On the Podium: Wisconsin

Traevon Jackson (Siker/14)

Before facing Arizona in the Elite Eight, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and the Badgers five starters - Ben Brust, Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Frank Kaminsky - address the media.

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Opening Statement

COACH RYAN: Well, we're very excited to be a part of the tournament, needless to say, and to get this far has been quite an accomplishment by our guys. They deserve a lot of credit for taking care of business to this point. So, again, we're going to still try to get another 40 and hopefully we can continue to play the way we have.

Q. I have to ask you, Rondae Hollis Jefferson said he met you at the Chester's Boys & Girls Club last year. Do you keep tabs on the Chester guys, and did you follow his career in high school much?

COACH RYAN: Yeah, I went back and tried to help out back in the Chester community and in the area around Chester, Aston Township with some of their youth programs trying to offer I don't have a lot of time to give them, so I try to help them with some things financially so that they can help these kids learn not just how to dribble a basketball or shoot a basketball, but also do some things that the Boys & Girls Club, and through the Biddy League learn other life skills and give these young men an opportunity to pull themselves up and out and get a chance to experience a lot of things, just like Rondae's having a chance to now with a college scholarship. The more the merrier, the more young people in Chester that can be helped that way, just like any other community, it's a good thing. So, yeah, it was a lot of fun seeing him this summer, and it's been fun to watch his year.

Q. Josh, much has been made about how this team can beat opponents in different types of ways this season. If you were scouting Wisconsin, where would you start?

Josh Gasser: Oh, you know, that's why I think we're a pretty good team. You don't really know where to start. We've got bigs who can score, we've got perimeter guys that can score, and we've always been known as a pretty good defensive team, so I think that's what's made us dangerous thus far and that's what makes us still playing today, which is always good. We're very versatile. We move the ball. We're unselfish, so I guess that's kind of the makeup of our team.

Q. Frank, what kind of challenges does Arizona's interior pose?

Frank Kaminsky: They've got great athletes in their interior, and they've got a big guy who is 7 feet tall. He's strong. He's athletic, so it's going be to a big challenge for us to try to set the tone inside. But I think once we do that, it will open up a lot of things for us.

Q. This question is for all five players, but it's a short answer question. Starting with Frank and going down the line, if you were going to pick one word or two words to describe what you see in Arizona, what would those words be?

FRANK KAMINSKY: Athletic.

Traevon Jackson: They're tough.

JOSH GASSER: Solid.

Sam Dekker: Extremely talented.

Ben Brust: Good team.

Q. Coach, this is to you. It's kind of on the Chester, Pennsylvania question, and expanding on it. What makes a Chester, Pennsylvania basketball player so special? Hollis Jefferson talked about them being tough, gritty, and talked about the similarities and the emphasis of defense. Can you just talk about that for me?

COACH RYAN: First of all, to survive, every young boy wants to play basketball because it is the thing and has been the thing in Chester since the '20s, '30s, '40s is what I'm told. I only remember the '50s, '60s, I don't remember the other ones though I was born in '47. All I ever wanted to do when my dad had taken me and my uncles to see Chester play in the state tournament in the '50s, I had one goal athletically, make the Chester High basketball team, get to the state tournament, and try to win a state crown, so everything involving the playgrounds.

We had a place called The Cage, which isn't there anymore, and I don't even know if Rondae knows that much about it, but it's where we used to always meet, and in order to play, you had to win. If you lost, you had to wait 45 minutes to get on the court. And there was nothing better than it. I'm not a big fan of Tonk. It's a card game. If you lost, you played Tonk on the picnic table next to the cage. I didn't want to play Tonk. I wanted to play basketball. So it made me extremely competitive, in case you haven't noticed. I can be a little type A at times. But that's what Chester, I mean, that is the thing. If you could be on the basketball team, you were somebody.

Now, of course you learn later in life there is a lot more. But it was a driving force, and I know it's a driving force for a lot of the young people now. I just keep encouraging them to use basketball to learn about other things, to get an education, to learn about things that are going to be much more important to them later when the ball stops bouncing. But Rondae is a great example of pulling himself up and going out and making something.

Q. I have a question for Coach about Traevon. Can you describe the player he's evolved into and maybe on top of that how much stock you put into your point guard to kind of make everything go?

