March 2, 2010

Senior leadership paves UW success

MADISON - It wasn't too long after Wisconsin settled into the locker room following a harrowing 60-49 defeat to Xavier in the second round of last spring's NCAA tournament that Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes took the reigns to a ship that had just seen its season sink.

No longer were the days Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft would lead the team in practice, games and off the court.

Instead, a chance for the two juniors-two players that came in together and played one-on-one many times during their first summer on campus-to step into the roles that were soon to be vacated from a couple of outgoing seniors presented itself.

"As soon as we lost that Xavier game we were ready for next year," Bohannon said. "As soon as we got back we were ready to build upon what we had coming back and needed to do what we needed to do in the summer to get where we wanted to be."

That, in essence, is the way Bo Ryan runs his program.

He doesn't necessarily place most of his priority in selling a potential one-and-done player on his school or program. While he probably wouldn't say no to an exceptional talent like that, he doesn't lose sleep if a player of that caliber goes elsewhere.

Instead, Ryan recruits players that want to play basketball, want to learn basketball and want to develop from a boy into a young man by the time their playing career is over. Players like Hughes, Bohannon and every other player currently dressed in cardinal and white fit that very mold.

So when the fourth, or in some instances, fifth season rolls around for a player that has been in the system for a number of years, it's only natural for them to become a leader.

And a leader that everyone else knows they need to follow.

"It's a gradual progression," UW assistant coach Howard Moore said. "You see it more so in the summer when everybody is kind of back on campus. You've got more new faces in the freshmen coming in. Them trying to take a leadership role and get acclimated and things of that nature are common."

Before the new players in Mike Bruesewitz and Dan Fahey even stepped foot on campus though, a precedent was set by the quintessential leader on the court.

"I don't even think Trevon went home when everybody else went home," UW sophomore guard Jordan Taylor said. "He was here working out. I just think that just shows what type of player he is and what type of person he is. He wants to get better and he wants to be the best he can be."

That attitude, one where good is never enough in the quest to become great, makes it easy for other players to imitate.

Whether it comes from Hughes' and his relentless work ethic in the hot and musty summer gym or Bohannon and his ever-powerful pursuit to dominate the hill in pre-season conditioning.

Senior leaders at Wisconsin not only set the tone early, but they maintain it throughout the season.

"I think that's the type of guys the coaches try to recruit," Taylor said. "They are guys like that. That's part of the winning formula as well as listening to the coaches. But you've got to have guys that are willing to work and work hard while doing what it takes to get better."

For Bohannon and Hughes, two seniors that have learned from the likes of Alando Tucker, Kammron Taylor, Brian Butch, Michael Flowers, Landry and Krabbenhoft, the final chapter of a great story is winding down.

But it isn't going out without a bang.

With four more wins, those senior guards will become the winningest senior class in Wisconsin history. With two more regular season games and at least two tournament games guaranteed, they will have a shot at that.

And they would be the first to tell you that achieving such a lofty goal, while maintaining a lofty bar of expectations, is one of the more rewarding parts of being involved in one of the better and more consistent programs in all of college basketball.

"Any time you've been in the program for three years going into your fourth year you feel like you have the experience," Bohannon said. "You know everything that's happened. You have more experience than anyone else on the floor. If you feel you should do something some way, you might as well speak up because you know probably better than anybody else on the floor how certain things should be done and how coach wants them done.

"Me and Trevon really took that to heart and that really led us on into this season."

Come Wednesday night, the Kohl Center faithful will get one final opportunity to see two hard working players showcase their developed skills on the familiar home court. It will mark an end to a career that has been everything ranging from shocking, thrilling, exciting and proud.

But as a typical crew of seniors on this squad, both Bohannon and Hughes know there is more work to be done. The season isn't ending on Wednesday night. It's just a celebration and appreciation for all the blood, sweat and tears they've endured that will hopefully propel the team into bigger and better things as the month draws on.

"I don't think it will hit me until we get to the NCAA's or Big Ten tournament," Hughes said last week. "Knowing that will be our last trip, the one and done. That's when I think it will hit me.

"But since you asked me that question, I'll probably think about it tonight."

What else would you expect a leader to say?

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