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All Access with Wisconsin

An inside look at life on the road with No. 4 Badgers

Posted: Thursday February 8, 2007 11:13AM; Updated: Thursday February 8, 2007 4:23PM
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Alando Tucker is the unquestioned leader of the Badgers and a candidate for national player of the year.
Alando Tucker is the unquestioned leader of the Badgers and a candidate for national player of the year.
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From the team hotel to the post-game locker room, SI.com's Luke Winn spent 12 hours with the Wisconsin Badgers on Wednesday to get an inside view of life on the road with a top-five team. The public could only see UW's 8 p.m. game against Penn State, which the Badgers won 71-58, but there was plenty more action behind the scenes.

10:55 a.m.: Web Work And The Hambone

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The lobby of the Toftrees Resort does not feel particularly resort-like. The hotel's front desk takes up about a third of the small room and a leather couch, two chairs, a TV and a computer desk occupy the remainder of the space. When I first walked through the revolving door on Wednesday morning, there were a few people milling about, and one guy in a gray hoodie and baggy black shorts silently hunched over the computer's keyboard, staring at the screen.

The computer guy -- once he pulled his hood back to reveal his identity -- happened to be one of the frontrunners for the Wooden Award, Wisconsin's Alando Tucker. The senior forward has led the fourth-ranked Badgers to a 23-2 record and a tie for first place in the Big Ten, and had a game against Penn State in slightly more than nine hours. His main concern at 10:55 a.m., though, was taking care of some pressing business on Facebook.com. And the lobby was the only place in the hotel that had access to the Internet.

"I'm trying to remove my profile," Tucker said while hunting for that option with the mouse. "I've already taken it down once, but a friend told me he put it back online, and I really don't like to be on there."

The reason? "It's just gotten a little too chaotic."

Too many Facebook requests and messages is too much to manage when you're burdened with the increased attention of being the star of the nation's No. 4 team. Such is life for Tucker these days, as he and the Badgers have ascended from the ranks of Big Ten contenders to national title contenders. The cover of Sports Illustrated, he can handle. Appearances in games on ESPN and CBS, he can handle. Properly maintaining a Facebook page, he cannot. A man must draw the line somewhere in order to preserve his sanity.

A few minutes later, Tucker and Kammron Taylor, UW's starting point guard and second-leading scorer, were standing in front of the lobby's TV, viewing a taped interview with head coach Bo Ryan that was airing on ESPN2's Cold Pizza. The two seniors watched silently as Ryan stated that if Tucker wasn't the player of the year, he was "the person of the year" for his leadership skills -- and presumably also because, other than on Facebook, he has remained an extremely approachable, engaging star. (For instance, the kind of star who was more than happy to interrupt his 'net time to talk to an SI reporter about everything from hoops to the Magazine Writing class he took last semester.)

Only after Cold Pizza aired the now-famous clip of Ryan singing and dancing the Hambone at Illinois' Assembly Hall, did the duo speak. Or rather, sing:

Hambone, Hambone have you heard? Papa's gonna buy me a mockingbird

Watching TV in the lobby with them was Ryan's freshman-year (1965-66) roommate at Wilkes University, Ed Witczak, who had driven from his home in New Jersey to attend Wednesday's game. Witczak, who was a wrestler while Ryan played point guard on Wilkes' basketball team, went on to be a volunteer trainer for the Philadelphia Eagles for 20 years. "I dealt with all types of personalities -- plenty of them difficult -- in that job," Witczak said later. "But Tucker, he doesn't know me from Adam, and yet he introduced himself and shook my hand. I can tell Bo has some good kids on this team."

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