Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Past, but still present

Alando Tucker and Joe Chrnelich are separated by 23 seasons on the UW basketball floor, but the two still share something in common.

While Tucker can still be found leaping and looping through the lane for leaners, Chrnelich was the hard-nosed floor leader ripping down rebounds of the Badgers back in the day, as a four-year starter from 1976-1980.

However, both are a part of Bo Ryan's first recruiting class, as Tucker was the cream of the crop in Ryan's first year as head coach, Chrnelich (pronounced Kren-el-ick) was the gem of Ryan's freshman corps as a rookie assistant in Madison.


That common thread shared between Tucker and Chrnelich is emblematic of the tight relationship the 2006-07 Wisconsin team has created with the Badger hoops alumni, through the unprecedented levels of success the team has been able to reach.

"We are all part of one big family," Chrnelich said. "I might not have ever thrown Tucker one of those lobs, but him and I, we are teammates."

That relationship extends far beyond Tucker and Chrnelich.

"There is always a common bond, even if you didn't play with each other or know each other personally, there is a bond there," said Dave Vander Meulen, a member of the 1960-61 UW team, who went on to coach UW-Whitewater for 23-years — often butting heads with Ryan, who was coaching at UW-Platteville.

The alumni, who have always been close to the program, have been given even more reason this season to bust out the old cardinal and white sweaters. With UW setting records so often it almost feels like a weekly routine, such as the school's longest winning streak (17), most wins (26) and several highest-AP ranking-ever-achieved moments — culminating in the school's first-ever No. 1 ranking this week.

"I hear it from … alumni, how proud they are to represent the school right now, because of how well we are representing the colors today," Tucker said. "They are enjoying it almost as much as we are."

The excitement level of the many Badger alumni is higher than a Vegas point-spread featuring Northwestern, being generated by the historic season Wisconsin has put together thus far. Much of that enthusiasm stems from the former players living almost vicariously through the current squad, as they reach levels of success that were only pipe-dreams for many previous generations of UW teams.

"I've been a season ticket holder for about six or seven years, going back to the last one or two years in the Field House," said Rod Ripley (1984-87). "I'm just impressed at how the team just keeps getting better. It's been a blast to watch them."

Once such former Wisconsin hoopster even uses UW's success as ammo for trash talk, cross-country no less.

"It's been great watching the team. I've been gloating a lot out there in L.A.," said Ike Ukawuba (2001-2004). "A lot of UCLA fans are tired of hearing from me by now."

Even Devin Harris, who starred for UW from 2002-04 finds time in his busy NBA schedule to keep up with his alma mater.

"Man, they are just playing so good right now," Harris said when he returned to the Kohl Center to take in Wisconsin's game against Michigan Jan. 24. "I truly feel they could go all the way, and man, that would be just amazing."

Many of the Badger hardwood alumni credit Ryan for keeping his ties to the UW varsity basketball fraternity closer than most trout are to water.

"Bo Ryan believes in keeping us coming back," said Rick Olson (1983-86), who also played under Ryan before the coach got his first head-coaching gig at Platteville.

Olson, like many, believes the accomplishments of the Wisconsin basketball team are directly attributable to Ryan, who has been a key catalyst in the slow turnaround from perennial Big Ten also-ran to conference power.

"Knowing coach Ryan as long as I have, I'm not surprised at all by what he has done and what he continues to do. He's got guys that come out and play hard, and they're fun to watch," said Olson, who currently ranks fifth on the all-time UW scoring list, tallying up 1,736 points. Olson was a necessity on the court for Wisconsin, logging more minutes than any player in history, save Mike Wilkinson.

Cylde Gaines (1977-80) is another former Ryan pupil who has had the pleasure of watching his former coach carry the UW program to new heights.

"Watching Bo — one of my coaches when I played here — and the whole program mature and have great success this year has just been fantastic," said the 1978 team MVP.

While Olson, Chrnelich, Gaines and many other former Badger ballers realized Ryan's talent as an assistant, they would have to wait for 17 years for the Chester, Penn., native just to go from racking up national titles at Platteville to finally coming home to Madison.

"We just wondered if he would ever get that opportunity," Olson said. "We could see from the beginning that he that had what it takes, and then we watched how he just raked in titles at Platteville. The only question was when and if."

"It's kind of a double delight for us, to not only watch the team succeed but to watch Bo be the one leading them," Chrnelich added. "It draws a direct parallel between us and them."

Chrnelich isn't the only one who notices that parallel. Tucker, who on his own time attended the annual UW alumni game last month, recognizes that many of the same former players who walk up to him to shake his hand and congratulate him are the same people who made it possible for the Wooden Award candidate to be in the position he is in now.

"I always try and pay my respects to the alumni for all the things they have done on the court to pave the way for us to do what we are doing right now," Tucker said.

So how far has the program come, exactly? If you listen to Olson, light years, as just evidenced on Tuesday.

"Some of us guys were talking: When's the last time you'd ever see somebody beat Wisconsin and all the students would come running on the floor?" Olson said. "You can tell that it's been a long climb back to the top and get the recognition they deserve."

While Tucker and the Badgers are trying to make their own legacy and write their very own chapter in the history books, the senior forward can't help but feel a strong sense of pride of where he has advanced the program.

"For me it feels good to carry on that tradition," Tucker said. "One day, I'm going to be one of those guys, and I'm going to be just as big into the program."

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *