Coach Dick Bennett gave Wisconsin a defensive identity and ultimately a Final Four in 2000.
And coach Bo Ryan has created a Badgers program that has done what was unthinkable two decades ago -- ensure that Wisconsin is a Big Ten title contender every season.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Ryan was set to be inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Friday night, followed by his home state's Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 22.
The reason for Ryan's recent honors is that his run in Madison is starting to become legendary.
"One thing I never realized here was how hungry the basketball people were for a championship and I saw their response to us winning a Big Ten title," Ryan said. "There were so many people that were frustrated for so long here."
The Chester, Pa., native was a one-time Wisconsin assistant under Bill Cofield then Steve Yoder from 1976-84. He then took over at UW-Platteville, winning four national championships at the Division III school. He spent two seasons at UW-Milwaukee before taking over in Madison in 2001 following an abbreviated run by Brad Soderberg, who had replaced Bennett.
The last decade has been nirvana for a Badgers program that was irrelevant in the Big Ten for years. Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and others had checked off Wisconsin as a win. No more.
Ryan is being honored for a 10-year run that is remarkable by not just Wisconsin standards. His accomplishments: won over 70 percent of his games overall and in the Big Ten; won over 93 percent of the time at the Kohl Center; captured five Big Ten titles; owns the seven seasons with the most wins in Wisconsin history; coached five AP All-Americans; and most importantly, has made 10 NCAA tournament appearances, including three Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight.
The Big Ten is no longer the conference of Knight, Keady and Henson. Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Ryan are the benchmarks. Sure, Ohio State's Thad Matta is on track to be discussed in the same sentence on a regular basis. But the conference has been anchored by Izzo and Ryan for the past 10 seasons. Izzo has set the NCAA tournament bar, but Ryan has been in step during the regular season.
"There are only three of us left from when I came in," Ryan said of Izzo and Northwestern's Bill Carmody. "Some schools have changed more than once. The one thing that has helped us is that every guy we recruited has seen us play and accepted what we were willing to do. We've found quicker athletes and done things in our offense. We've never made promises. Everyone comes in here with their eyes wide open. We graduate guys. They pay their dues."
Ryan said that when he was hired, his goal was to be in the upper level of the Big Ten every year.
"There were chuckles," Ryan recalled. "But I've always thought of conference first."