Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Another Hill to Climb, another book to read

Over the holiday break I got around to reading Bo Ryan's book, Another Hill to Climb. If you'll recall, my mom got me the book and had it signed by Bo, who declined to personalize it in any way.

How was it? Well, it wasn't The Iliad, but it was interesting. Sort of read like a 211-page Mike Lucas column, not surprising since he was the co-author of the book. Some would argue that's about 210 pages too many. Lots of one-sentence paragraphs and loose transitions. A random finish.

Other than that, my only real criticism of the book is the overuse of the first person. At one point it was really jarring, so I counted the number of uses of the word "I" on a random page -- 28. Flipped back about 25 pages or so and did the same thing -- 28 again. Shame on Lucas for not cleaning that up more.

Much of the book is stuff we already know about Bo, but there were a lot of anecdotes that were new and interesting to me:

-When Bo was an assistant at Wisconsin in the '70s, he would go running, and his frequent running mate was Steve Randall, the old Oshkosh West coach and widely-liked good guy who passed away several years ago. Randall earlier coached at Iowa-Grant, where current UW assistant Greg Gard played for him.

-Pickup games at the Field House at that time included Andy north, Van Stoutt, and Jim Doyle. Wouldn't you have loved to see Stoutt get fouled hard?

-Reading about some of the recruits UW got in the '70s and early '80s -- Wes Matthews, Larry Petty, Joe Chrnelich, Claude Gregory, Scott Roth, Brad Sellers, Cory Blackwell, Ricky Olson -- it's amazing the program was so bad for so long. Probably a combination of mediocre head coaching and a tougher Big Ten than we have today.

-Bo writes about recruiting Roth and Sellers out of Cleveland, two very big gets for the Badgers (even if Sellers ended up transferring). During the Michigan game when Rob Wilson got in, the announcer made a reference to Cleveland being a pipeline for Bo, and mentioned Roth. Has Bo gotten anyone besides Wilson during this go-round in Madison? None come to mind. That would be a great place to tap a pipeline to, though, just as it is for football. So much talent, only one Ohio State.

-Apparently during the time between when Bill Cofield was fired and Steve Yoder was hired at Wisconsin, Bo was pursued by Jud Heathcote to move to Michigan State. He and Tom Izzo could have been best buds!

-Paul Chryst, whose dad George was the athletic director at Platteville and recruited Bo there, helped move Bo's family to Platteville.

-Tom Davis, who coached so well at Iowa, wanted the UW job when it went to Cofield.

-As a young lad, I played against two guys who went on to contribute to Bo's championship teams at Platteville -- Ben Hoffmann, who played at Hartford against our West Bend East teams, and Colin Gassner, who beat my eighth grade St. Frances Cabrini team to win the 1990 St. John's tournament. The things you don't forget ...

-My memory of the 2003 Badger team is that a weak Big Ten helped contribute to a conference championship, but think of the talent on that team: first round NBA picks Devin Harris and Alando Tucker, and future pros Kirk Penney and Mike Wilkinson. That's a helluva foursome, I'd put them up against anyone in any conference in any year. Bo poses the question "Have I ever thought about what it would have been like if Alando Tucker and Devin Harris had been able to play together for more than one season?" I have, it's bittersweet to think about.

-Lastly, before going to the book signing, my mom asked me if I wanted her to tell Bo about my blog. No, I said, please don't. Good call -- Bo seems to have a problem with blogs and bloggers. To quote:

"... during our 2008 Big Ten coaches meetings ... we had a panel discussion with two respected sportswriters ... and a blogger. Yes, a blogger. That's how times have changed. In many instances, I just think there's a lack of accountability with blogs. It almost becomes an obsession with some. And what follows is usually hearsay or an over-reaction, whether it's to one play or one game or one team. Where's the credibility?"

Ah, um, er ... I see where he's coming from, and he's to an extent he's right. The Internet, particularly the anonymity it provides, has heightened the second-guessing and scrutiny of people with public jobs. But what I think bothers Bo about the Internet is he can't control the conversation like he does with traditional media, as he boasts about in the succeeding pages. In fact, it seems the only "sports journalists" Bo holds in high regard are those who deliver only fawning praise.

Frankly, I'd wager that Bo has never read a blog, and is using the term as a catch-all for everything on the Internet. Certainly none of the blogs devoted to the Badgers are ever very critical of him or his program, and with good reason, we appreciate the job he's done. Blog comments, or other Big Ten blogs, maybe, but that just reflects what fans are thinking.

Not all bloggers are purveyors of hearsay and over-reaction, and the Internet as a dominant medium isn't going away any time soon, so deal with it.

Later, Bo is talking about Cicero. "... I'm told he was a Roman statesman, who was known to be a flip-flopper. He would change his position depending on which way the wind was blowing -- and then over-react. He might have been the world's first sports writer or blogger."


As with any of these books, if you're looking for a deeper understanding of Badger sports and one of the more successful programs we've ever had, give it a read.