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Badgers' Ryan cranks out coaches

FARGO — The states of Indiana and Illinois and their respective rich high school and college basketball traditions will not be found anywhere in this NCAA men’s basketball tournament. On the other side, you’ll be able to find cheesehead connections all over CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV telecasts this weekend.

The state of Wisconsin is well represented.

For starters, look at the 2001-02 and 2002-03 University of Wisconsin coaching staff: They’re all in the big dance. Head coach Bo Ryan and assistant coach Greg Gard are still with the Badgers, assistant coach Tony Bennett is the head coach at Virginia, assistant coach Rob Jeter is the head coach at Wisconsin-Green Bay and assistant Saul Phillips is leading North Dakota State to its second NCAA berth.

Moreover, NDSU assistant Will Ryan is the son of Bo Ryan.

The reason for the continued success of that Badgers staff, Phillips said, is the tutelage Ryan provided each of the assistants.

“He’s a brilliant, brilliant basketball mind,” Phillips said. “We all learned basketball from a guy who teaches it as well as anybody teaches basketball. Period.”

And Bo Ryan, Phillips added, learned the game from his father, Butch Ryan, who died last August at the age of 89.

“I can’t help but think Butch is orchestrating this,” Phillips said. “It’s pretty special.”

Phillips came to NDSU as an assistant in 2004 after his stint at Wisconsin. He got the top Bison job in 2007 after Tim Miles left for Colorado State.

Bennett, the son of former Wisconsin head coach Dick Bennett, is in his fifth year at Virginia. The Cavaliers won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title on Sunday.

Phillips, Jeter, Gard and Will Ryan all played for Bo Ryan at Wisconsin-Platteville, which won NCAA Division III national championships in 1998 and 1999.

Wisconsin and NDSU are both in the West Region, although on opposite sides of the bracket and unlikely to meet considering the Badgers are a No. 2 seed and the Bison a No. 12. The West, it should be noted, also has a heavy NDSU connection.

Miles has Nebraska in the tournament for the first time since 1998 as a No. 11 seed. If the Cornhuskers win and Creighton wins, they would meet in a third-round game. The Bluejays are coached by former Bison assistant Greg McDermott. The star for Creighton is McDermott’s son Doug McDermott, who spent many hours shooting in the Bison Sports Arena while his dad ran practice in the 2000-01 season.

Nebraska and Creighton are playing their second-round games in San Antonio. If it somehow were reversed and both were in the same city, Phillips joked what it would have been like to play the Huskers on Thursday.

“A press conference for a Phillips-Miles game?” he said. “We would do it jointly. The NCAA would try to stop us.”

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.