Ball and Wilson

The recent photo in the Wisconsin State Journal was almost haunting. As the caption notes: “Montee Ball celebrates his 15-yard TD run with Russell Wilson during UW’s 48-17 win over Nebraska on Oct. 1, 2011 at Camp Randall Stadium.” With the 2016 NFL Draft now completed, it brings back some bittersweet draft moments involving Ball and Wilson. Wilson, after a great 2011 season with the Badgers, was a third round draft pick of Seattle in the 2012 NFL Draft. He was only the 75th player taken – too short to play QB in the NFL some pundits said. Ball, a four-year player for the Badgers, was draft in the second round by Denver in the 2013 NFL Draft. He was the 58th player selected. Expectations were high for Ball, who rushed for 5.140 yards for Wisconsin and set an NCAA record with 83 career TDs. Turn the page to 2016 and the paths of Wilson and Ball have gone in completely opposite directions. Wilson, who seemed like he was preparing his entire life for his NFL moment, is now one of the league’s highest paid players – signing a four-year $87.6 million contract extension with the Seahawks. Ball is no longer in the NFL, having been waived by the Broncos in 2015 and the New England Patriots this past February. Since his return to Madison, he has been charged with felony assault and felony bail jumping. Ball’s fall from grace has been quick and disappointing. At age 25 his NFL career already seems to have ended and a word no athlete wants to hear is now attached to him:...

Nigel Hayes: Will he stay or will he go?

We will know the answer to that question by May 25 when Wisconsin’s junior forward has to make a final decision on his NBA draft status. During the next four weeks, Hayes, who has not signed with an agent, will be gathering information to help him decide if he will return to the Badgers for his senior season. Based on his performance in the recently completed 2015-16 season, Hayes should put aside his NBA thoughts and play for Wisconsin one more year. It would be a win-win for him and the Badgers. Wisconsin seems to have all the makings of a great team for 2016-17. If Hayes returns, all five starters and all four top reserves, will be back, which is unheard of in the college era of one and done. Wisconsin would be starting four seniors – Hayes, Vitto Brown, Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter – and a red-shirt sophomore – Ethan Happ – next season. Its top four reserves – Jordan Hill, Charlie Thomas, Khalil Iverson and Alex Illikainen – from this season would also be back. And a bonus! Two talented freshmen who couldn’t play this season: hot shooting guard Brevin Pritzl (medical red-shirt) and 6-11 forward Andy Van Vliet (NCAA issues), are also expected to be in the rotation next season. That, with Hayes, is an 11-deep rotation. At the moment, the focus is on Hayes, who despite his First Team All-Big Ten selection, underachieved for much of the season. Compared to the previous season, his numbers just weren’t very good. His overall FG percentage was only 36.8 and from 3-point it was only 29.3...

HOW TO COACH YOUR WAY INTO A HEAD COACHING JOB… AND SO MUCH MORE!

Greg Gard started the season as the Associate Head Coach of the Wisconsin Men’s Basketball Team. Even in his wildest dreams, Gard could never have imagined that before the season was over he would not have that title or the one which replaced it. On December 15, the world of Wisconsin Basketball, in general, and Gard, in particular, changed dramatically when longtime Badger Coach Bo Ryan announced his retirement, just 12 games into the 2015-16 season.   Gard was immediately named Interim Head Coach by Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez. No promises or guarantees were given to Gard other than he would finish the current season with the Badgers. As was reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Gard inherited what was described as a “mess” by an observer familiar with the program. Wisconsin was only 7-5 and had already lost three home games – the season opener to a bad Western Illinois team, and then in the span of a few days two close losses to in-state rivals Milwaukee and Marquette. In Gard’s first game, the Badgers almost blew a 30 point lead against Wisconsin-Green Bay before holding on for a victory at the Kohl Center.   The Big Ten season didn’t start much better for Gard as the Badgers lost four of their first five Conference games. The team finally hit bottom when it lost at Northwestern on January 12. It was looking more and more like Gard would, indeed, only be the Interim Coach.   And then something incredible happened. Gard was able to hold the team together; change its offense back to “The Swing”; give significant minutes...

