MADISON, Wis. — When Zach Bohannon mentions his life aspiration is to be a president, he does so with the kind of nonchalant tone you’d anticipate from someone reading a grocery list.
He is not talking about becoming president of a small business or even a Fortune 500 company. He’s talking about the President of the United States, and his face is unflinching.
No biggie, right?
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“You’ve got to set your dreams high,” said Bohannon, a fourth-year junior forward at Wisconsin. “I don’t know if I can get it. But if I don’t, at least I’m setting the bar high.”
Confidence never has been a personality trait missing from Bohannon’s resume.
A person without confidence doesn’t apply for two Division I men’s basketball coaching jobs — while still in college. A person without confidence doesn’t wage a Twitter campaign to convince Barack Obama — the actual President of the United States — to play a game of pickup hoops with the team. (Obama declined but did meet with the Badgers for five minutes before an October speech on the Wisconsin campus.)
When Bohannon believes in something, he does so with all his heart.
“He’s probably more outspoken than your average college junior in terms of his views and opinions on things,” Badgers assistant coach Greg Gard said. “So he has an opinion on about everything, and he’s not afraid to express it.
“He’s insightful on the things that I’ve engaged in conversations with him about. Some of it, I just shake my head and walk the other way when he wants to talk about things or has some comment. But obviously he’s very intellectual.”
The coaching itch
Bohannon was a first-team all-state selection as a senior at Linn-Mar High School in Marion, Iowa. But rather than follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Jason, who starred at Wisconsin, he chose to attend Air Force Academy.
During his freshman season, he came across a job opening to be the head basketball coach at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. He had made a recruiting visit to Cornell, and when coach Steve Donahue left to become coach at Boston College, Bohannon figured he would take a stab in the dark.
“I was like, ‘Hey, I know the athletic director,’ ” Bohannon said. “I had an hour-long meeting with him during my Cornell visit. I was like, ‘I might as well throw my name out there. I don’t care if I’m young or if I’m inexperienced. I feel like I have a pretty good grip of college basketball.'”
Bohannon wrote a one-page cover letter explaining why he was the right man for the job and attached his resume.
“I know I don’t have the typical bachelor’s degree,” the letter explained, “but I feel like the nine months of hazing that I went through at Air Force is worth the four years of that college education.”
Soon after, he received an email that he had been passed over for the job.
Two years later, that experience didn’t deter Bohannon from applying for the head coaching position at Air Force, a school from which he transferred following the 2010-11 season. He fired off an email to the athletic director but, of course, didn’t get the job.
Despite two swings and misses, Bohannon isn’t deterred in the slightest.
“One of the things they say to college basketball coaches is you only apply for jobs that you know you can get,” Bohannon said. “So I feel like I can get these. I feel like I can be successful at those schools, even with my limited experience, just because of everything I’ve been through as a player. From getting recruited at the high school level, being that level of player, to what I’ve been through at the college level.
“My goal, even if I feel like I don’t ever want to get into coaching, I’m just going to apply for a job every year for the next few years just to see what I can get.”
For what it’s worth, Bohannon appears to possess considerable basketball acumen.
Badgers freshman Sam Dekker roomed with Bohannon during the team’s recent trip to Las Vegas. Dekker said Bohannon’s knowledge of basketball helped him pick up on small details to improve his game.
“He sees things that other guys don’t see,” Dekker said. “He’s sat me down a couple times and just pointed out things to me that I have to get better at. Having a guy like that in the room with you, he’ll take maybe a little coaching position because he’s older.
“He’s wise. When he’s sitting on the bench, he’s not just zoning out. He’s watching things. He knows what to tell me. He knows what I have to do to get better.”
On the court, Bohannon’s college career has not yet produced the kind of impact he initially hoped. He spent two seasons at Air Force, where he played in 39 games with one start. During that time, he averaged 3.4 points and 1.6 rebounds in 11.1 minutes per game.
But the basic training and strict rules at Air Force were more than Bohannon cared to deal with. Days included mandatory breakfast and lunch, marching in formations and occasional Saturday school sessions, making for six-day school weeks.
He asked his brother, Jason, about the prospect of coming to Wisconsin. Jason, who graduated in 2010, sold him on the idea of the academic and athletic cultures at Wisconsin and convinced him that playing under head coach Bo Ryan would be a great asset.
So, Bohannon gave up his scholarship at Air Force and came to Wisconsin for the 2011-12 season as a walk-on, sitting out the year under NCAA transfer rules. He was awarded a scholarship for the 2012-13 season.
“Even coming here showed a lot of confidence,” Wisconsin assistant coach Lamont Paris said. “He had a scholarship situation. Making that decision took a lot of courage and confidence, too. He’s got beliefs in his head and he’s got goals. And he believes he’s going to achieve them. That’s what you want in life, really, is to have a goal and work hard to attain that goal.”
This season, Bohannon has played in eight of 10 games and is averaging 1.3 points and 1.6 rebounds in 5.3 minutes per game.
Bohannon is majoring in economics and hopes to pursue a master’s degree in business administration. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever actually have the opportunity to coach a Division I program and, oddly enough, he’s not even sure he would want to. He simply enjoys the idea of coaching more than anything at this point.
As for that whole President of the United States thing, how does he intend to stick his foot in the political world beyond a few Twitter campaigns?
“You can kind of finagle your way around it with different loops,” he said. “I’ve kind of researched it a little bit and read some political scientists who wrote about how to get a job in the White House.
“It’s a work in progress.”
Whatever Bohannon winds up pursuing in his life, he’ll emit plenty of confidence along the way. Those who know him can be certain his path will be one of a kind.
“I’ve told everyone I’m weird,” Bohannon said. “I know that I’m crazy, and the first thing everyone would say is that I’m a unique individual or I’m a different person. You can ask anyone within my close friends or coaches who’ve known me in the past year or at Air Force or in high school.
“I know that I’m unique like that, and that’s something that I’ll always make sure I use to my advantage.”