How long has it been since a player on the Wisconsin men’s basketball team transferred out of the program? Seriously, can anyone tell me?
These were the questions I methodically repeated to every die-hard Badger fan I knew Tuesday. Every time, I received the same puzzled look, as various men of self-proclaimed sports wisdom (most close to my own age) scrunched up their faces in frustration at the revealed gap in their knowledge.
Whatever the case, the Badgers have been bitten by the transfer bug this spring, as redshirt freshman Jarrod Uthoff’s request to leave the program became increasingly public this past week, even being discussed in a segment on ESPN Radio’s “The Herd with Colin Cowherd.”
But, like a spoiled gallon of milk that stinks up your fridge, the attention was for all the wrong reasons.
Cowherd and others in the media have raised an outcry at the actions of Bo Ryan in placing seemingly harsh restrictions on where Uthoff can transfer. The list of no-no schools for the freshman includes every school in the Big Ten and ACC as well as Marquette and Iowa State.
That’s 25 schools. And I thought my graduate school choices were limited.
However, there are reasons behind Ryan’s decision to play the disciplinarian role similar to Dean Wormer in “Animal House” putting Delta Tau Chi on double-secret probation.
The reason Ryan doesn’t want Uthoff to go to any Big Ten school is obvious. Think about it like this: Microsoft wouldn’t want a promising, upcoming employee who learned the system and company to go to Apple. There’s really nothing wrong with Ryan not wanting a player who learned inside the program to go to a team that he could potentially face two to three times in a given season.
That’s why this situation isn’t even remotely similar to Wisconsin reeling in Ben Brust from his de-commitment to Iowa. Brust never spent a single season at Iowa like Uthoff did at Wisconsin, but rather sought to pull away from the Hawkeyes because they fired former head coach Todd Lickliter. Brust originally committed to Iowa prior to his senior year, so when Lickliter, the man who recruited him, was fired at the conclusion of the 2009-2010 season, Brust felt no reason to retain his commitment. Therefore, calling Bo Ryan hypocritical on this evidence is severely flawed.
As far as the ACC restriction, one of the only plausible reasons I can come up with is that Ryan doesn’t want to risk facing an ACC-Big Ten challenge opponent that has Uthoff on it with an insider scouting report. The same line of thought goes with the Marquette restriction.
But the blacklisting of Iowa State goes a bit deeper than a seasonal matchup. The Badgers are not scheduled to meet Iowa State anytime in the distant future, so perhaps Ryan has some notion that the Cyclones – a program under Fred Hoiberg that has been bolstered by several transfers in recent years – hoped to scavenge his loss.
It would make sense after all, if Uthoff showed interest in Iowa State; Uthoff is a native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he led Jefferson High School to a Class 4A state tournament appearance while being named the 2011 Mr. Basketball of Iowa.
Maybe Uthoff truly didn’t fit in to Ryan’s grinding style of offense. Perhaps Uthoff felt uncomfortable with the fact that the Badgers recruited and signed the talented Sam Dekker behind him, meaning Uthoff would have to fight with Dekker for playing time if the incoming freshman didn’t redshirt.
Whatever the case, Ryan is making a message loud and clear throughout the country. If you come to Wisconsin, you’re expected to stay committed. While other coaches throughout college basketball have taken similar stances with restrictions on players transferring (albeit, without the sheer number of restricted schools in this instance) only to submit or regress on the decision after public pressure, Ryan has a reputation of sticking to his decisions, which may force Uthoff to leave with slim pickings.
But is Ryan’s decision the right one? It’s understandable if the coach feels a bit spited. With Uthoff just recently announcing his transfer, the Badgers lose a considerable talent that looked to challenge Mike Bruesewitz for playing time at the three spot. Now, with the 2012 recruiting period over, the Badgers will be forced to wait another year and to address the loss of a player who was supposed to be a future starter in the program.
Yet with all things set aside, Ryan should also do his best to get this matter taken care of as soon as possible. Not that Wisconsin basketball brings in the most heralded prep players, but this story could be a bit intimidating to interested high school recruits.
Sometimes – as many of my fellow college students can relate – you don’t always know what you want or what’s best for you when making decisions at 17 and 18. Just remember, these basketball recruits have to make their college choices the same way you did, with that nagging uncertainty and stress of making the right decision of where to spend the next four years of their lives.
Just like any college student may transfer if the school he attends isn’t the right fit, Uthoff should be allowed to do the same. I can understand the reasons for the restricted schools, but Ryan can beat any team in the conference or country with his style, regardless of what Uthoff would reveal. After all, it isn’t exactly a secret what Wisconsin plans to do every time it steps out on the court anyway.
So when the time for the decision comes, Ryan should just let Uthoff go where he pleases. While nobody knows all of the details or the entire situation surrounding the transfer, Uthoff should not be punished for wanting to pursue his athletic dreams elsewhere.
After all, if he’s the first notable player to leave Wisconsin since Sam Okey in 1998, I think Bo and the Badgers are doing just fine.
Nick is a senior majoring in English and history. Have questions or comments about the column? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org