The last weekend in October has come to mean just one thing for me (and head
coach Bo Ryan for that matter) over the past six years. No, not reveling on
State Street dressed as a cow. It means driving to Chicago for Big Ten
Basketball Media Day.
The 2006 version was held this past Sunday at the Chicago Marriott O’Hare.
From 9 a.m.-noon, coaches and players from around the league answered
provocative questions from the brightest media minds in the Midwest. The general
consensus in the room, among media and coaches, was that Ohio State and
Wisconsin were the preseason favorites to win the league title. There was also
little doubt that Alando Tucker was the odds-on choice for Preseason Player of
the Year honors. Needless to say, the UW contingent of Coach Ryan, Alando,
Kammron Taylor and Brian Butch were pretty popular.
In contrast to that, let me recount some of the history of the Badgers’
experience of media day during the Bo Ryan (and Brian Lucas) era. The first
year, 2001, Coach Ryan, Kirk Penney and myself huddled into my Volkswagen Passat
and made the two-hour drive from Madison to Chicago at 6 a.m. Coach was in the
front with me while Kirk was in the back doing some homework. With the early
wake-up call, it was a relatively silent ride down (until I missed the exit, but
that’s another story for another time).
It was a good thing they didn’t wear out their vocal cords on the way down
because during the entire three-hour event, I’m sure that between the two of
them, they must have gotten at least … oh, five questions. I almost offered to
get Kirk’s homework for him so he could be a little more productive with his
time. As it was, he left Media Day with great knowledge of the teams in the
conference, having poured over each one’s media guide to pass the time.
Coach Ryan was seated at a table in the corner and just kind of took it all
in. Occasionally a reporter would stroll over and ask about the transition from
Division III to Division I, since he was just two years removed from
UW-Platteville. Or they would inquire about how tough it would be to replace
five seniors that had made a Final Four appearance during their time. For the
most part, he went unbothered, other than me coming over to ask if he needed
more water or perhaps a croissant.
As it turned out, both Coach Ryan and Kirk Penney did plenty of talking that
season as UW won a share of its first conference title since 1947 and Penney was
a consensus First-Team All-Big Ten choice. With that experience, Coach Ryan
definitely knew what he was talking about, when in response to a question about
the buzz around Ohio State and Wisconsin, “There’s other coaches over there just
smiling. How about the years we snuck up on people? You kind of sit over in the
corner and smirk.”
For Tucker, it was his second appearance at Media Day, having driven down
with me last year (the coaches now have a meeting early in the morning so Coach
Ryan goes down Saturday night). Even though he was a named to the preseason
all-conference team last year, as he told the Wisconsin State Journal, “I was sitting in the
corner by myself flipping cards.”
This year was much different, starting with the car ride down (a little more
cozy with Butch and Taylor joining the fray in my Toyota 4Runner) and extending
into the non-stop stream of reporters at his table. In addition to being the
preseason player of the year, Alando has the distinction of being one of the
most well-spoken and insightful players we’ve had in any sport since I’ve been
around so that made him a popular choice with reporters. He was definitely
talked-out by the time the clock struck noon.
A vast difference from years’ past.