Mother nature’s canvas of brilliant rust and golden leaves gave a clear reminder of the changing seasons in Madison on Monday. So did the little white signs that dotted the hill at Elver Park. Spaced a few yards apart, white placards featuring the logos of Wisconsin’s 2008-09 men’s basketball opponents could only mean one thing, the final day at the hill and the start of hoops season.
Pushing their way to the top 21 times, all 17 Badgers passed their biggest off-season test and are ready physically and mentally to attack the next challenge. That assault begins this Friday, Oct. 17th at Night of the Grateful Red.
Keeping up with tradition, head coach Bo Ryan had team managers post signs bearing the 2008-09 opponents in chronological order. He then used the struggles on the hill as a metaphor for late-season obstacles. If a player looked weary at the top he would offer encouraging and inspiring words like, “don’t give in to the hill” or “it’s tough, we’re on the road now and we’re down late” or “gotta battle.”
Overall, Coach Ryan couldn’t have been much happier with this group’s effort and conditioning. He told the team afterwards that this year might have been the best a Wisconsin team has ever run the hill. On the surface that may not mean much, but it could attest to the mental toughness of the team and possibility the overall athletic composition of a team looking to repeat as Big Ten champions.
A couple notes worth mentioning… assistant coach Gary Close ran ever rep of the hill, every day this fall. I won’t tell you how old Coach Close is, but if you think a 20-year old running 21 hills is impressive, you should see Coach in action. If awards were handed out at the hill sophomore Jon Leuer might have earned most improved honors. In his second year on the hill, Leuer passed the test like an AP calculus student taking algebra. Top freshman accolades probably would have gone to Jared Berggren. Coach mentioned Monday that it was great to see a big man (Berggren is 6-10) run it like a little guy. Junior Trévon Hughes would have taken home pace car honors as he made being first to the top his daily ritual.
This and That…
* For those attending tonight’s Steak Fry at the Kohl Center, Coach Ryan will be available for a limited amount of time to sign his new book Another Hill to Climb. Copies of the 220-page autobiography will be available to purchase at the event.
* Catch Coach Ryan live on ESPN’s First Take Wednesday morning at 9:50 a.m. (central).
* Friday’s Night of the Grateful Red event is a free season preview event for any and all interested public. Last season’s tip-off event made national headlines when Coach Ryan brought the house down with his “Crank That” Soulja Boy dance. See what he’s got for an encore. The event starts at 7:00 p.m., gates at 6:30 p.m.