Bo Ryan took a phone call last week from a magazine writer who was working on a preview of the 2013-14 University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team.
When the interview was over, the Badgers coach shrugged his shoulders and grimaced.
“Pretty soon, they’ll be wanting to know about 2015,” Ryan said, mindful of the fact it’s mid-July and UW won’t play its first non-conference game for another 3½ months. “Give these young men a chance to do their thing.”
There are plenty of questions to be answered between now and then, which is why Ryan is glad he gets to spend so much time with his team this summer.
In addition to the two hours of structured practice time UW is allowed each week during the eight-week summer school session — the NCAA started allowing the additional contact between coaches and players in 2012 — the Badgers can hold 10 additional practices to get ready for a series of five exhibition games next month in Canada.
The extra practice time comes at a perfect time for UW, which lost its entire starting frontcourt from last year’s 23-12 team and has six true freshmen in the mix.
Ryan has always considered the gym his classroom. His job as a teacher this summer, considering all the fresh faces, has been, well, challenging at times.
“Everybody right now thinks they can play,” Ryan said. “I’m going to be in my 42nd year dealing with young people (and sometimes) you have to kind of say, ‘You’re not ready yet, this is what you have to do.’ But that’s life.”
Ryan didn’t want to get into specifics on the development of the freshmen — forwards Nigel Hayes, Vitto Brown and walk-on Aaron Moesch; and guards Bronson Koenig, Riley Dearring and Jordan Hill — but did say he considers them an eager group.
The freshmen have had a lot thrown at them in a short time span because the Badgers are preparing for the Canada trip. That means a start-from-scratch instillation of the swing offense and all its various reads.
“The young guys have looked good at times, and then they’ve looked lost like typical freshmen at times,” UW associate head coach Greg Gard said. “That comes with the territory. Hopefully, every day we’re building on a little more and there’s less of those lost looks that you get and having to re-explain things.”
The good news for the Badgers is junior point guard Josh Gasser, who missed last season with a knee injury, continues to make progress in his rehabilitation. Although he hasn’t been cleared for full contact, Gasser said that he’s happy with his progress.
“I feel pretty good,” Gasser said. “Some days better than others. But overall, I’m fairly happy with where I’m at.”
Gasser said he doesn’t know if he’ll play in Canada. His primary goal is to be ready when UW begins practice in October and, ultimately, when the Badgers open the season on Nov. 8 against St. John’s in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Assuming he’s healthy, Gasser and senior Ben Brust will be the most experienced players in a backcourt that also includes junior Traevon Jackson, who started the final 29 games at point guard last season; sophomores George Marshall and Zak Showalter; and the highly touted Koenig.
There’s not nearly as much depth in the frontcourt, where UW will have to find a way to replace departed seniors Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz.
UW will need sophomore Sam Dekker and junior Frank Kaminsky to take big steps forward and find a third starter and some depth.
The group of returning players who can earn expanded roles includes senior Zach Bohannon and juniors Duje Dukan and Evan Anderson. Hayes and Brown also figure to be in the mix for significant playing time early in their careers.
But Ryan and Co. have plenty of time to figure all that stuff out.
“We’ve got a long, long ways to go until we’re ready to start play,” Gard said. “Hopefully, this summer and with the Canadian trip, that will hopefully give us a little more of a launch pad going into the fall.”