February 25, 2010

UW no stranger to pregame rituals

Superstition.

The way Merriam-Webster defines it states 'a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation.'

So obviously when Trevon Hughes missed a potential game winner against Purdue last month, the shoes had to go.

"When I missed that game winner," Hughes said. "It was history. I didn't play good. I got rid of the Mohawk, too."

Rituals or superstitions, like most other sports, are very common in basketball. And they are running rampant in the Wisconsin locker room.

"I think everybody on my team is superstitious," Hughes said. "It kind of wears me out."

According to Jordan Taylor, who tries to sit next to Tim Jarmusz on the plane when hitting the road, Jon Leuer goes "mute" before games.

Hughes doesn't eat before games, Keaton Nankivil needs chewing gum, coach Bo Ryan has his wife, or somebody else drive him to the arena before games and Jason Bohannon takes a shower before coming to the Kohl Center on game days no matter what.

Everybody has their own routine behind the scenes that enables them to showcase their talents in front of thousands on center stage. To some, they may look quirky and require some heavy-duty head shaking.

But for others like Greg Gard who has been around the game for long enough, you simply don't question a pre-game routine.

"That's why we let them do their own thing and just stay out of all that," Gard, who works out prior to games, said. "Everybody is different in how they prepare for it and how they handle each game situation. That's one thing I've learned from coach is just not trying to force guys into a routine of your own.

"Let them do their own thing."

Coach Ryan, a self admitted superstitious fan when it comes to Philadelphia Phillies baseball, has coached 779 games on the collegiate level over his career. That number balloons even higher if you include his days as a middle school and high school coach before bursting onto the college scene.

Though he is one of the more successful coaches in the history of the game and one of the more versed coaches in the business, he isn't immune to trying some different things when a game is about to start.

"I just always make sure I loosen my tie right before tip-off," Ryan said. "I found if I didn't how it messes up my neck."

About the kicks:

Wisconsin has lost seven times this season to date. Knowing that, it wouldn't be too far fetched to think Trevon Hughes has done away with his shoes after each of those bumps in the road.

"I throw the socks away and I throw my shoes away," Hughes said. "If it's an away game, I just leave it in the locker. Sometimes the managers throw them away. When it's a home game, I just throw them in my locker and that's the end of that."

While some may never wear the same outfit to the game again, eat the same food prior to the game or say anything about a previous contest, Hughes says it's all about the shoes.

"That's probably my superstition," Hughes said. "I think it's the shoes. But if it's something like free throws, that's more mental. So I don't worry about the shoes."

While Hughes throws shoes away, Taylor simply tries changing the dynamic of his footwear.

"I wear a different kind of shoe going to the game or going to get on the bus before," Taylor said. "If we win, I'll wear the same pair of shoes the next time until we lose."

Bohannon, a player who claims he kind of stays by himself in his attempt to get focused close to game time and keep his pre-game ritual intact, says he always has a pair of shoes in waiting in case something were to go awry.

"I got a pair of practice shoes that I'm breaking in right now," Bohannon said. "Then I have one pair of game shoes that I wear for every game. Once those wear out, my practice shoes will become my game shoes.

"I try to keep those same game shoes as long as I can."

The music factor:

Before any game on a big stage, whether it's a high school rivalry showdown, a Big Ten conference game late in the season or the Super Bowl, players involved are going to listen to music.

It's a great way for a person to find adrenaline for the upcoming tilt or a way to let their mind sink into a level of focus needed before taking the floor or field.

Hughes says he blares music for a half hour before he heads to the arena prior to a game.

"I'll play it as loud as I can in my apartment," Hughes, who says rappers Jay-Z, Fabolous and Lil' Wayne are some of his favorites, said. "For some reason the beat and the vibe of the music gets my blood flowing.

"It gets me going."

Inside the locker room, following that 30-minute ear-pounding, Hughes and his teammates get into the zone with a bit of music of their own.

Even if the lyrics are being replaced from the actual artist with the effervescent sound coming from the vocal chords of Badger hoopsters.

"When we're stretching before we come out we sing 'We will rock you,'" Hughes said. "Jordan gets the first verse, I get the second verse and Brett Valentyn gets the third. To follow that up, we do 'Lean on Me.' We get comfortable.

"We all think we're singers. If you close your eyes and pretend you're in the shower, you can be anyone you want to be."

Road warriors:

Though playing on the road isn't quite as common as playing at home during a given basketball season for a proven program like Wisconsin, the Badgers still have to head out of Madison and tread water in new territory for a good portion of the schedule.

Obviously then, there are bound to be some newfound superstitious or rituals when boarding the plane or bus while getting comfortable for a trip to a different city or arena.

"I try to sit in the exact same spot across from the same person," Taylor said. "Normally when I get to sit next to Tim, we win. So I try to tell Brett that, but Brett doesn't always listen to me.

"He's an old guy so he gets to do whatever he wants."

Walking through the team plane or bus with an expectation of not seeing iPod's would be like walking through a park without expecting to see a stroller. They are everywhere.

"I usually listen to music a little bit," Leuer said. "Especially during away games. On the bus I listen to the iPod a little bit. Just anything you can do to help yourself get ready and be prepared."

Leuer, like Hughes, enjoys listening to Jay-Z prior to games. Bohannon, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have a preference when it comes to music.

"We'll have music in the locker room that our whole team listens to and stuff," Bohannon said. "I'm usually pretty easy going. I'll listen to whatever."

Getting to the arena:

On game day, most players will start rolling into the Kohl Center approximately two hours prior to the start of the game. That gives them an hour to do what needs to be done before coach Ryan talks to them.

"I keep the same routine," Bohannon said. "Since college, I've been getting here two hours before the game, get taped which will take about 15 minutes and I'll be out there shooting 45 minutes before coach talks to us.

"I'll shoot for whatever it may be until I feel I've got a good grove."

Taylor, who also gets to the arena approximately two hours prior to the start of the contest, tries bouncing back from a rough game or shooting night by hoisting more shots.

"I probably get to the gym earlier if it's a home game," Taylor said. "If it's an away game, there's nothing you can really change much. At home I try to probably get to the gym earlier."

Leuer is similar.

"We have to be dressed and ready an hour before," Leuer said. "So I try to leave two hours before, get taped and get out and get some shots up. After that, I'll just try to get a sweat going in warm ups and when the ball is tipped, be ready to go."

In the end, whether you believe in superstitions and rituals or not, they seem to be working for a team that will be playing well into March.

And as coach Gard pointed out, you never question a pregame ritual.

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