Searching for some historical nuggets recently, my colleague Mike Larsen and I were perusing the roster of the 1994-95 UW-Platteville men’s basketball team.
Nineteen years later, it’s amazing to see how the roster of a small public university is making a significant national impact in men’s college basketball — call it the Bo Ryan Coaching Tree — as tournament season rages on.
“The Platteville graduates, along with Coach Ryan, are on a pretty good roll right now,” said UW-Parkside coach Luke Reigel, who played for that memorable ’94-’95 Pioneers squad that went 31-0 in winning the NCAA Division III title, on Thursday.
The head coach of that team, of course, was Ryan, who became a small-school legend by winning four Division III championships at Platteville before moving on to the lofty national status he holds at Wisconsin.
Two of Ryan’s assistants were Rob Jeter and Greg Gard.
Jeter just coached UW-Milwaukee to a shocking Horizon League Tournament title to get the Panthers into the tourney for the first time since Jeter led them there in 2006, and Gard remains Ryan’s top assistant with the Badgers as one of the more well-respected assistants in all of college basketball.
Reigel and Saul Phillips were two seldom-used players on that team who soaked up a lot of knowledge from the coaching staff. Reigel said he “basically redshirted” and that Phillips jokes that he was “the human victory cigar,” only inserted into games when victory was certain, but the experience was invaluable.
“Saul and I weren’t exactly high-end contributors on the court, but you just had so many good players throughout the program and guys that just knew how to play,” Reigel said. “If you win a national championship, obviously it’s a combination of ability (and) players that have high basketball IQ.
“Between the competition every day in practice and learning from Coach Ryan, it was a pretty good combination for all of us.”
Now, Reigel has guided the Rangers to back-to-back Division II Tournament appearances and three overall, including consecutive titles in the immensely difficult Great Lakes Valley Conference East Division.
Phillips, meanwhile, is the head coach at Division I North Dakota State and just led the Bison to the Summit League Tournament title, the second time he’s coached them into the Big Dance.
Reigel said there’s little time during the season to stay in touch with his former Platteville teammates and coaches, or any former teammates and coaches for that matter. That’s done during summer golf outings and on the recruiting trail.
But as he spent Tuesday night watching tape on Drury, Parkside’s first-round opponent in the Division II Tournament Saturday, Reigel had one eye on Jeter and Phillips winning their conference tournaments.
“You just hope those guys do well,” Reigel said.
“Then you hope you get tickets when they make it to the Final Four.”