COACH RYAN: Yeah, well, I've talked about this before that that's the position that I played, so everybody realizes that plays point guard for any teams that I've ever coached is I might be a little demanding at times, but for the right reasons. And with things that they can use later, decision making, timing, work ethic, all those things that can be used in a profession, decision making, how to lead, how to influence other people to do the things that you know need to get done. That's what I've always asked of people that have played that position. He's not the only one. We've got some guys who Josh has played the point, Bronson Koenig has played the point.

But Trae is the guy who's been in control maybe once you did, Ben, but that's it. You know, Trae has accepted the challenge and has learned to realize that he is going to be held accountable. He learned that last year, and he's done a great job with that.

Q. This is kind of a follow up, so it's another short answer question for all five of you. This time we can begin with Ben. If the same question were asked to the Arizona starting five about how they would describe Wisconsin, what one or two words would you want them to answer?

BEN BRUST: Resilient.

SAM DEKKER: Disciplined.

JOSH GASSER: Unselfish.

TRAEVON JACKSON: Tough.

FRANK KAMINSKY: White guys.

COACH RYAN: Not one of our guys said athletic. Did you notice that?

Q. Going back to Chester, what do you feel like you learned there that's impacted your career the most by growing up in that area and just being around there?

COACH RYAN: Just that. In order to get anything done, you had to be better than average, and you had to be willing to fight for what you were going to get if you wanted it badly enough. So through sports, obviously there are confrontations. You've got to have that gritty side. You've got to have that side that you're not going to back down. You know, the playgrounds and the sandlots of Chester helped a lot of people to grow and be able to handle a little adversity, handle competition. The toughest part was I actually practiced marbles and flipping baseball cards. I've told this before, which meant I got to be fairly proficient.

So I would take all the other kids' cards and take their marbles, and they wanted them back because they thought we were just playing for fun. Okay, so I had to go to the principal's office a few times for things on the playground, and that's what Chester you know, there is something on the water tower that says, "What Chester makes, makes Chester." The problem is so much industry has moved out of there that the jobs are just not what they used to be, and they need some help.

Q. Sam, it's safe to assume that you're going to be guarding Aaron Gordon for a majority of the game. What challenges does he pose offensively and defensively to you?

SAM DEKKER: Well, he's a very good player. Obviously, you've got to respect that. One of the top players in the nation at his position. And you've got to realize that and you've got to respect it and play to his strengths and his weaknesses. You know, he's a great athlete, so you've got to be ready for a lot of things that he's going to throw at you, and just try to stay solid and take some things away from him. As a competitor, you want to play against the best players. So I take this as a challenge, and I'm excited for it.

Q. Ben, and if anyone wants to weigh in on this. You guys are obviously such a high seed and a good team. But do you feel you guys have made an impact as far as registering on the national radar, or do you feel like you guys have kind of slipped under that radar a little bit, and if so, why is that?

BEN BRUST: I mean, that doesn't really matter to us. We're just happy to have another 40 minutes. We've got a chance to play a great team in Arizona. If we just stay focused on the task at hand, the rest of the stuff takes care of itself. So just looking forward to getting out there Saturday.

Q. You guys annually ranked now way up there in fewest turnovers per game. This is for the guards, I guess. What happens when you guys turn it over? Is it you expect to get taken out or you hear about it later? What is it about the turnover that you guys are able to take care of the ball so well?

BEN BRUST: I think it was all of the above there. I want to stay out on the floor to help the team, and if I'm turning the ball over we're not getting a chance to get a shot up which isn't helping the team. So it's something that Coach wants us to do is just take care of the ball, because if we get a shot, it's another chance to score.

JOSH GASSER: Yeah, trying to get a good look every possession. Doesn't matter who it is, when you turn the ball over, it not only gives you one last possession, but it usually gives them a better opportunity to score on the other end. So it definitely works hand in hand there.

COACH RYAN: I only sub for guys if I think they're tired.

Q. Okay, this time you guys can use as many words as you need. This is for Frank and Ben, but if anyone wants to chime in. You guys seem to work very well together. In order for a team to work as well together on the court, does there have to be an off the court chemistry component? What are you guys like off the court? Are you 12 guys, 12 cabs, or are you guys close?

