Ryan winning despite missing piece

Freshman Bronson Koenig is a special young guard. First-year freight train Nigel Hayes (6-7, 250 pounds) probably ruined some coach's dream when he chose basketball over football. Gasser is strong again after a serious knee injury.

This is not a roster full of lottery picks. And those close to Ryan say he takes pride in his ability to mold players who come to Madison with few stars attached to their names.

"If you're at certain schools and you know you can go out and pick whoever you want every year, that's a little different," Ryan said. "We see guys we know we won't be using for two years. Some of these schools get guys they know they're playing right away. Can't-miss guys. How many can't-miss guys have we had? I'd like to get more, but hey, I like developing players."

This season, he has talented veterans and contributing freshmen, a rare combination that most coaches desire.

It's all there for Ryan and Wisconsin. Every piece he needs to do what he has never done -- reach the Final Four and compete for a national championship.

It's the only accomplishment missing from his résumé.

Whether he admits it or not, Ryan recognizes the potential of this current group. He knows what he has and what this crew can do in the coming months.

But there's also something -- someone -- missing from this journey.

"What's really tough is when December, January come," said Bo Ryan, who lost his mother, Louise, seven months before his father's death. "The holidays and then the new year. You're always so used to that phone call or them visiting. So yeah, it's been … "

Somewhere, Butch Ryan is watching, quietly. And smiling.

At this point in his son's career, he doesn't have to say a word.

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