Wisconsin rewards Gard after successful interim stint

MADISON, Wis. (AP) Greg Gard waited more than two decades for his first head-coaching job, so he sounded a little sheepish when he showed up a few minutes late for his introductory news conference at Wisconsin.

After riding a slow elevator, Gard finally arrived at the Wisconsin practice floor to meet the media in his first full day as the full-time head coach.

''Well, it took me 26 years to get here, so I figured, just drag it out a little longer,'' Gard said Tuesday as he sat down at a table next to athletic director Barry Alvarez.

After a successful three-month audition, Gard had the ''interim'' tag removed by the school on Monday. He has a five-year contract that starts at $1.75 million a year, with raises of $50,000 each year.

The Badgers were 13-6 during Gard's interim stint after taking over for the retired Bo Ryan on Dec. 15.

Gard earned the promotion after steadying the program following a shaky start in nonconference play and Ryan's abrupt retirement. Every win during an 11-2 stretch to finish the regular season increased the likelihood that Gard would keep the job.

So Tuesday was more about marking a milestone for Gard, a Wisconsin native charged with leading the high-profile basketball program at his state's flagship institution.

Gard walked into the practice gym with the pep band playing. His wife, children and other family and friends looked on.

This has been an emotional year for Gard, who lost his father just before the season began in late October following a seven-month battle with brain cancer.

''Where this all begins is always at home,'' said Gard before catching his breath during the most emotional moment of the afternoon.

''For my mom, Connie, for you to be here. And Dad's here as well, he's just watching from above,'' Gard said. ''But thank you for everything, for all you've done.''

Gard, 45, was an assistant under Ryan for 23 years, starting at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville before moving to Wisconsin-Milwaukee and, finally, the main campus in Madison.

Gard said he gave Ryan a call on his drive into work on Tuesday to thank his old boss and got his voicemail. After his retirement, Ryan said he hoped his top assistant Gard would get the permanent job.

After the handshakes and hugs, it would soon be time for the Badgers to get back to work on the same practice floor. Wisconsin must get ready for their first Big Ten tournament game on Thursday against either Nebraska or Rutgers.

''This place is special. This place is unique,'' Gard said. ''We're so excited about the future, which starts in a couple hours with practice, on to the Big Ten tournament and then the NCAA Tournament.''

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Online:

AP College Basketball site: http://collegebasketball.ap.org/

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