A New Era: Changes Loom For Wisconsin Basketball


I want to preface this article with a quote by “Mad Men’s” Don Draper, “Change is neither good nor bad, it simply is.”

Let that soak in. OK, now you’re ready to dive into this piece with me.

Since Bo Ryan arrived in Madison in 2001 the Wisconsin Badgers basketball program has been the most consistent team in the Big Ten — hell, the entire country for that matter. That consistency has led to a bevy of memorable seasons (especially last year’s Final Four run). But for the first time in a long time, there are some definite changes on the horizon for Wisconsin basketball as we know it. The biggest change for Badgers fans will be dealing with the unintended consequences of Wisconsin running a more explosive and up-tempo offense.

As Wisconsin continues to develop its up-tempo offense and bring in exciting, top-level talent, there will be more success. But (you knew there’d be “but” didn’t you…) there will also be players leaving early for the NBA at a more frequent rate. Meaning, the top young men that Ryan brings into Madison will most-likely not be staying a full four years as we’ve grown accustomed to (gasp).

Exhibit A: Sam Dekker

Wisconsin Badgers forward Sam Dekker (15) — Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The upcoming junior is going to go pro at the conclusion of the 2014/15 season. Don’t believe me? Fine, but don’t say I didn’t prepare you when he makes his decision public next spring. Over the summer, at the Lebron James Skills Academy, he was the shining star of the entire tournament (and even guarded the living legend James). He has grown two inches, now stands 6-foot-9, and is developing into the phenomenal player everyone knew he could be, would be. After this next season he will enter the NBA draft and be taken in the first round. Lets hope he hangs a banner in the Kohl Center first.

The Future…

Imagine yourself a couple years down the road. You’ve got an iPhone 6, or perhaps 7, in your pocket, President Obama is now former President Obama and you’re excited for the upcoming Badgers basketball season. We’ll be two years deeper into Wisconsin’s continued effort to recruit players that fit Ryan’s new approach to offense — a faster paced one. More and more top prospects will be looking to play at Wisconsin; where they know they can score points and showcase their abilities. But, will upcoming stellar sophomores Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes be around to play with the Badgers in the 2016/17 season? Or will their talents shine so bright once Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, and Dekker are gone that they find themselves in the NBA early? This is a serious question. The Badgers’ new offense, albeit exciting, will continually lead to more players getting early chances at the NBA.

But is this a bad thing?

Or is it simply the price of success? These are the “problems” that Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, etc., deal with on a yearly basis. As Wisconsin steps into the upper-echelon of college basketball destinations, it will have to deal with players leaving early all the time. So lets look at both sides of the coin.

Wisconsin Badgers head coach Bo Ryan — Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Pros:

The affect on recruiting, once players start leaving Madison earlier for the NBA, will actually be monumental. High school prospects with dreams of playing professionally will see Badgers leaving for the NBA at a more frequent rate and will look at Wisconsin as a viable option to help bring their dreams to life — as opposed to just a quality team and university. Players leave Kentucky after one season to go to the NBA and it does WONDERS for their recruiting.

Seriously, if you’re annoyed by one-and-dones then you’re too old and you should probably stop reading this immediately and go get those damn kids off your lawn. That said, I do not see the Badgers’ ever-evolving up-tempo offense leading to a culture of one-and-dones in Madison. But a few here and there wouldn’t be the worst thing. The other “pro” would be kids that are good enough to leave for the NBA early are good enough to give the Badgers their first National Championship banner since 1941 — if they don’t snag it this upcoming season, that is!

The Cons:

A false con of sorts is the worry that “Wisconsin basketball as we know it will never quite be the same.” You may be right, but that’s not a bad thing — in my opinion. But it is also OK to want to hold onto “the way it was.” Just don’t let it sour your mood toward the program; remember Draper’s quote (refer to first sentence of article if you’ve forgotten)? Wisconsin’s brand may change over the coming years but look at it with an open mind. Bucky ran a more up-tempo offense in 2013/14 and it nearly made it to the National Championship Game. If a “change” in the offense, and program as a whole, means more seasons like that, then I’d like a refill on my Kool-Aid, please.

Although there is a real con. And it is that Bo Ryan, the fearless leader of Madison’s basketball renaissance, is a recruit-and-develop type of coach. How many times has he transformed a timid freshman into a senior leader? That is who he is and in turn what this program is all about. That is a real change that he will have to deal with over the next few seasons, but I believe that the future College Basketball Hall of Fame coach will continue to win, even if he has less time to develop these incredibly talented NBA-minded prospects.

Still Not Convinced?

That must mean that you’re either not a fan of “Mad Men” and you don’t know who Don Draper is, or you just flat out do not believe me. You, for understandable reasons, do not want to see Wisconsin’s basketball program change (aka develop into an even more respected national power). Well, then I implore you to consider this ancient Chinese Proverb, “When the wind of change blows some build walls others build windmills.”

Tear down the walls you’ve built around what you’ve known Wisconsin Basketball to traditionally be. The future is bright, incredibly bright. The wind is blowing, so don’t hunker down protecting the past. Instead, Badgers fans, enjoy the ride.