His basketball story, like so many before and after him, was born in that most famous of Philadelphia arenas.

For Bo Ryan, whose Wisconsin team faces undefeated Kentucky in Saturday's national semifinals, the road from basketball fan to basketball lifer passed through the Palestra. It was on his first visit that he discovered to his delight that kids could stand at the baseline and retrieve basketballs during a team's warm-ups and pass them back to the players.

"I went down there and I'm hustling and I'm hustling and this one guy took a liking to me because he thought, 'Hey, I can get a lot of shots with this kid feeding me,' " Ryan recalled. "It turned out I was passing to George Raveling when he played for Villanova."

The Palestra, plus the basketball hotbed that was Ryan's hometown of Chester "spurred me to being in love with this game," he said, a love that also carried to the playgrounds of the city and elsewhere in Delaware County.

That shaped a career which has seen Ryan, at 67, rise to the top of his profession as the head coach of a Wisconsin team that is in the NCAA Final Four for the second straight season.

Even though he has coached in Wisconsin for the last 39 years, Ryan loves to regale anyone from the Philadelphia area with stories of his old area - from his favorite cheesesteak place (Mike's, no longer in business) to sneaking in to the 1960 NFL championship game at Franklin Field, to how his father and mentor, Butch, got expelled from St. James High School.

"He asked the priest for one more chance," Ryan said. "The priest said, 'All right, do you know the Apostles' Creed?' And my Dad said, 'Why don't you hum a few bars and then I can join in?' They threw him out."

But Butch Ryan, who coached youth sports and was a constant companion of his son at numerous Final Fours before his death in 2013, helped his son channel his competitive nature and learn the qualities that made him a successful coach.

"He taught me quite a bit - how to handle disappointment, how to handle success, and everything in between," Ryan said. "Be gracious and be a good sport in winning, and in losing do the same. He would never allow me to play with kids younger than me.

"That's part of the competitive spirit. You're always a guy who's got to try to prove himself. You're the underdog. So I grew up with that, learning from him that, that's not such a bad thing. Just learn how to overcome obstacles, how to handle adversity."

Ryan's favorite pickup stops were the Cage, a playground court with steel nets; Chester Park, the Y, and the Boys Club. He admitted he was "kind of a hothead" in elementary school but he would learn how "you had to be able to stand your ground and learn how to get along."

Some future coaches he would play against were Herb Magee, Jimmy Lynam, and Fran Dunphy.

It wasn't until he got to Chester High School that Ryan, the point guard under head coach Ron Rainey, understood what team basketball was about.

"I figured out at Chester I can be an integral part of this team by being a point guard and making sure everybody else gets taken care of," he said. "Rainey would have me guard the best scorer on the other team. I'd score some, but nowhere near the way I used to score in Biddy League.

"But the idea was, here's how you help the team. I learned that in coaching trying to get players to understand, 'All right, yeah, we need points, but we need other things besides points.' "

During Ryan's senior year, the Clippers were undefeated before losing to Steelton-Highspire in the 1965 PIAA semifinals at the Palestra.

"You could see the leadership, he was my coach on the floor," said Rainey, who also coached Ryan in college at Wilkes. "He could analyze situations. He knew the game way above his years in high school. He played all the time, year-round. There was no offseason for him. He loved the game."

After starring at Wilkes, Ryan was drafted into the U.S. Army after graduation and spent two years in Fort Gordon, Ga., as a member of the military police. His job prevented him from playing on the base's basketball team, a rule that pointed him toward coaching after his discharge, even though his degree was in business.

He began in 1972 at Brookhaven Junior High School where "I was the head basketball and assistant baseball coach, for a grand total of about 300 bucks," he said. "Then it was like $3,800 for the teaching. Guys today say they want to get into coaching for the money, but that definitely wasn't on the table back in our day."

Ryan spent a year there, then moved to Racine, Wis., to be an assistant coach at Dominican College, an NAIA school. He returned to Delaware County to become head coach for two seasons at Sun Valley High School in Aston.

He moved away for good in 1976 after Fred Cofield, for whom he worked at Dominican, became head coach at Wisconsin and hired Ryan. After eight years there, Ryan got his first head coaching job in college in 1984 at Wisconsin-Platteville, a Division III school, where he won four national championships and went 353-72 in 15 seasons.

"I've always thought Division III schools were more fundamentally sound, top to bottom," he said. "You can see some really good coaching going on. You see that in Division I, too, but overall, in Division III, it's more about the fundamentals and being more solid. I learned a lot at Platteville."

Meanwhile, Rainey, who joined Ryan at Platteville for five years in the early 1990s, was telling anyone who would listen that Ryan was just the coach the Wisconsin Badgers needed.

"Wisconsin had gone through about four or five coaches but he couldn't get an interview," he said. "I guess there was a stigma about Division III coaches. But he took the Milwaukee job [in 1999] for two years and they found out then."

Finally, at 53, Ryan was hired by Wisconsin on March 29, 2001. His first season, the Badgers won a share of the Big Ten championship for the first time since 1947. This season, Wisconsin made the NCAA tournament for the 14th time in his 14 seasons, and its second Final Four.

"We look for solid guys, guys who are students, guys who are going to be serious about their experience and buy into what we're doing," Ryan said. "We've had a lot of people say no. But it was like when we were teenagers, we'd go to the dance and you always ask the '10' to dance first. I danced with a lot of '5's. So people said no. But you go, 'OK, let's keep working this and see who wants to be here.' "

An example was 7-foot senior forward Frank Kaminsky, a front-runner for national player of the year. Kaminsky was a high school all-state player in Lisle, Ill., but averaged just 2.9 points and 9.0 minutes in his first two seasons with the Badgers. This season, he is averaging 18.7 points and 8.0 rebounds.

"I'm a completely different person and player than I was four years ago, and I think a lot of that has to do with Coach," he said. "He knows how to get the best out of us, from the time we step on campus to the time we're seniors. He really makes a commitment to us."

The excitement this weekend for Ryan is not limited to Wisconsin's appearance in the Final Four. He is one of 12 finalists to be considered for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and those who are selected for induction will be announced on Monday.

"I think it's long overdue," Rainey said. "That would be unbelievable, just terrific."

Even though his salary has jumped from the "300 bucks" at Brookhaven Junior High to a reported $2.25 million plus bonuses this season, Ryan remains the same, according to Rainey, who will be at the Final Four in Indianapolis cheering for his pupil and the Badgers on Saturday against undefeated Kentucky.

"He still has his guys from Wilkes that he played with, and they get together," he said. "He hasn't changed a bit. Same friends, same people, everything, just fabulous."

For Ryan, it's a basketball life that continues to flourish.

The Bo Ryan Story

Born: Dec. 20, 1947, in Chester.

Current: Head coach University of Wisconsin men's basketball team (356 wins, 124 losses, .742 winning percentage)

High School: Chester

College playing career: Point guard at Wilkes University (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) 1965–1969

Head coaching stops

1972-73: Brookhaven (Delaware County) Junior High School

1974–76: Sun Valley High School (Aston)

1976–84: Wisconsin (assistant coach)

1984–99: Wisconsin-Platteville

1999–01: Milwaukee

2001–present: Wisconsin (Ryan was a Wisconsin assistant from 1976 to 1984.)

Coaching championships

NCAA Division III tournaments (1991, 1995, 1998-99)

Big Ten tournaments (2004, 2008, 2015)

Big Ten regular-season (2002-03, 2008, 2015)

Final Fours (2014-2015)

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