On Thursday, at the tail end of Big Ten media day, Bo Ryan and his Badgers cohort were itching to drive back to Madison.
The Wisconsin coach wasn't trying to avoid the media, though after four hours of answering similar questions repeatedly, anyone could be forgiven for that. (I actually felt bad for Cody Zeller. Given that Zeller is arguably the best college basketball player in the country, a future pro and probably the most popular person in the state of Indiana, that is not something you'll often hear me say.) In fact, Ryan & Co. were trying to make the two-plus hour drive back to Wisconsin in time to set up for a rather genius fundraiser idea -- the Charity Stripe Challenge.
From 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Wisconsin students had the chance to "Make Bo Pay." Every student who walked through the doors of the Kohl Center would trigger a donation of $1 of Bo and wife Kelly Ryan's money to Coaches Vs. Cancer and the American Cancer Society. Every free throw would earn $10, and every half-court shot would mean $1,000 for the charity and a raffle ticket for a new car.
On Thursday, Ryan was a little anxious about the idea, mostly because he had no idea what to expect. The school's hockey team had participated a day early, and hadn't exactly pushed the limits of the family checkbook.
"I think after they were done my wife wrote a check for $82," Ryan told ESPN.com Thursday.
That concern was doubled by Thursday's typically nasty late-October Wisconsin weather. But by the time the event was over, more than 1,600 students showed up, and Ryan and his wife were happily on the hook for $41,279.
“I’m surprised and overwhelmed by the out-pouring from our students,” Ryan said in a release. “It was just unbelievable, and all I can say is thank you.
“My wife and I did this event because we firmly believe that with enough funding, a cure for cancer will be found. We took this as another opportunity to have our team interact with the students and involve our campus in this event. What a fun time and for a great cause. I figure one of these half-court shots might be the difference in curing cancer.”
One of those students was Badgers defensive lineman Warren Herring. Herring missed his free throw, but received a snap near half court just before swishing a half-court shot and launched the students and players on the court into a frenzy of celebratory dancing. In all, according to Wisconsin's release, 36 students knocked down half-court shots.
From a sheer basketball perspective, it wasn't the best weekend for Wisconsin hoops. Point guard Josh Gasser -- key to the Badgers' hopes of replacing former star Jordan Taylor, and (as Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans stated frequently last week) recalibrating with new offensive emphasis on ball movement -- tore his ACL during practice Saturday morning. That injury is compounded by the gash forward Mike Brusewitz suffered two weeks ago, one that will keep him out for at least the first month of the season.
So, no, it wasn't all positive in Madison this weekend. (The football team lost a home to Michigan State, too.) But Ryan's idea for a charity shoot-out came off without a hitch, and the hope of one day eradicating cancer is more than $40,000 richer. Not too shabby.