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Jim Polzin | The Wisconsin State Journal | November 19, 2017

Bo Ryan heading to National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame

  Ryan won 747 games during his career with Wisconsin, UW-Platteville and UW-Milwaukee.

The office in Bo Ryan's condominium on the Near West Side of Madison is small, especially compared to the one he had in his previous home.

But there's enough room for the bare essentials -- a desk and a television screen -- and, besides, the former University of Wisconsin men's basketball coach doesn't need any bells and whistles when he's breaking down film.

Ryan coached nearly 500 games with the Badgers, and he has copies of every one at his disposal. In recent months, he has spent hours in the room studying film of some of his better players -- Frank Kaminsky, Jon Leuer, Jordan Taylor, Alando Tucker, Trevon Hughes to name a few -- to refresh his memory about how they developed from year to year.

"That's what tickles me," Ryan said during an interview in mid-October before he and wife Kelly took off for their winter home in La Quinta, California. "That's what drove me in coaching was to see improvement in individuals, which made the whole better. That's what I lived on."

Ryan, who won 747 games in 31-plus years as a head coach with stops at UW-Platteville, UW-Milwaukee and finally the Badgers, will be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday in Kansas City, Missouri. On Monday night, he'll watch the Badgers (2-1) play No. 25 Baylor (3-0) in a semifinal of the Hall of Fame Classic at the Sprint Center.

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Nearly two years after abruptly retiring midway through the 2015-16 season, basketball remains a big part of Ryan's life. He has teamed up with Nike to run coaching clinics in the fall and the spring that are later turned into instructional videos. He recently ran a camp on the Swing offense in the Cleveland area. He made multiple appearances at UW practice this fall, serving as an extra set of eyes for his longtime assistant Greg Gard, who is now the Badgers' head coach.

Ask Ryan what life is like after retiring from coaching and he'll instead take you through a timeline of what life was like while coaching. Never mind preparing for the 30-some games during the season, it was events that filled the offseason -- speaking engagements, recruiting periods, summer camps -- that eventually wore down Ryan.

So, no, Ryan, who will turn 70 next month, isn't considering coming out of retirement to run a program.

"No," Ryan said. "Because usually if somebody did try to get me, I'd be on a golf course and I wouldn't answer anyway."

On the move

The difference this time was Ryan had decided this would be his final game, informing UW athletic director Barry Alvarez and other officials of the move earlier in the day.

Three months later, Ryan admitted to having an extramarital affair and UW-Madison officials acknowledged the school had investigated allegations by Ryan's mistress that he had misused university resources. Ryan was cleared of any wrongdoing in the matter.

Ryan maintains the affair had nothing to do with his departure, insisting that the timing of his decision was based on giving Gard, who had been handed the interim role, a chance to prove he deserved a long-term contract.

On their drive to the Kohl Center before Ryan's final game, a 64-49 victory over Texas-Corpus Christi, he was "obsessing" over his decision, according to his wife.

"I said, 'You don't have to do this,' " Kelly Ryan said.

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But her husband went through with it. The following morning, they left for California and spent the rest of the season watching the Badgers play on television. It wasn't easy to watch from afar.

"That first year, it was, 'Nigel, we worked on that!" Kelly Ryan said. "I'd come in and say, 'You're not the coach anymore.'

"But last year he was better. At first, he was coaching from the sofa. He so wanted for Greg to do well so he could get the job."

One of the first calls Ryan received following his retirement announcement was from Jud Heathcote, the longtime Michigan State coach who had retired 20 years earlier.

Heathcote, who died in August, wanted to know if Ryan had a hobby. Ryan told him he liked to golf.

"Good," Heathcote told Ryan, "that's what saved me."

What Heathcote was most concerned with was Ryan having an outlet for his competitive nature. Ryan quickly discovered that Heathcote knew what he was talking about: playing golf three to four times a week with his buddies -- for a little money on the side, of course -- has allowed Ryan to keep his competitive juices flowing.

"My game isn't any better," Ryan said. "But I still enjoy getting out there and playing for something."

Saying thanks

When Ryan received the news in the spring that he was being inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, the first thing that stood out was the who's who nature of the group. The 2017 class includes Tim Duncan, Scott May, Rick Mount, Paul Silas, John Stockton, Jason Williams and the late Cleo Hill.

"I'm going to get some autographs," Ryan said.

As Ryan reflected more on the honor, he began to think of all the people that helped make it possible.

"You know what, it's a shame that it has to be this way, that one person gets honored for the achievements of many," Ryan said. "I've got a pretty level head about understanding how this works. There's no way that an individual has an opportunity to be honored in such a way without wishing that every player and coach that I had could be on stage with me. Wouldn't that be neat?"

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The next best thing was a plan Ryan and his wife hatched to reach out to every player and coach Ryan had worked with in his 40-plus years as a coach. They reached for help tracking down people at Ryan's various stops -- Brookhaven Junior High School and Sun Valley High School in Pennsylvania; the College of Racine; Platteville, Milwaukee and Madison -- and Ryan sent a thank-you card to each individual he found.

His Hall of Fame includes four national titles at Platteville, two trips to the Final Four with the Badgers and a long list of other accomplishments. His condo is filled with basketballs from milestone victories.

But for Ryan, his career can be measured in much simpler terms.

"Every position I ever walked away from as a coach," he said, "I truly felt that we helped make them better."

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