MADISON — Greg Gard knew late Saturday night that he’d be losing his top assistant.
By Sunday, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball coach realized the word was out that Lamont Paris was leaving the Badgers because Gard’s phone wouldn’t stop buzzing.
The first text message Gard received was an inquiry: “Hey Coach,” it read, “I see you might have a position open on your staff.”
And so began the process of filling the enormous shoes left by Paris, who was named head coach at Chattanooga. Paris spent seven seasons at UW, including his final one as associate head coach.
One thing is for certain, based on the response Gard got over the past two days in Phoenix, where he attended the Final Four: He’ll have no shortage of options.
“You’re in an envious position because people recognize what Wisconsin is about, the people we have here, the success we’ve had,” Gard said Monday afternoon. “You’re in a good position when there are so many highly qualified candidates.”
Gard said he’s always had a list of possible assistants ready, even back when he was an assistant under Bo Ryan.
What’s Gard looking for in a replacement for Paris? Well, someone who checks a lot of the same boxes as Paris did.
Gard used the words “well-rounded” and “all-encompassing” to describe what he’s seeking.
“The No. 1 component is somebody I really trust,” Gard said. “I’ve learned over the years that that’s vital to have on your staff, and the synergy of our staff. I think that’s always been key with us, the togetherness. Just the best person I can find that fits everything we’re about.”
If having somebody with UW ties is what Gard wants, he has plenty of options. But he said that’s not a prerequisite.
Remember, it was Gard who floated to Ryan the idea of hiring Paris back in 2010. Paris was an Ohio native with no ties to the Badgers or the Big Ten, but Gard had gotten to know him on the recruiting trail and thought he was a perfect match for what UW needed at the time.
“You look for the best possible fit,” Gard said. “That doesn’t always include just basketball. That’s, how do we need to recruit, do you have an understanding of that and who we are? That’s one thing with Lamont and getting to know him over the years, well before we hired him, I could tell he had a lot of the same thought processes about things and what was important.
“I’m looking for what’s the best overall fit for what we’re looking for and who we are and where we are at this point of time. Obviously, we’ve got younger guys (on the roster), so the ability to have patience and help those guys grow and develop is looked at, too. Somebody that really fits the big picture and the entire process, not just one specific thing.”
If Gard wants a veteran who could step into the associate head coach role, he could turn to former colleague Rob Jeter. Once a UW assistant, Jeter was an assistant at UNLV this past season after spending the previous 11 seasons in charge of the UW-Milwaukee program.
Another potential veteran option is Tim Buckley, who was an assistant at UW under Stu Jackson during the 1993-94 season. Buckley has been a head coach, including a stint at Ball State, and was an assistant at Marquette and Indiana under Tom Crean.
If Gard chooses to go with an up-and-comer in the profession, there are multiple candidates who were former UW players. That list includes Freddie Owens, Sharif Chambliss and Tanner Bronson. Another young coach with ties to the UW “family” is Ryan’s son, Will, an assistant at Ohio under Saul Phillips.
Gard declined to discuss specific candidates. The UW human resources department is in the process of posting the job vacancy, and Gard hopes to have someone hired as quickly as possible because the spring AAU recruiting circuit begins later this month.
Paris and Gard had an emotional conversation late Saturday night in the hotel restaurant after the national semifinal games were over. Both parties had tears in their eyes, according to Gard.
“I knew this day was coming,” Gard said. “I’m happy for him. He was deeply invested not only within the program but the community and the state and everything else. He was invested in it way beyond just being a basketball coach. I think that’s what makes the good ones really good. It goes well beyond the game itself.”
Bronson Koenig received the United States Basketball Writers Association’s Most Courageous Award during a Final Four luncheon on Monday in Phoenix.
Koenig, who will graduate in May with a life communications degree, embraced the opportunity to be a role model and spokesman for the Native American community. A member of the Ho-Chunk tribe, Koenig spoke out against the Dakota Access Pipeline project and made a trip to North Dakota to support protesters during the offseason.
“Being a role model, speaking out against issues and offering encouragement to the Native American community is one of the biggest priorities in my life,” said Koenig, who led the Badgers with 14.5 points per game as a senior and ended his career as UW’s all-time leader in made 3-pointers with 270. “I’m trying to make an impact any way I can.”