MADISON, Wis. - It seems like it's becoming a yearly tradition with the University of Wisconsin basketball team. Two years ago, it was the departure of Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor that left many wondering where the team's leadership and offense would come from.
Last season the team lost Brian Butch, Greg Stiemsma, Michael Flowers and Tanner Bronson after they exhausted their eligibility.
Enter the 2008 season. This relatively young squad, 11 of 17 underclassmen, will undoubtedly look up to the few veteran leaders that will take over the role left from key players the season before. But, of course, new leadership takes some time to develop.
"I'm not as concerned right now because I get them in practice," the team's ultimate leader, head coach Bo Ryan said. "So there's really only one voice they're hearing up there now. That's not meant in any kind of vain way, but they're getting direction from here first."
Since this squad is so young and loaded with many who have only been through the rigors of top-tier college basketball one or two times, if at all, off the court leadership is the team's primary goal so early in the season.
"In the locker room, in the pre-season, in the other areas, that's where leadership is of the utmost importance from the players," Ryan said.
"As we get into some of the other things, when we start traveling, when we start doing things that are a little different than right now, that's where you always want the seniors, the upperclassmen, to pass on to the younger classmen, this is the way we do it.
"But in the workouts that you have when they're on their own and doing things like that, here's where you're hoping that the upperclassmen-that's just one small example-are telling them, 'hey, you better not do that because when we get on the floor, coach isn't going to let you do that.'
Looking at some of UW's key returning players, seniors Marcus Landry, Joe Krabbenhoft, Morris Cain, Kevin Gullickson and juniors Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes will all usher in the largest freshman class in UW history, five, as well as the six returning sophomores.
"You really have to realize that you're not in high school anymore," Landry said in reference to helping the younger guys adjust to the college game. "You can't do some of the things that you used to do. It's all about developing and getting better as a younger player."
The best thing for going for these Wisconsin upperclassmen is they were young once, too. When they were at that stage in their career, they had leaders to look up to. For instance, Hughes was a young player looking to Flowers as his mentor. Watching his work ethic and determination on the court helped Hughes transition into his current role where he feels he is becoming a leader.
"I used to be more of an example leader, but now, since I'm in that position, I have to be more vocal too, Hughes said. "The best way I can do it is be vocal and lead by example.
"I try to give them (young players) pointers, I lead, I'm pretty sure I'm not perfect so I mess up too. I just tell them like basically the guards-and the big men like look at the other big men-the guards for me. Watch what I do. I tell them and I team them. I'm just like, if I mess up and coach points that out, I'm just like, 'don't do that."
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