Experienced, hungry Badgers look to replace Brust
MADISON, Wis. (AP) It's best to get the question out of the way quickly: Yes, the Wisconsin Badgers are hungry to get back to the Final Four.
Anything otherwise would have veteran coach Bo Ryan finding a way to get his team aiming for it. Going into his 43rd year in the profession, Ryan has one accomplishment still missing on his resume - a Division I national championship.
''Whether it's my 43rd year or not - Wow, I get another opportunity. Isn't this something?'' Ryan, who coached Wisconsin-Platteville to four Division III titles in the 1990s, said Tuesday at Wisconsin's media day. ''So I'm pretty fortunate, to have guys like this that are hungry.''
Wisconsin went 30-8 in 2013-14 - a whirlwind season that included a program-best 16-0 start, a 1-5 midseason slump and a four-game winning streak through the NCAA tournament that ended with a last-minute, one-point loss to Kentucky in the national semifinals.
It took Ryan about three days to unwind before he started watching film again. As it turns out, the Badgers could be even better this season. Wisconsin was picked by Big Ten coaches to win the league, and jump-shooting big man Frank Kaminsky was selected as preseason player of the year.
But while expectations are higher in Madison, Ryan hasn't changed. He can still be blunt and gruff. He can charm someone with stories about growing up in the Philadelphia area, as if he's hanging with old friends on a playground in Chester, Pennsylvania.
And he will certainly get his point across quietly but effectively in practice.
''He's the same coach. He's always as hard on as us if we're winning games, and if we're losing games,'' Kaminsky said. ''He has a very consistent coaching style. ... I don't see him changing forever.''
The Badgers did make a slight tweak in offseason conditioning after last season's long campaign - beginning with an exhibition tour of Canada and ending more than eight months later in April in Dallas. Instead of an offseason routine that required players to run a steep hill in Madison twice a week, the Badgers ran it once a week, while still getting in the usual 20 workouts.
Senior guard Josh Gasser, who played the entire 2013-14 season after the injuring his left knee the previous season, took it a little easier this offseason under doctor's orders to give his legs a rest. Gasser is Wisconsin's best defensive player on the perimeter, often drawing the opponent's top scorer.
The sure sign that Gasser is fine physically: He no longer has to wear a knee brace.
''It was kind of hard to take a step back on (offseason workouts) for a few weeks,'' Gasser said. ''But I feel great now. It's more about how you feel in November and December through March as opposed to July.''
Kaminsky and Gasser are two of four seniors on a very experienced team. The returning Badgers accounted for 82 percent of last season's scoring and 86 percent of the rebounds.
Sharpshooting guard Ben Brust is the only departure from last year's main rotation. To replace Brust, Ryan could insert 2013-14 Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Nigel Hayes into the starting lineup to join Kaminsky and Sam Dekker up front, or go back to a three-guard look by inserting quick ball-handler Bronson Koenig with Traevon Jackson and Gasser in the backcourt.
Brust's spot is a question Ryan pondered all offseason.
''How are we going to replace Ben Brust, his rebounding,'' Ryan said. ''Right away, I was already thinking how can we get better, or how to best use the players we have this year.''
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