Ryan winning despite missing piece

Bo Ryan

MADISON, Wis. -- Bo Ryan's spacious office doubles as a museum for Wisconsin basketball junkies.

Glistening framed photos of notable Badgers line the walls. A vintage image of a Wisconsin player -- his legs covered in thick knee braces -- painted onto the post of an old crate basket is positioned near his mahogany desk.

And then there's the real prize for the coach who leads the unblemished, third-ranked Wisconsin squad (16-0) that will face Indiana in Bloomington on Tuesday night on ESPN.

Beneath a lamp, a collection of pictures featuring Ryan with his grandkids -- the children who've triggered a softness that has surprised his adult children -- shines as bright as the place they've occupied in his life.

A whistle swings from that light -- basketball is the fabric of the Ryan family, of course -- but it's an afterthought compared with the photos of the 66-year-old with the wide smile next to those vibrant kids.

Those boys and girls grabbed "BeePa's" heart the day they were born, and they've never let go.

That's why he frequently schedules time to finish crossword puzzles with 5-year-old Aoife. And that's why the man known for his gruff demeanor doesn't fuss when his other grandkids run onto the court in the middle of team drills.

Maybe he's different now.

Ryan's family has always been his priority. But those around him wonder whether losing his father, William "Butch" Ryan, in August changed him, perhaps made him value everything a bit more than he did before Butch died.

As he settles into his office the night before a major Big Ten matchup against Iowa, Bo Ryan mentions his dad without prompting.

He'd love to bring his father to Arlington, Texas, in April. Butch and Bo were always a popular duo at the Final Four.

He'd love to tell his father about this group of young men who might constitute his most capable and solidified Badgers team.

He'd love to call his father and talk hoops, just one more time.

He wishes Butch Ryan could see this.

"I think basketball season makes it extra tough," said Megan Kaiser, Ryan's daughter. "They would call after every game just to talk a little bit about it. I think there are some phone calls being missed."

Butch might be gone.

But the man who runs Wisconsin basketball is everything the World War II veteran thought he'd be and more. Bo Ryan's success -- and Wisconsin's, too -- is an extension of his father's legacy.

It's too quiet.

Squeaking sneakers and balls bouncing off backboards should not be the only sounds when young men gather to play basketball, especially on a team facing the growing pressure of being an undefeated program atop the Big Ten.

But it's relatively silent at the Wisconsin practice facility adjacent to the Kohl Center in Madison.

The assembly-line approach makes this feel more like a marching band's pregame prep for a bowl game, not a Division I basketball practice the evening before a contentious outing against a stacked, nationally ranked Iowa squad.

The Badgers should carry briefcases, not gym bags.

They are, however, relentless in their meticulousness.

When the systematic session begins, players walk onto the floor and maneuver through a series of fundamental drills.

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