center doors opened, and joined thousands of fans at the free event to applaud Bo and the Badgers. The big scoreboard screen replayed the victory over Arizona while we waited—only interrupted by freshman Nigel Hayes doing his shtick of locker room interviews of teammates and UConn's victory that sent Michigan State home—cheering many among the Badger faithful. Then, Bucky danced, the Badger band played, and when the cheerleaders started to line up, we knew the players were about to hit the stage set up on the court. The scoreboard showed a short video clip of the team's road to the Final Four, including key parts of that locker room video after the Badgers made the Elite Eight, the one showing reserve Evan Anderson dancing and Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers congratulating Bo.
The thunderous applause when the players did emerge Sunday afternoon sent chills down my back. The event was short but special. Center Frank Kaminsky, whose offensive prowess saved the Badgers on Saturday night when no one else could find the hoop, got one of the biggest laughs when he said, “I hear that everything is bigger in Texas. Hopefully, we get a bigger trophy.”
Senior Ben Brust toted the West Regional trophy, draped with a net the team cut down out in Anaheim. Now that Bo finally has silenced critics by leading a team to the Final Four, guard Josh Gasser said it best.
“Our slogan is, 'Why not us?'” the junior from Port Washington said. “Why can't we finish this thing off? Why can't we win two more games?”