Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Men’s basketball: Playing under Bo Ryan is dream come true for junior walk-on

Will Decorah went from manager to player this season, is making most of his opportunity
Joey Reuteman

There were 58.4 seconds remaining on the scoreboard that hung high over the court at the Kohl Center. The rout was on. Wisconsin was in the process of manhandling Siena. With the Badgers leading 92-59, head coach Bo Ryan called timeout and pointed to the end of the bench.

UW’s 15-year coach summoned the last two players suited up that Sunday night who hadn’t yet entered the game. One wore No. 0, which was the same exact number of minutes he’d played in his career as a Badger. Well, that’s not saying much, because his Wisconsin career was nearly just two games old.

No. 0, junior walk-on Will Decorah, recorded a series of firsts during his 58.4 seconds of playing time. He committed his first career turnover, then was charged with his first foul only 13 seconds later.


Getting on the court may have been a new experience for Decorah, but being close to the action wasn’t. That’s because up until two months ago, Decorah was a student manager for the Badgers.

“Not that being a manager wasn’t fun, because it was,” Decorah said. “I had a lot of friends being a manager.”

Decorah is a local success story. He grew up roughly 20 minutes north of Madison in Waunakee and was a prep sports star for Waunakee High School. In hoops, he was a three-time letter winner and part of a team that won three-straight Badger Conference titles.

Despite numerous scholarship offers from other institutions to play sports, Madison was the only place Decorah considered going, and he didn’t come here to play basketball.

“I wanted to be a part of the basketball team because I love basketball and I wanted to be around the game,” Decorah said.

So that’s what Decorah did. It also helped that Ryan had known Decorah practically his whole life. Decorah’s dad, Tim, played for Ryan at UW-Platteville and was a member of the 1991 Division III National Championship team.

Decorah’s first two years on campus consisted of what every manager does: office work during nonpractice hours, rebounding for players during drills, tending locker rooms and carrying water bottles.

That all changed a few months ago when Decorah was tending to his work in the manager’s office. Ryan walked into the office and simply asked Decorah he was interested in walking on to the squad.

It happened so quickly Decorah was speechless.

“I was completely taken aback, surprised,” he said. “I didn’t have any idea what to say.”

Decorah didn’t give Ryan an answer for nearly a week. A program assistant, Laura Strang, also a Waunakee native, gave Decorah the final push he needed to tell Ryan he was ready for the challenge.

His former colleagues — the current managing staff — couldn’t have been more excited.

“Will knows that he has a pretty special opportunity and I can see that he is taking full advantage of it,” Head manager Ben Eckburg said. “I think I can speak for our manager staff and say that we are all very excited for Will and proud that he is representing us on the court.”

The biggest adjustment Decorah had to make to his life was dealing with the lack of free time. Every day, for about four hours, Decorah has to dedicate his life to team activities. That includes lifting, practice and then post-practice meal and treatment.

At the end of the day, though, he said playing for Ryan is his dream come true.

“He’s pretty much God around here in Wisconsin,” Decorah said. “I would say it’s a dream come true. [I] can’t really ask for anything more.”

Another key factor in Decorah’s transition is that he already had some rapport with all of his teammates, even the freshmen. When Decorah texted his new teammates, they welcomed him with open arms.

“They were pretty excited I think,” Decorah said. “Actually, in the group message a couple of them texted back, ‘Yes, finally.'”

Manager Kevin Faanes, who worked closely with Decorah last season, said it was surreal to see him in practice gear for the first time and participating in practice instead of assisting it.

“It was pretty odd seeing Will come out to practice for the first time in uniform,” Faanes said. “But the feeling did not last long at all because Will is a natural-born competitor who belongs on the basketball court.”

Decorah will be lucky if he gets much playing time. The hard truth is that situations like Sunday night are the only time Decorah will ever see the court — the waning seconds of blowouts.

But Decorah said it’s not about what happens on the court, but how he assesses his own improvement.

“I really don’t have expectations,” Decorah said. “I’ve been asked that question a lot … I feel like I need to prove it to myself that I can belong here. I need to improve my game in a lot of ways.”

Decorah said going from SERF ball to the college hardwood is quite the adjustment. But for the local Wisconsin kid, being a Badger will always be special, regardless of the roundabout way it took to get there.

“I’ve been having a great time,” Decorah said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s kind of something that every Wisconsin kid that’s grown up that likes basketball wants to play for the Badgers.”

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