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Fiammetta: UW secretly athletic

first_imgBadger fans, Bo Ryan has a secret.It’s so classified that the Wisconsin men’s hoops coach is willing to silence anyone about to let the cat out of the bag. That’s what happened Saturday afternoon in the Bradley Center, after UW’s riveting 69-64 defeat of in-state rival Marquette.Bo was doing his thing after the game, spreading his wisdom and extolling the virtues it instills in his basketball teams. About five minutes into his post game press conference, though, Bo’s secret was almost revealed. He probably saw it coming, but when a reporter asked about the Badgers’ athleticism potentially being underrated, Bo was ready.“Shhh, what are you telling them? We’re not athletic!”Of course, the remark was sarcastic. The crowd of reporters and athletic department staffers loved it, and the mood was jovial – for about three seconds. Then it was back to basketball, back to Bo.“We’re not going to win any sprints, really,” Ryan said. “Jordan [Taylor’s] two strides are my one stride, and I’ll be 63 next week. Jordan has to take two steps to equal one of mine. Does that mean he’s not athletic? No, he’s athletic. I’ve said this before, athleticism is measured eyesight – be it seeing the floor – hand dexterity, lateral quickness, vertical quickness – sure, those are all things. Going from zero to whatever in x number of seconds; there’s a lot of different ways to measure athleticism.”Jokes aside, Ryan hears this stuff all the time, about Wisconsin being all about size, being too slow to keep up with the nation’s elite. True, when opposing squads face the Badgers, they’re often aiming to run them off the court. But given UW’s success under Ryan, you’ve got to think it drives him nuts. After all, how would you like it if, after nine consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, people kept asking you how athletic your team really was?“I always think we have athletic guys because their athleticism, hung open, shows through in how I met your pass,” Ryan said, jumping back into coach-speak mode. “I’m coordinated enough to get the ball by the defense and get it to an open guy. I’m an athlete if I can run the floor and post up and get a good, wide base. I didn’t out-jump anybody, I didn’t out-this anybody, I didn’t out-quick anybody. But you can still be an athlete by doing things in basketball that are good, positive team contributions.”Therein lies the answer – the Wisconsin Badgers are indeed an athletic team. Forget about individual skills and all the measurements intended to quantify them; this isn’t the NBA. In Madison, it doesn’t matter if you can jump through the roof – you better be able to make the right read, make a solid screen, grab that rebound. Those, to name a few, are “good, positive team contributions” in Ryan’s mind.After all, hasn’t every sports movie ever taught us that that’s what it’s all about? All five players on the court, functioning as one single unit – that’s what Gene Hackman said in Hoosiers, right? Clich? as it is – and believe me, Hoosiers is responsible for so many of the greatest/worst sports movie clich?s – it’s true at UW. It’s also why nobody outside of Madison really notices.“We don’t really care what other people’s opinion of us is; we know what we have to do to be successful,” star forward Jon Leuer said after Saturday’s game. “If teams want to run against us, we’re going to bust to get back, spring to get back and try to take that away. We have our principles that we stick to, and that’s what makes us successful.”And isn’t hustle making up for a supposed lack of athleticism better than having skill with no hustle? Bo’s careful, efficient swing offense works. His disciplined, tough defense does, too. In his nine years at UW, Bo’s Badgers have five Big Ten titles and a NCAA tournament berth in every one.Furthermore, who’s actually unathletic on this team? For all the size that supposedly defines Wisconsin, Leuer, Keaton Nankivil, Jared Berggren, and Mike Bruesewitz all have impressive range from behind the arc. Leuer, with his 44.4 percent from deep, is the Badgers’ best three-point shooter. He’s also their leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker. But after last night’s game against Green Bay, Bo was calling Berggren the team’s best three-point shooter.UW’s athleticism also goes largely unnoticed because of Ryan’s offensive system. Frequently, the Badgers take the shot clock under 15 seconds – but it works. Wisconsin is tied for ninth in the nation with 1.18 points per possession and first for turnovers per game, only 9.3.When Bo mentioned eyesight, seeing the floor and hand dexterity, there was noticeably more emphasis. Under Ryan, you’re an athlete if you can catch the ball, see the court and then pass it to the right guy. Sure, shooting helps. But that comes with getting the ball on the right spot of your hands, on the right spot on the court.In that regard, it’s interesting Bo chose Taylor to pick on after the Marquette game. Yes, it was in jest. But as the point guard, the key distributor of the ball, Taylor excels at not only making the right decision, but also at putting the ball where the receiving player wants it. Taylor’s assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.8 is tied for 17th in the nation, and he’s always the first guy to garner praise from his teammates. Feed them the ball the way they want it, and that’s what you’ll get.So, consider the myth of the Badgers’ lack of athleticism busted – just don’t tell Bo.Mike is a junior majoring in journalism and communication arts. How athletic do you think the Badgers are? Let him know at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @mikefiammetta.last_img read more