MARCH COULD BRING THREE MAJOR UW COACHING DECISIONS

The month of March could be a very busy (and critical ) time for the University of Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez. He may have three major decisions to make regarding the head coaching positions for UW Men’s Basketball, Women’s Basketball and Men’s Hockey. All three of those sports play their home games at the Kohl Center and are among the most high profile programs in the UW Athletic Department. It’s possible both basketball teams and the men’s hockey teams will have new coaches next season, which most likely would be a first at Wisconsin. One way or another, men’s basketball will have a new coach following the surprise retirement of Bo Ryan on December 15. The question is whether the “Interim” tag will be taken off of Greg Gard’s title or if Alvarez decides to, as they say. move in another direction. Wisconsin’s recent wins over nationally ranked Michigan State and Indiana should help Gard, who has a 7-4 record since replacing Ryan. From my perspective, Gard more than held his own in Wisconsin’s wins against Tom Izzo of Michigan State, Tom Crean of Indiana and Thad Motta of Ohio State. The Badgers are currently on a five game winning streak. Men’s hockey and women’s basketball could be even more interesting since neither coach is “interim,” but both programs have struggled in recent years. Attendance for both at the Kohl Center has dropped significantly. That is a bigger problem for men’s hockey because after football and men’s basketball, it is the third largest revenue raiser for the Athletic Department. Neither of the contracts of hockey coach Mike Eaves...

Lebron James’ world’s most prominent male athlete

Ever since he burst into the national spotlight as a high school star playing for St. Vincent’s in Cleveland, Lebron James has been simultaneously the epitome of the 21st century Black pro athlete and a lightning rod for criticism. Now in his early 30s, he’s unquestionably the NBA’s biggest star, though some would also deem him its most polarizing figure. But James’ exploits are certainly the stuff of legend. He’s won four Most Valuable Player Awards, been on two championship teams (two time Finals MVP) and is a multiple All-League, All-Star, All-Defensive staple. The detractors who cite his four losses in championship series often neglect to point out that in most cases his team wasn’t the superior one, and fact that in several defeats he was easily the best player on either club. Still, it can legitimately be argued that Lebron James’ importance aside from basketball far transcends his court achievements. Indeed it would be hard (though there are some folks out there willing to try) not to applaud the image James has off the court, and the many things he’s done to maintain ties with both the core Black communities of Akron and Cleveland, as well as the larger African-American nation. First, James has maintained ties his entire professional career with childhood friends, and his representation is solidly Black rather than a large white multi-national company. He’s married to his high school sweetheart. As upsetting as his decision was to leave his native Cleveland for four years to play in Miami, the return is responsible for two more years of constant sellouts in downtown Cleveland. His presence has...

New NCAA rules address fundamental concerns, contradictions

There’s always been a fundamental disconnect between the National Football League, National Basketball Association and the NCAA. The primary problem has been and remains that while the so-called power conferences function as de facto minor leagues for the NFL and NBA, that has never really been what they were designed to do. Ideally, college sports were created to provide extra-curricular activities for students. For the vast majority of its participants that remains the reality. But for the one percent gifted enough to make it to the pros, things are quite different. This select group is being groomed to ultimately be the best in their profession. But that goal may or may not coincide with the objectives of a college football or basketball coach, and it is definitely not part of the overall mission of an educational institution except in the broadest sense of defining the college experience. Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League have their own farm systems that exist solely to develop talent. But NCAA athletes are supposed to be students, and their education is deemed their primary goal. Framed against that is the fact college coaches are judged on wins and losses, and the top schools earn millions of dollars based on how well they perform in various conferences, and ultimately the college football playoffs and NCAA basketball tournament. This is a situation with no easy answer. While there have been and continue to be cases of schools exploiting its athletes (see the recent academic scandal at North Carolina for one prime example) the vast majority of schools take both their academic and athletic missions...