BEN BRUST: Yeah, I think we're definitely a tight knit group. Just across the board I think everyone on this team cares about each other. I think you can feel that out there when we're playing with each other. You can look that person in the eye who you've gotten to know off the floor, and know that they care just about what you're trying to accomplish together as you do, and I think that helps.

FRANK KAMINSKY: We knew it would be important to be a close knit group before the season even started. I mean, most of us, the majority of the team lives together in an apartment building. We're next door neighbors. So we're always in each other's rooms and we're a really close group. Everyone's friends with everyone. So I think that's really translated on to the court and in the locker room more so this year than more recent years, it just feels people are sticking around more. Hanging out and playing games like Ping Pong and stuff like that in the locker room, and I think that's really translated into our game.

Q. Ben, as Bo indicated, he's been around a long time and has accomplished a great deal in his career, but he's not coached in a Final Four. What would it mean for you guys to be the Wisconsin team that could deliver that and fill that line on his resume?

BEN BRUST: It would definitely be a very special accomplishment, and I'd be honored to be a part of it. But in order to do that, we can't be looking ahead. We've just got to stay focused on what's at task, and that is Arizona is a great team. So Coach has been doing the same thing we've been doing all year which is getting us prepared the best we can, and he's given us the tools to be successful. Now it's our job to go out there and get the job done.

Q. This is for any of you guys, but I know a lot of you guys on the roster are from the Midwest. I was just curious. Coach talked about Chester. Has he ever talked about growing up there and translating that, and do you roll your eyes or do you buy into it or how does that go?

SAM DEKKER: I've never heard any stories. So I don't know what you're talking about.

JOSH GASSER: Yeah, he always talks about the tough streets of Chester. I can relate being from Port Washington, Wisconsin. It's very similar.

TRAEVON JACKSON: Yeah, Westerville is tough to live in too, so I kind of relate as well.

BEN BRUST: I've got a golf course in my backyard, so he's got me beat (laughing).

FRANK KAMINSKY: Sometimes they call my hometown of Woodridge, Hoodridge, if that means anything.

Q. Coach, today's freshmen don't play like freshmen any more. Just wanted to get your impression on Aaron and Rondae just as basketball players?

COACH RYAN: Well, when you say freshmen do not play like freshmen, you mean the ones that are playing in college as freshmen? There are a lot of freshmen that do not play their freshman year. Anybody that earns the right to be on the floor, especially for teams that are in the NCAA tournament, obviously have to be physically and mentally ready. Those young men are. So sometimes it depends on where you are physically in your maturation process. Some guys are late bloomers. Some guys develop earlier physically. But guys like Nigel and Rondae physically have the tools and mentally have obviously taken on the task of understanding a system and how to play within a system.

Q. Coach, Rondae has talked a lot about the Biddy League. Can you describe it for someone that's never not there or been part of it?

COACH RYAN: The Biddy League is a national tournament that's pretty much on the east coast. My dad's won a few championships coaching in the Biddy League. He didn't coach me. He refused to. So we ended up playing his team for the championship, and I dropped 42 on him, and he did not talk to me on the drive home. Did not talk to me for three days. You know, it's just the way it was.

But anyhow, the Biddy League is a little smaller ball, up to 12 years old. You couldn't be over 5'6", they put you in a box, and if you couldn't fit in the box, then you couldn't play. So that was the Biddy League, basically Little League, but for basketball. Then you get to play in national tournaments. One national tournament my dad's team didn't get a chance to go. This was after I had played, but the team that he had coached was beaten by a team out of New York, and they found out they had two or three guys that were 14 years old or 15. Like the Little League story that you heard.

So that was one thing he would bring up at least ten times a year. Oh, did we get robbed in 19 whatever. But Biddy League is like Little League. More people know what that is, obviously, with the baseball being nationally broadcast. But Biddy League was a great experience.

Played a lot of different teams. Being where we were in the Philadelphia area, teams from New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, all along the east coast. It was a lot of fun.

Q. Coach, you talked about point guards earlier, and I just wanted to get your take on T.J. McConnell playing on the west coast and in some of the late games. Do you think he's one of the more underappreciated point guards in the country or how do you view him?

COACH RYAN: I never use those terms because somebody said something about do we feel we're under the radar? First of all, you have to know what you're in something for. So to say somebody's underrated, how can a guy be underrated? He's a player. He's on a good team. He's a good player. So he's not underrated by anybody that's associated with me. So he's one of the reasons they're here.

