The date was Apr. 25, 2014. Like most early spring days in the upper Midwest, it featured cool temperatures for those in Madison, Wis. Fortunately for Wisconsin Badgers fans, temperatures were about the only thing cold about that day, however.
Frank Kaminsky, the previously little-known center who had become a an all-league performer almost overnight, provided the primary reason for those warm feelings. A native of Illinois, Kaminsky formally announced his return to Badgerland for one more go around for 2014-15 and the collective pulses of a fanbase that watched their team surge to their first Final Four under Bo Ryan‘s tenure suddenly rose.
Yes, the Badgers would be back in full force for 2014-15.
Not that expectations are ever really low for Ryan and his team. They’ve finished in the top-four of the Big Ten race every year since he first took over the program in 2001-02. They’ve averaged almost 25 wins a season and have garnered 30 wins on three different occasions during the Ryan era.
Kaminsky’s announcement adds a level of expectation not usual for Badgers’ basketball, however. Standards are admittedly high in Madison these days and with good reason. But with Kaminsky back in the fold, not to mention the return of swingman Sam Dekker, reliable guard Josh Gasser, playmaker Traevon Jackson and a pair of developing talents in Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, the Badgers are as loaded as ever.
This time, expectations extend beyond Madison. National media and pundits will now be checking in on Wisconsin frequently, which will be a somewhat new phenomenon for a group of players that surprised many with their trek the Final Four. How the Badgers respond to that pressure could be the biggest variable in how Wisconsin fares once October practice rolls around.
There’s no question the Badgers possess the deepest and most proven lineup in the conference. Michigan has already lost a few players to both graduation and the draft while Tom Izzo and Michigan State will be leaning heavily on talented, albeit young core of players.
Yet you can bet neither Ryan nor his players will be taking anything for granted. Getting ahead of themselves has never been an issue for the Badgers with Ryan walking the sidelines, and the trend figures to continue into next season. It’s simply not in Ryan’s DNA to start looking too far ahead. And the same can be said for his players.
There will be temptations to look ahead of course. Such is the nature of the rocky road that is a college basketball season. Yet for every down there figure to be plenty of ups, and Ryan wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, he’ll watch his team take the court for the first time next season knowing one thing: The Badgers are loaded. They possess talent, skill, depth, height, speed and ball-handling. You name it, and the Badgers will feature it in 2014-15.
It’s little wonder Kaminsky looked at half-filled NBA arenas and concluded the game looked “flat-out boring.” There certainly will be no such boredom at the Kohl Center in coming months.