Sconnie Sports Talk

Two months later, Greg Gard is staying true to the process


On Monday, exactly two months since being named Wisconsin’s interim head coach, Greg Gard attributed much of his team’s success to the locker room culture that has been built and his players believing in “the process.”

“What people have seen on the floor in terms of improvement and success,” Gard explained, “it’s been tenfold behind closed doors.”

But after a 2-4 start to his coaching career, Gard never said the process was going to be easy.

Last week, forward Ethan Happ explained to me that after the January 12th Northwestern loss, he and his teammates finally realized that the team’s chances at making the NCAA tournament were not looking good, and it was time to focus and care more about the team.

“After that Northwestern game – it really hit us, and everyone knew that we had to pick it up,” Happ said. “And it’s tough to say there was one thing that happened, but I think that’s the biggest thing.”

January 12th was the same night Nigel Hayes told four Wisconsin-based reporters that enough was enough, and that he was “f****** pissed” about the team’s performance through 18 games (9-9 record).

“Some guys have to do some soul-searching,” Hayes explained after the team’s 70-65 loss to Northwestern. “Find out why they play the game and what they want out of this.”

Hayes continued, “It’s gotta come to a point where you have to have pride and represent yourself first and often when you’re out there, your teammates, your family, Wisconsin, the program itself, the people that played here before.”

Gard disclosed on Monday that the coaches knew how to explain the process from day one, but it was about “getting them to understand what the process was going to be.” Gard just needed his players to buy in, and it took about a month for his players to do so.

Since that January night, the Badgers have won seven straight games. Now projected to be in the tournament field according to almost every major analysis through 25 games, Greg Gard has led this team to a 9-4 record since taking over for Bo Ryan exactly two months ago.

With wins over top-ten teams in Michigan State and Maryland during the streak, Gard, with the help of his excellent coaching staff, has done a helluva job turning this season around. He’s gotten his players to believe in this process.

The process, which I believe can be summed up by the team’s season motto, “Playing for each other,” has further built Wisconsin’s identity and completely changed the outlook of the 2015-16 season.

“Playing together is the biggest thing,” Happ said last week. “I don’t know if you’ve heard it from other players, but that’s what we say every time before we go out on the court – the starting five – is that we gotta play for each other and play together, and then that feeds into the guys coming off the bench, and even the guys that don’t get into the game.”

Recently, Gard had his players do an activity called the “The Foundation,” where each player has their own brick to build into the team’s literal foundation. As Gard explained, “The brick is part of the building process. Each brick is just one piece in the whole foundation. But it’s a very important piece.”

The process seems to lack a definition, but one thing remains clear: it is about playing together and getting better every possession, every practice, every day, and every game. The Badgers have certainly played and gotten better since that Northwestern game, and the turnaround should be enough to give Gard the permanent title of head coach.