Q. Bo, when you were looking at Kaminsky in high school, what was it that stood out to you besides his sense of humor that you thought might be an asset for your program?

COACH RYAN: Well, very bright, a family that was with a sports background, and that helps. A dad that played. A mom who was a great volleyball player, so there is that in his background. And he kept growing to the point where he had ball handling skills. He had passing skills, pretty good foot work, things like that. So to get to be 7 feet tall and then still have those skills, that's helped us. He had a chance to play behind some other guys that he learned from in Jared Berggren and in a lot of practices with guys like Keaton Nankivil, Jon Leuer who is with Memphis now.

So he's had a chance to be around some guys that could help him. He listens. And like I said, very bright. He's meant a lot to our program.

Q. Coach, I was wondering if there was maybe one characteristic that you feel like players from Chester going back to your time all the way up until now have always maintained, and if there is something that is kind of exclusive to Chester, does Rondae how does that manifest itself in Rondae's game?

COACH RYAN: Well, the same way a guy like Jameer Nelson being from Chester. Tyreke Evans is from Chester, though he went to a private school, but still played in the Biddy League program. It's kind of that sense of pride of maybe what a city is known for. The most state championships, always in the playoffs, lost in the state finals this year but had won the last three in a row. So there is a sense of pride there that the whole city rallies around. But in order to be a player there, you've got to be a player. You've got to beat out a lot of people. You've got to.

We had tryouts for managers in high school. Seriously. There would be all these guys because they knew we made trips and the team traveled a little bit more than most high schools. Boy, I couldn't believe the first day I went to 1962 to practice and there are all these guys, all these other people running around. Here I found out they were trying out for manager. Managers are a good thing, because they're very important to a team. But a lot of times in high schools coaches are going around trying to find people to be managers. So that kind of tells you a little bit about Chester.

Q. Bo, just curious to get your thoughts on college players' unionizing, and the thought that they spent 40 to 50 hours per week on their craft and on their sport?

COACH RYAN: Well, in no way can you get into a conversation on that without a lot more time. So any snipits or anything said, this is not the forum for me or really anybody leading into the Elite Eight, preparing ourselves for a game. So I'll just say there's going to be a lot of conversation out there.

Q. One more thing about Chester, if you don't mind. Rondae was saying a lot of strong, positive influences there, but obviously there's been a lot of attention in recent years about the murder rate, et cetera. Is that overblown? Was it like that when you were there too?

COACH RYAN: Not quite that way in the '60s, but as the jobs moved out and a lot of there was so much industry there. Sinclair, which is now British Petroleum, SunOil, Boeing, General Electric, Alcoa, Lee Lacocca got his start a block and a half from where I lived in Chester in the first house, in a row house, and he worked for Ford. Ford was right down the street. It was booming. Lot of jobs.

As that changed, then of course the rates that you're talking about, murder rates and everything else, it wasn't something that you'd want to advertise. But, yeah, there are a lot of influences in Chester that can take people the other way, and fortunately there are influences that can take you in a positive way. I'm always thankful for those that choose the positive way, and Rondae has definitely done that.

Q. Kind of following up on that, how familiar are you with where the Millers are from? Is there anything about the area or the state that tends to breed coaches and breed that competitive fire?

COACH RYAN: Probably, because he won't share it with you, my first or second year at the University of Wisconsin as an assistant in the '70s, I wanted to put on a I thought Madison was a little conservative. I wanted to try to stir things up with the public and get people interested in Wisconsin basketball as an assistant.

So I created this evening, round ball for youth night. So I called Crazy George. Crazy George Schauer was a guy that could dribble and spin eight balls at one time, and Tanya Crevier who was the woman's version of being able to spin eight balls at one time and do all kinds of tricks. But I wasn't finished. I said we've got to get something. We've got to get another come on here. So I called up Coach Miller, his dad and said, hey, can we get Sean out here to Madison, Wisconsin because he had done some camps that I had known about. So in one night in Madison in the Fieldhouse, we had Crazy George, Tanya Crevier and Sean.

