Amid the press releases of cancelled Badger games for the weekend following last Tuesday’s terrorist
attack was a fax that represented a different kind of battle.
The men’s basketball team announced that sophomore Julian Swartz permanently left both the program and the university due to an ongoing battle with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Last year Swartz took a year off from basketball and school to find peace within himself after a near suicide attempt at the end of his freshman year. In that year off, Swartz was optimistic about his recovery and was looking forward to returning to play for the Badgers.
But now Swartz is gone, and along with him are nine other players that have left the Wisconsin program since Bo Ryan was named head coach. Five of the players, Roy Boone, Maurice Linton, Mike Kelley, Andy Kowske and Mark Vershaw, graduated, but the other five chose early departures.
Ricky Bower was the first to leave, announcing his transfer to Brigham Young University last May. Bower made no comment that Ryan or the UW program was the cause of his departure, but instead said that he wanted to be closer to his home in Idaho, and that he wanted to attend the same school as his older brother.
Ike Ukawuba and Pete Schmidt quietly left the program, and Kyle Grusezynski recently announced his transfer. And now Swartz is gone too.
None of the players cited Ryan as the reason for their departure — Swartz even went as far as saying he was excited to play for him — but one must wonder why the sudden departures are taking place.
The losses of Boone, Linton, Kelley, Kowske and Vershaw were already going to be tough for UW to overcome, but add on the five additional losses, and the Badgers are left with a squad that has only five players (Travon Davis, Dave Mader, Freddie Owens, Kirk Penney and Charlie Wills) returning from last season. Mike Wilkinson will also be back this season, but he was redshirted last year, so he brings no game time experience to the table.
On the plus side, Ryan has a whole roster full of players that he can mold into his new system. Unfortunately, they were all recruited by Dick Bennett and Brad Soderberg. Thinking that these players, like the ones already on the roster, would play a specific role in Bennett’s defense-oriented basketball, they might not fit into Ryan’s vision.
Another area of concern for Ryan has to be his returning players. Wills spent four seasons learning Bennett’s system, and he is very much a role player. These players were recruited and taught by the coaches and the system on board before Ryan. And more than that, they liked the way things used to be. The out-going seniors were vocal about wanting Soderberg to remain as head coach. And why shouldn’t they be? They won under Soderberg, and they understood his game plan. At the time, the decision to hire a new coach seemed reasonable because rumors of a big-name coach coming to take over for Soderberg circulated throughout the Kohl Center. But in the end, another UW-system coach was hired. Sure, Ryan’s style is different than the slow-paced Bennett system, but he is going to have to play his new system with the players that were recruited to play in Bennett’s, and then Soderberg’s, system.
The younger players were not very vocal towards the end of the season when the coaching changes took place — and that seems understandable. These players have to play for their new coach, and they want to keep their positions. Whether or not the transfers have anything to do with Ryan and his style — after all, I am purely speculating — one thing is certain: With only six players returning from last year’s team and a bunch of new recruits that were courted to UW by Bennett and Soderberg, Ryan has a lot of work to do in order to form his young squad before the season starts. Or before another one leaves the team.