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March 31, 2014

Recruiting intangibles over rankings





MADISON, Wis. - They were less than 48 hours removed from advancing to the Final Four; a mere 24 hours separated from being applauded by thousands of students at the Kohl Center for being one of four Division 1 teams left standing.

Yet there they were, Sam Dekker and Traevon Jackson, playing an aggressive game of one-on-one following a two hour practice session on Monday afternoon.

"We're definitely proud of how far we've come, the obstacles we've over come this year, it's been a great ride," Jackson said at a press conference Monday. "We're excited we've made the Final Four, and we're excited to go down and have an opportunity. But (our goal is) to complete the assignment still at hand."

It's that happy with the results so far, but not satisfied with where they are at type of mentality which has played a vital role in taking the Wisconsin Badgers from a group of sixteen guys playing preseason basketball in Canada in August, to a team playing in the Final Four in Dallas in April.

This mentality would not be hard to find on a team full of veterans who had been to the Final Four multiple times and know what it takes to win, but it's rare for a group that has never been to a Final Four - along with its coach - to not get caught up in the moment. After all, many of the players on this team are still teenagers.

While rare, the mentality of the Badgers should not come as a surprise, nor is it that difficult to figure out why this team is in this current state of mind. During the recruiting process, Wisconsin's coaching staff tries its best to bring in players dedicated and hard-working enough to be ready for moments just like these; moments that are not promised.

"We want guys that want to be here because there's a lot of other hours that go into the day than just the two hours, twice a week that they're out here playing games," Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard said. "There are a lot of other things they have to do behind the scenes and commitments they have to make academically and athletically that are required of them here. There are no shortcuts. That type of culture off the court helps us on the court."

"The things that you look for would be the same as if you're the head of personnel and you're hiring," head coach Bo Ryan said. "If you're going to have scholarships being used you want to make sure the people who are using them are good students, going to take advantage of the opportunities that are given to them, and you want people that have a vision of a better future."

Whether it's Gard or any of the Badgers other assistant coaches out on the recruiting trail, a major factor in determining if a player is the right fit at Wisconsin or not is how a given player respects authority. His dealings with teachers, principals, parents and teammates hold as much water, if not more, than the given player's performance on the court.

It stems from the upbringing of Ryan, a native of Chester, Pa., and Gard, a native of Dodgeville, Wis., in households and communities where one treats everyone he or she comes in contact with with a certain level of respect, and doesn't take anything for granted.

"I've always said that recruits should either spend five years on a farm or five years in a military school because they would understand hard work, discipline, work ethic, respect for authority and all of those things," Gard said. "Understand that there are things you have to do every single day in order for your family, your way of life, to continue on."

And if a player comes into the program having never been on a farm or in military school? That's where the upperclassmen come in and show the younger players how things work under Ryan and his staff.

"Here's what we're doing on day one, and when you come out on the practice floor you're shirts are tucked in. Nobody's wearing wristbands, headbands, or anything like that," Gard said. "They understand the process of keeping the locker room clean and how important that is to our equipment staff. They understand how we travel on the road and how we leave a hotel room, how we leave a meal room, how we leave a locker room; all of those simple details that are really common sense.

"There's not really any magic potion or magic wand we have here, it's just common sense, way of life things that help you be successful," Gard continued. "Why wouldn't you leave your locker room clean on the road? Why wouldn't you make sure you treat your waitresses with respect?"

With few players of the one-and-done breed to walk through the doors of Wisconsin, the coaches and the players don't pay attention to any of the rankings that are placed next to a recruit's name. Buying into the system and learning under Ryan and his staff about the ways to carry oneself in a respectable, everything-is-earned fashion is why Badgers players, and in turn the program, are successful.

As the Wisconsin Badgers get set to take on the Kentucky Wildcats, and their four freshman players expected to go to the NBA at season's end, Ryan, Gard and company will look to prove that the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the ranking of the player wearing it.

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow Zack on Twitter.


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