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NDSU’s Will Ryan learns lessons from his father Bo

FARGO — There will be a presence from William Ryan, William Ryan II and William Ryan III at the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four this weekend in Arlington, Texas.

Although not everybody will be at AT&T Stadium.

When Ryan II, known in the basketball world as Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan, was interviewed on national TV following the Badgers’ regional title win, it was obviously an emotional moment. He dedicated the win to his father, William “Butch” Ryan, who passed away last fall.

“It makes your eyes water a little bit when you think about it,” said Will Ryan, the North Dakota State assistant coach who has the “III” family designation.

Here’s why, he said: Butch and Bo attended every Final Four since the 1970s, making it a father-son basketball guys trip.

“My grandpa was my dad’s biggest fan,” Will said. “He’d tell anybody and everybody who would listen. So that’s where it sinks in. You’re so used to reuniting at the Final Four and telling stories and the fact (Bo) won’t have that this year is the sad part about it. My grandpa is up there looking down on him.”

Butch Ryan was a legendary youth coach in Pennsylvania who taught kids the importance of fundamentals and doing things right on and off the court. Bo Ryan is becoming a legendary coach in Wisconsin who teaches kids the importance of fundamentals and doing things right on and off the court.

As a Bison assistant, Will coached a team this year that exemplified the importance of fundamentals and doing things right on and off the court. It’s why the Bison made history this season winning the Summit League tournament and winning a game in the NCAA tournament.

The correlation is not a coincidence.

Both NDSU and Wisconsin built programs by not worrying about the number of stars by a recruit’s name or press clippings. An emphasis is placed on team unity, Will said.

“That’s very true,” he said. “That’s something that goes back to my grandpa. You try and develop young men in all aspects of their games, even as individuals in their personal lives.”

Will played for his father on the 1998 and 1999 Wisconsin-Platteville teams that won NCAA Division III national titles. He followed his dad to Wisconsin-Milwaukee and played for him for one season there. He joined the Badger staff in 2002 as a volunteer assistant and spent five years working under his father, with the last two being director of operations.

He just completed his seventh season with NDSU. After returning from the regional in Spokane, he was questioning whether to take his family back west to Anaheim, Calif., just a few days later to watch the Sweet 16.

“You’re out in Spokane with a lot of kids you recruited, you’ve gone through such a great season and it’s sad because the season is over,” Will said. “So I guess it was a little difficult for me to come back a couple days later and head to Anaheim and put on a big, happy face.”

His face turned out really to be happy. With so many family members in attendance, he saw his grandpa’s son get to the Final Four. It would have been Butch Ryan’s 90th birthday.

“It’s a huge accomplishment to get there,” Will said. “You need the right things working for you, such as a little luck and a good group of kids that are unselfish and play for one another. They remind me of our guys here.”

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.