On Saturday the University of Wisconsin basketball team will play in their first Final Four game since 2000. They will face the University of Kentucky Wildcats, but for Badger Head Coach Bo Ryan and the men’s basketball program the road began more than a decade ago.
During the 2001-2002 season, Ryan was entering his first year with the UW program as was a freshman from Wauwatosa East, Devin Harris.
Together they headed the program in the direction that has led to Dallas.
“Myself and coach kind of grew together,” Harris said. “It was my first year, freshman year, his first year coaching Division 1, and it took us a while to figure out how to be successful, but the best thing about coach is it is not just about basketball for him. It is more life.”
Harris had a remarkably successful career finishing three seasons with 1,425 career points and was one of only two Badgers in history to start every game as a freshman, sophomore and junior. He was the consensus 2004 Big 10 Player of the Year.
Following his junior year Harris left Wisconsin for the NBA, but remained close to the program and Ryan. The two have kept in close contact with phone calls.
When Wisconsin defeated the University of Arizona to advance to the Final Four in Dallas, Harris made the phone call.
“He said it started with me and obviously he continued and he kept trying to give me credit and I’m like, 'It’s not me, coach. It is really you. It is your program,'” Harris said.
Now a starting guard with the Dallas Mavericks, Harris will not get the chance to be there when the Badgers play in the Final Four. The NBA schedule has the Mavericks on the road, but Harris said he will be watching on television.
When the Badgers meet the University of Kentucky in Saturday’s game, it will bring back memories for Harris.
“We played them in the Sweet 16 in my sophomore year when we lost and we had a great game. But this team is playing better this point in time than we were and I think we’re definitely due for a big win against those guys,” Harris said.
If Harris is correct, he will be making one more phone call to his former coach after Monday’s championship game.
“I think with the momentum that we have I definitely think we can win the national championship. It would be great for coach. He is due,” Harris said.