As the reality of Bo Ryanâ€™s shocking (at least publicly) retirement at the semester break sinks in, thereâ€™s one question that keeps getting asked, what is Bo Ryanâ€™s legacy?
The easy answer is to talk about the D3 national championships, the 700-plus career victories, the back-to-back Final Four appearances or the multiple Big Ten regular season and tournament championships.
One could also talk about the way he took the investment in the university seriously or the millions of dollars given back to charity and cancer research through the years.
Those are all valid topics, but thereâ€™s one part of his legacy that got him to all of those other things â€” his impact on youth basketball in the state of Wisconsin.
Before Bo Ryan, Wisconsin was a football-mad state and the Badgers football program along with the Packers ruled the roost. Getting anyone to talk vigorously about Badger basketball wasnâ€™t an easy task, and getting a kid to think about college basketball as a viable sport for the top athletes in the state wasnâ€™t even close to an option.
However, as Ryan stepped up from UW-Platteville and UW-Milwaukee to the flagship university of this state things began to change. Wisconsin began to win big, compete at the top of the Big Ten and fans saw the Badgers basketball program as the flagship program.
No longer did people just talk about Packers and Badgers football around the water coolers at work; Wisconsin basketball also took hold as more than just a way to pass the time from the end of football to spring ball.
It has led to an entire generation of fans and youngsters growing up knowing that basketball exists at the highest level and right in their own back yards.
Before Ryan came to Wisconsin, the Badgers had just five overall first round NBA draft picks in its history. In his 14 years, Ryan nearly doubled that total with four players picked in the first round. He had five overall draft picks and five other players sign as free agents.
Thatâ€™s a legacy kids take notice of, and it shows up in the level of athlete that has come out of this state since his arrival.
Names like Devin Harris, Marcus Landry and Sam Dekker were just a few of the home-grown talent to make it to the association. It also led to an increase in the demand and quality of youth basketball to help bust open what was an underrated pipeline for basketball talent.
There is no bigger example of that than what has happened at the AAU level in the state of Wisconsin.
For some it must seem like AAU basketball was always a thing. As someone who grew up playing the sport and doing so at a somewhat competitive level, I can attest that few outside of maybe Milwaukee even know what AAU basketball was.
It simply didnâ€™t exist in the conciousness of a young athlete, unlike select level soccer programs or the best high school football programs to aspire to did. It was simple, if you were a really good athlete and wanted to get to the next level, football was your meal ticket.
High school basketball in the state wasnâ€™t going to be good enough to get you noticed, scouting top talent was a lot harder and finding players willing to make basketball the priority was a rarity.
Sam Dekker? He wouldâ€™ve been a wide receiver.
Devin Harris? Probably a defensive back or wide receiver as well.
Simply put, without the increased level of AAU ball that came with the rise of the Badgers under Bo, this program isnâ€™t talking about back-to-back Final Fours or 14 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances or 14 straight seasons of finishing fourth or better.
A Final Four appearance in 2000 changed some of that perception, but it was really Ryanâ€™s hire in 2001 that began the monster that is high school basketball in the state of Wisconsin.
Today, the state regularly sends players not only to schools inside the state at the D1 level, but one can find them on rosters from sea to shining sea. Top historical programs like North Carolina, Duke, UCLA, Kansas and Kentucky spend countless hours in gyms in the state of Wisconsin every spring and summer evaluating talent coming out of the state.
J.P Tokoto isnâ€™t a Tar Heel. Matt Thomas isnâ€™t seen as a freshman by Iowa State and commits before the Badgers offer. Kevon Looney isnâ€™t a one-and-done at UCLA and Diamond Stone isnâ€™t in a battle to the wire between the Badgers and Maryland without the rise in competitive play and athletic ability in the state.
Without a figurehead like Bo, the state doesnâ€™t become basketball mad and other programs arenâ€™t likely where they are today.
Do you think Milwaukeeâ€™s rise towards the top of the Horizon League is a mistake? Even the level of in-state player the mid-major programs are getting is at a higher level than ever before.
Matt Tiby? Thatâ€™s one heck of a player.
Kenneth Lowe will certainly give the Badgers a thing or two to think about on Wednesday too.
They are but a few of the many players from inside the borders of Wisconsin who have sniffed a high level of play at the mid-major level, and Ryanâ€™s ability to be a figurehead for and ambassador of the game throughout the state of Wisconsin played a huge role.
Donâ€™t take our word for it, just look at the talent on display every year at the WIAA state boyâ€™s basketball championships. Every year it seems the level of play increases and the athletes impress more and more.
Thatâ€™s partly because of the dedication, specialization and increased coaching ability throughout the state. But, it is also because Bo Ryan has made playing basketball not only “cool” but a viable way to make a living playing a game you may love growing up.
Some of the best have chosen a different path than the University of Wisconsin, but Bo Ryanâ€™s style of basketball isnâ€™t for everyone. Heâ€™s never made bones about that, choosing to find the player that fit his system over chasing star-ratings or national recruiting rankings just for the sake of doing so.
However, the state of Wisconsin doesnâ€™t even touch the kind and quality of talent it has produced in the past decade without Ryan taking the Badgers to a whole different level of success. If it werenâ€™t true, why didnâ€™t Wisconsin become a powerhouse before?
The University of Wisconsin was always a draw for some talent throughout the years, but head coach after head coach couldnâ€™t get the job done.
The 1990â€™s saw Wisconsin reach towards making the NCAA tournament annually as the ultimate goal. Bo Ryanâ€™s Badgers were expected to do that and get to the second weekend or more â€” and it was all because of the level of player he was able to recruit to fit his program.
Most of that talent coming from the state of Wisconsin, that wasnâ€™t a coincidence either.
So, while everyone goes on and on about the legacy of wins, championships and Final Fours, just remember it was his impact on the youth game that made all of it possible at the University of Wisconsin.