One of the assistant coach's wives had made a Superman cape and he came out in the Superman cape and had to follow the act of George and Tanya. And Sean more than handled himself. And I actually have it. I don't know. Did I put it on DVD yet? We took it from 8 or 16 millimeter, whatever it was we used in the '70s. I did get it on video. But I can't remember if I put it on DVD or not. But Sean was unbelievable. Ball handling, shooting, 9 years old, running up and down, he was great. So there is a little tidbit. But his dad was a really good coach, good basketball area. Sean was a point guard. That's what I played. I look at Sean as somebody who sees the game with the same vision that I do, which doesn't make it right or wrong, but we do have a lot of similarities.

Q. Coach Ryan, what do you see Zach Bohannon doing 20 years from now?

COACH RYAN: Well, he'll still never have a hair out of place. If you see him with a hair out of place, you've got to let me know. Zach's great. He stirs the pot a little bit. He's always asking questions. He's a good reader. Stays up on current events. A politician, maybe, or somebody who is don't take this the wrong way or somebody who is getting things done in communities. Doesn't have to be a politician. But he is a guy who has a vision of things in the world that he likes or would like to see done. And ways that they should be done, and I admire him for that.

Q. A follow up, of people who just look at your contributions on the basketball court may not even pay any attention to him. But what do you think he's contributed to the team?

COACH RYAN: Well, quite a bit. Number one, he took the scout team along with Coach Gard and taught them American's offense, the Princeton offense, because we didn't play Bill Carmody is not at Northwestern anymore, so we didn't practice all year against the Princeton offense. And Z Bo knows it better than some of the coaches out there couching it. He's pretty good at that.

But on the scout team he's always at it, he's always helped the other guys he could end up being a coach, but I think he probably wouldn't want to deal with the media. I think he thinks they get in the way, but I don't know.

No, I'm just kidding about that part. He would be good as a coach. He's just going to be good at anything that he does. He had just made a decision that the Air Force after two years, which a lot of students do at West Point, the Air Force Academy, they decide that's not for them. He made that decision and came with us.

Q. Bo, you don't strike me as a guy who wakes up every morning and checks KenPom. I wonder how you've embraced this analytic revolution, and is there something to be said for gut feel when it comes to coaching these days when these games are so analyzed?

COACH RYAN: I'm a numbers guy too. But there is something about the gut and coaching from my experience and my background watching coaches and just things that some people would do and say how did he why did he do that? Again, mentioning my dad, he was a baseball manager, and that's where Billy "White Shoes" Johnson played for him. He was an American Legion coach. He did things based on his gut. One of them was Billy wasn't a very good hitter, so it's tie score, last inning, bottom of the last inning. He tells him he pinch runs him after a guy gets a hit. He says, Billy on the first pitch you steal second. On the next pitch you steal third. When you slide into third, you stay down. And this does have to do with my answer to you.

So Billy steals second on the first pitch. Billy steals he was hard to throw out. And he steals third and he stays down. Billy, Billy hold your ankle, hold your ankle. Moan. So Billy is holding his ankle, moaning. My dad, whoa, whoa. Timeout, Ump, timeout. I don't have any more subs. I've got to go with this guy. Are you going to be all right? So my dad takes a handkerchief, a clean handkerchief out and takes Billy's shoe off and does a figure eight on his ankle because they didn't have any tape. So he tapes his ankle and whispers in his ear and says, if he goes into the full wind up, you're gone. So he limps around, he gets back on third. The guy sure enough goes into a full wind up, Billy steals, they win the game.

The other coach came out with his arm like this. Somebody had to grab him. The guy says that's unethical. My dad goes, there is nothing unethical in baseball. The hidden ball trick. Is there? Is that unethical?

So his gut feeling was in order to win this game, this is what I have to do. That's one example. But other things like because baseball guys are like why did you put that guy into pinch hit there? Why didn't you pinch hit for that guy? Why didn't you take that pitcher out? I mean, after I just saw the other reasons for Buckner not losing for the '86 World Series or whatever it was, taking Schiraldi out of the game was one of the reasons. Anybody seen that? And they got all these reasons why it wasn't Billy Buckner.

Well, I thought it was a good program because then Billy Buckner doesn't have to feel so bad. Could he have beaten Mookie to the base? I don't know. But gut does have a lot to do, numbers are important, points per possession, assists to turnover ratios. Making more free throws than the other team attempts. There are a lot of things that you can use or at least strive for and work towards that can help your team.

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