When I got out of the shower this morning, I heard some old geezer whining on ESPN Radio with Mike and Mike, and when I heard Mike Greenberg ask him to stay on through a break, I assumed it was Bo Ryan, the Wisconsin basketball coach who was not allowing Jarrod Uthoff, a true freshman who redshirted this past season, to transfer. What I couldn’t understand is why Ryan would call up in the middle of a radio show he was being criticized on and offer up additional fodder. (Mike and Mike Interview.)
While Ryan clearly made his situation much worse, I was reminded of Darnell Autry wanting to leave Northwestern prior to the Wildcats’ miracle run to the Rose Bowl in 1995, a story that I read in Gary Barnett’s book High Hopes over ten years ago. Autry was even visiting Arizona State when Barnett called then-Sun Devils coach Bruce Synder and told him that Autry wouldn’t be given a release. The memory of that story struck me, so I serached for it and found a LA Times article (Link) from before the ’96 Rose Bowl about Autry’s literally playing Hamlet in the 1995 off-season. The difference between that situation and the Ryan/Uthoff was that, one, Autry’s debate stayed private, and two, we are listening to Ryan discuss the situation mid-divorce.
To be fair, Ryan should be angry at this point. Uthoff told him he was leaving while Ryan on vacation, and, with all that Wisconsin has invested in Uthoff’s development, Ryan has a right to expect a conversation with him. In many ways, Bo Ryan is like a spouse who has been asked for a divorce out of the blue; maybe didn’t even realize that Uthoff didn’t like it at Wisconsin. So he feels betrayed, but going on a popular national radio isn’t exactly keeping it “in house”.
The Divorcing Parties
But Ryan convinced Uthoff to come to Wisconsin. In his book A March to Madness, John Feinstein chronicled how Mike Krzyzewski did it: he flew back with each recruit after their on-campus visit to make sure they were the kind of player who fit in at Duke, a private, exclusive school which every urban high school basketball player might not be comfortable at. As much as Bo Ryan has to go out to seal Wisconsin, it’s no good if it is to someone who doesn’t want it. Granted, Uthoff may not have realized he didn’t want until he got to Wisconsin, but still, Ryan has to read every recruit and ask himself, will this guy gel on campus?
As for the transfer process itself, it needs to have some restrictions on it. Right now, Garrett Gilbert is taking a whooping 27 credit hours (nine more than I ever took a semester) to graduate from Texas and play this fall at SMU. College basketball is frustrating enough with its one-and-done, and now transfers? In my opinion, Doc Sadler was fired at Nebraska because players transferring (and other reasons here stated), and it’s always easier to keep an old customer than to recruit a new one. Ryan said that other NCAA coaches were supporting him in his efforts to restrict Uthoff’s transfer, and of course they would. Likely most have been in a similar situation, knowing that if the loose a good player already in the program, it could be big trouble
But where Ryan becomes petty is when he blocks Uthoff from transferring to Iowa State, a school that’s isn’t going to be playing Wisconsin in the next couple of years (and where a former Wisconsin Deputy Athletic Director, Jamie Pollard, serves as AD). When Ryan says, you can’t go to Iowa State, he’s basically saying, I’m so upset at you, I’m not even going to let you play in your home state. I’m making this personal.
This is the classic divide between older people and younger people. Hey, I’m the first to admit, young people can be cocky and brash to their elders, and I have been. But young people also have more options in this society then their elders did fifty years ago, and young people know their worth these days. They won’t put up with cranky old guys who are always whining about how much better stuff was forty years ago. The old guys may not like it, but look at Mark Zuckerburg-the guy had a great idea and drive, and he absolutely earned every penny of it. If they had the options we do now, who’s to say they wouldn’t have used all of them? (Being a young man in an old man’s church)
Then there’s the desperation of the rural northern program. While Madison is a great city, there aren’t a plethora of great basketball players who want to play there in the winter. Tom Izzo was willing to consider the Cleveland Cavaliers job because he was frustrated that, after six Final Fours and a National Title, he still had a hard time convincing top recruits to come to the alma mater of Magic Johnson in central Michigan. Consider how it must be for Ryan.
But what I come back to is the point in the Mike and Mike interview where Ryan ended up playing his own defense attorney, trying to muddle the issue after he couldn’t defend himself with the facts. After Mike Golic asked him when the list of schools Uthoff could transfer to was so restrictive, Ryan went on about how it is when a team practices together every day and how Greenberg couldn’t understand because he didn’t play the game. Just what happens in a messy divorce.