This article in sponsored by Delta Air Lines.
In December of 2015 when Bo Ryan, a name synonymous with Wisconsin men's basketball, announced his retirement, it was met with great respect for Ryan but also some consternation about the Badgers going forward. Associate head coach Greg Gard was given the interim head coach tag and he continued to steer the team towards the postseason.
On March 7, 2016, the word "interim" was dropped from his title as he was given the full-time job at Wisconsin. Gard has been with the program since 2001.
Coach Gard sat down with us as part of our "Guiding Greatness" series, presented by Delta, where he discussed how he's gotten to where he is and how he guides his players.
Straight away into his time as a head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers, Gard knew there was simply no way to imitate the legendary Ryan. So Gard has just been himself, and that's been working great.
"Early in my career, I'm learning a system and starting to formulate my ideas and my philosophies on how I want to coach and what applies to me and what I believe in," said Gard. "I think a lot of those things were parallel to how Coach Ryan ran his program at Platteville. I knew that when I took over this job, that I could not emulate Coach Ryan. There is only one Bo Ryan and I had to be myself and put my own fingerprints on the team."
The way that Gard best guides greatness is through experience.
"Experience is still the best teacher and sometimes it's a bad experience," said Gard. "But to be able to grow through that and learn through that and become better as a result coming out on the other end is hopefully the direction we are going."
Learning through experience is how the Badgers reached the Final Four in back-to-back seasons in 2014-15 with teams driven by Frank Kaminsky.
But before Kaminsky was drafted 9th overall by the Charlotte Hornets, before he was the National Player of the Year, he was a lightly recruited player out of high school. Gard reckons that Kaminsky will have a long, successful professional career.
"Frank Kaminsky really has come from out of nowhere, so to speak, a lightly recruited player," said Gard. "To develop into the national player of the year, to develop into a lottery pick, he'll be very successful for a long time because he understands what's really important and he's still a kid at heart."
In those Final Four runs, Gard feels the moments behind closed doors are what's best.
"Going to back-to-back Final Fours is always a neat experience," said Gard. "It's more about stepping back and watching these guys that haven't been through it before. Their reactions and how they handle everything with the media, and all the attention they get."
Gard is a big believer in paying it forward. He hasn't forgotten all of the people who have done, and continue to do, things that have guided him to greatness. That's something he wants to impart to his players.
"So many people did so much for me and have continued to do so much for me throughout my career, and if I can continue to pay it forward, that'll be what it's about," said Gard.
More so than anything else, Gard doesn't want his players to be left with any modicum of regret for four years spent as a Wisconsin Badger.
"Between the time they walk in here as a freshman to the time they walk out as a senior and they go 'man, that was a heck of an experience at Wisconsin and if I had to do it all over again, I'd go back to Wisconsin and relive it again,'" said Gard. "So if I can have them have that feeling, that they're ready to tackle what's next in their life, then I'll look back and go 'you know what, we've made a positive impact.'"
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