Thursday, March 19, 2015

Not Your Father's Badgers

Thanks to regional television connections that cover just about everything that moves on the Big Ten sports scene, I've watched more than 30 University of Wisconsin basketball games this season. The Badgers have a 31-3 record at the moment.

Seven-footer Frank Kaminsky is hard to stop.
The UW team is an interesting group in many ways. It features a seven-footer who handles the ball like an athletic little guy and swishes long three-point shots with ease, a Ho-Chunk Indian lad who went from sub to brilliant team leader, and a fifth-year senior nicknamed "Captain America" who is said to top the league in floor burns caused by diving recklessly for loose balls. These guys are fun to watch.

I was a student at Madison for four years in the 1950s. I attended one basketball game. Wisconsin basketball was not fun to watch.

Wisconsin won its only NCAA championship in 1941 under coach Bud Foster. Six years later the Badgers made their way to the national tournament, but were quickly eliminated. They didn't qualify again for a postseason tourney for 42 years!

Coach Foster hung around for 25 years, continuing to teach the same, old pattern game that was a winner in 1941. His strategy was producing perennial losers by the 50s. Most students responded by skipping basketball games altogether, even though an athletic ticket book cost $8.50, as I recall, and several basketball passes were included.

Curiosity got the better of me in 1955 when the Indiana Hoosiers arrived for a game. Indiana was a basketball powerhouse. They won the Big Ten and NCAA titles the year before, and were well on the way to another conference championship. Wisconsin, in 1955, was to finish with 16 losses. The Badgers tied for eighth in the Big Ten, and those were the days when the conference really had ten members.

I carried a very thick history book to the Fieldhouse. The plan was to do some required reading during timeouts and at halftime.

The superb play of the Hoosiers held my full attention for the first few minutes of the game. The inept work by the Badgers more than compensated. Using the history book for a head rest, I stretched out across several seats (there were plenty of empty spaces). I dozed off and stayed oblivious to events on the court until a fellow student shook me awake after the final buzzer. I actually only saw part of one basketball game during my college days.

Coach Bo Ryan arrived in Madison in 2001 with new ideas and a record of success. The Badgers have been winners since, and nobody is snoozing as the "Grateful Red" fans celebrate win after win. The Badgers may not be able to get past undefeated Kentucky and several other high-powered teams to once again become NCAA champs, but it will be fun watching them try. 


Marv Lane said...

Good story. I hope you noticed that "our President" did not pick Wisconsin for the final four when he did his picks. I guess he just doesn't like the State of Wisconsin.

Dick Klade said...

Marv--Maybe the Prez is a Sigma Chi? I always contended that the main reason the oldtime Badgers were so bad is that Coach Foster and all the players were Sigma Chis.

Bill Tishler said...

Hi Dick,
I wish I could say things are fine back in the Badger State, but our political system has really gone down the tubes and our UW alma mater is now threatened with huge budget cuts (along with our DNR, K-12 school system, better redistricting, etc., etc.).

It looks like UW probably will not remain the same quality institution of higher education that you and I enjoyed. Keep your fingers crossed.

Jay Deike said...

...better yet, all you people that still live in that state, write a letter to your local gazette and tell them your thoughts about the wonderful state of affairs you’ve inherited. I don’t live there anymore, but I hear about the absurd (conservative?) crap being practiced by the “new breed” of political ineptness under the guise of “thoughtful leadership”.

Ah well, such pleasant memories...

Great reads Richard, thanks

Lowell Laitsch said...

Enjoyed your Badger basketball blog. Although the Badgers may have the best college player in the country, they still play as a team with no "in your face" antics. In my opinion much of their success can be blamed on the coach. Great fun watching them even in Virginia.

Jeff Weir said...

I recall that basketball, was for many, many years at best a far 3rd or 4th in athletics, behind football, boxing and hockey.

When a gang of 6 of us were inducted into Sigma Nu in early 1956, 2 sets of 3, each had their wrists tied to a slim wood board while we ate an awkward dinner. Then you shepherded us into the field house (us still attached to our board), not for a basketball game, but for boxing matches. The field house was packed with some 10,000, while the basketball games then drew about 3,000.

You were very pleased with the arrangement and kept asking me why I wasn’t so pleased! The boxing matches were great, but under the circumstances, I would have preferred to have been at a lowly basketball game where less girls were giggling over our predicament and whispering, “Do you know those idiots?”

Dick Klade said...

Boxing matches were great in those days, Jeff. Watching fellow Sigma Nus Terry Tynan, Bob Meath, and Bob Morgan win matches was one of the good experiences. Picking on defenseless initiates, not so much.

PiedType said...

I haven't been a basketball fan since college, when I could actually go to games and be a part of the screaming, deafening crowd. The whole March Madness thing is well nigh inexplicable to me. And why do they call a page full of brackets "The Bracket" (singular). Oh well, to those who are fans, best of luck to your team.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dick. Not a fan here although that's all my cousins can talk about...Badgers and Packers.

Yes, I am happy Bibi won!

Dick Klade said...

Good to know about the Badger supporters. My Jewish friends do not share your approval of Bibi.

Anonymous said...

My Jewish friends do like Bibi. He's not perfect but show me the representative who is.