Kentucky, Wisconsin do it their own ways to reach Final Four
April 4, 2014 11:58 PM
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan runs a drill at practice Friday on the eve of the national semifinals in Arlington, Texas.
By Eddie Pells / Associated Press
ARLINGTON, Texas -- They play the same game, though they come at it from opposite sides of the court.
Kentucky has a coach labeled a renegade, a rotating stable of McDonald's All-Americans and sky-high expectations every year. Wisconsin has a coach who has stayed in one state for three decades, a lineup full of juniors and seniors and an aw-shucks attitude about its first Final Four trip in more than a decade.
They meet today in the national semifinals -- the Wildcats (28-10) two wins from the program's ninth national title and the Badgers (30-7) making their first trip this far in the tournament since 2000.
"Frank Sinatra, wasn't that the song? We did it our way?" Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "Everybody's doing it their way. If you're a coach and here's the landscape, you do it the best way you can."
In his 13th season at Wisconsin, Ryan is at his first Final Four at this level after winning four national titles at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville.
Asked about the biggest difference between getting this far at Division III and Division I, Ryan espoused the virtues of enjoying a good doughnut, diet soda and a crossword puzzle before the big game, as opposed to heading to a room filled with reporters who want to dissect his every move.
The trappings of big-time basketball haven't changed him.
"Every place I've been, wherever I was an employee, [the paycheck] always went into the account," Ryan said. "My wife gives me $150 a month as an allowance, whether I need it or not. I don't get caught up in all that other stuff."
That is more the domain of the man he'll coach against, John Calipari, whose news conferences at the NCAA tournament usually grow more prickly as the Wildcats make their way deeper through the bracket.
He is labeled by some as a pariah, the primary exploiter of the "one-and-done" rule -- really an NBA rule -- that so many feel is ruining the game.
"When you're changing the whole direction of a family, does it matter if it's one or four years, unless you're ingrained in, this is how it has to be?" he said. "That's why I don't read it, don't care. All I do is, let me take care of these kids."
Led by lottery pick-to-be Julius Randle, Calipari recruited six high school All-Americans to the bluegrass this season. The national title and an undefeated season were expected to be mere stopping points for these kids. But it was way more complicated than that as recently as March 1, after the team lost back-to-back games against Arkansas and South Carolina to fall to 21-8.
Calipari tweaked something -- he'll reveal exactly what when the season is over -- and the march to the Final Four began. Never in the recruiting process or the season has the NBA been brought up -- "It's the elephant in the room that we don't need to talk about," he insists.
It's a different story at Wisconsin, where talent doesn't always jump out to NBA scouts and Ryan's system gets credit for getting the most out of his players.
"I had a Three and Done," he said of Devin Harris, an NBA lottery pick in the 2004 draft. "He came into my office and said, 'Coach, what do you think?' I told him that I would get back to him after I found out what the NBA people really felt. And when I did find out and sat down and talked to him, he was just so relieved that I would allow him to go make a lot of money."
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