MADISON, Wis. — Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon has a complex relationship with the Wisconsin Badgers. You might even say it's tortured.
The Linn-Mar graduate watched older brothers Jason and Zach wear the Badger red. As a high school sophomore, he attended the 2014 Final Four in Arlington, Texas, sitting behind the Wisconsin bench. Bo Ryan, then the head coach, gave Bohannon a wink before the game tipped off.
That’s a favorite memory of Bohannon’s. But the Badgers never recruited him.
So beating Wisconsin with a last-second 3-pointer two years ago at the Kohl Center remains the favorite shot of his college career. He has a mural of his game-winning shot that hangs above his bed, so that he can revisit that moment every time he walks into his room.
And yet, Bohannon also keeps a pair of Wisconsin shorts from his childhood, when he attended summer basketball camps at the Kohl Center. They still fit. He wears them from time to time. Bohannon also knows every word of the school’s alma mater, having heard his brothers sing it after games so often.
“You’ve got to look back at your roots, still,” Bohannon said this week, with his return trip to the Kohl Center looming at 6 p.m. Thursday (ESPN). “If it wasn’t for me watching Wisconsin basketball growing up, I probably wouldn’t be the player I am today, as much as I hate to say that. But I’ve also got to respect what brought me to this point of my life.”
That journey includes his older brothers. That journey includes Ryan, a coach Bohannon still greatly admires long after the latter has retired.
Bohannon is averaging 11.7 points and 3.4 assists per game for the Hawkeyes (21-8, 10-8 Big Ten Conference), who are looking to snap a two-game losing streak for the third time this season. They’ll try to do so under interim coach Kirk Speraw, a nine-year assistant at Iowa who will fill in while head coach Fran McCaffery completes his two-game suspension for his conduct toward an official Feb. 26.
Wisconsin (20-9, 12-6), ranked 21st, handed Iowa its first loss of the season three months ago by coming from behind to prevail 72-66 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“The last 6 minutes of that game were just really weird. We couldn’t get a roll. Ball bounces a little different, we win that game here,” Iowa center Ryan Kriener said. “That’d be another real quality win on our resume. That’s extra motivation for me. A lot of guys feel the same way.”
No one feels it more than Bohannon. He scored 11 points in that game, but needed 12 shots to get them.
His desire to beat the Badgers is even greater than it was two years ago, when he made his first trip to Madison as a freshman. He is ready to troll the Kohl Center crowd.
“I might just start in warm-ups. I might just go to the spot I hit the game-winner. I might not have a ball. I’ll just stand there with the form I had my freshman year for the entire 60 minutes,” Bohannon said with a grin.
He loves being the villain in opposing arenas. It worked for him at Penn State and Indiana this winter. It certainly worked for him at Wisconsin two years ago.
“I feed off it. That’s what it’s about. That’s why college basketball is so great,” Bohannon said. “You’re not doing anything right if you don’t have haters. I’ve always had that quote in the back of my mind since I was little. It’s a lot of fun to go into an arena and people are chanting names, talking about your family, talking about your history.”
Bohannon’s history includes being overlooked by most colleges, despite being Mr. Basketball in Iowa for 2016. South Dakota State and Lehigh were his only two offers, until the Hawkeyes came in late.
“I don’t think I got the national recognition I deserved in high school. I think I deserved a lot more offers when I came out of high school, and I took that to heart,” Bohannon said.
Not hearing from Wisconsin stung. It evidently still does. Even though Bohannon said he always preferred attending Iowa, where his father, Gordy, once quarterbacked the football team.
“It’s more just they went a different way with my recruiting process than I thought they would. Not necessarily that I would go there,” Bohannon said of the Badgers.
“I don’t think it would have changed my path to Iowa. I was just waiting on Iowa to offer me, honestly.”