Collectively they scored more than 2,000 points, won close to 140 games and made three NCAA Tournament appearances as the UW-Green Bay men’s basketball program broke into the national spotlight in the 1990s.
Over the holiday break, Ryan Borowicz, Jeff Nordgaard and Wayne Walker will team up again, this time to teach their moves and motivation to the next generation of “ballers.” Fifth- through eighth-graders with hoop dreams can spend two hours with the Phoenix alumni at Player’s Choice in the Fox Cities from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Dec. 28.
In addition, Borowicz will be leading a clinic Dec. 27 at UW-Fox Valley for kids ages 9-14.
For Borowicz, one of UW-Green Bay’s most prolific three-point shooters in program history, and among the national leaders in three-point shooting percentage his senior year, coaching youth — both basketball and life skills — is both his passion and profession.
“I’m motivated by helping kids improve, especially at shooting, so they can get the most out of their potential and the game of basketball,” Borowicz says. “Basketball was great to me. It was a tool. I earned a college scholarship and was able to travel to eight different countries, all because I could shoot a basketball. I was fortunate to play for great coaches and mentors, play with great teammates, and draw from the life lessons that sports teach, such as teamwork, self motivation, humility. I want to see kids become the best players they can become, so they can hopefully have those experiences and learn those life lessons, too.”
As a relatively small shooting guard (6-0) in high school and college, Borowicz realized early on that technique, repetition and preparation were the keys to success — much more so than fast breaks and slam dunks. He makes sure that the boys and girls he teaches have the same grounding.
“This message is so important because 99.9 percent of us won’t be able to do the things that LeBron James can do, physically,” he explains. “The guys we watch on TV in the NBA are the most elite athletes on the planet. They can get away with poor fundamentals sometimes because they are seven feet tall or have a 44-inch vertical leap. The average player needs to understand who they are and get the most out of the ability they have been given. There will always be a place in the game for skilled players, especially those who can shoot. I like seeing LeBron dunk, but I rewind Ray Allen’s 3-pointer 10 times and watch it in slow motion because that is something I can teach a kid how to do. I can’t teach them to do what LeBron does.”
Borowicz works with the kids like a mechanic tunes a fine engine. First he observes, and then he works with them on eliminating inefficiencies.
“I’m not trying to teach them to shoot like me. I study great shooters, and not all of them shoot the same way. However, there are certain things that all of them do in their shots, universal fundamentals that I’ve noticed that they all share. I try to add those things to a kid’s shot if they do not have them, and eliminate the things that are hindering their shot.”
Both in his full-time job as sports director with Appleton Alliance Church, as well as his basketball instruction side business, Ryan Borowicz Basketball (www.rbbasketball.com), Borowicz puts his college degree, particularly a minor in secondary education, to work.
“At my core, I’m a teacher,” he says. “It is something I do naturally as well as something I was trained to do. I’m very detailed in my assessment of kids and then work with them through their shot. One of the things I learned about teaching at UW-Green Bay was that the best way for you to learn something is for you to teach someone else. So often times, at the end of a session, I will have the kid teach their parent what they learned about their shot. That way I’m evaluating if they really learned what I was teaching them, and the parents also get a better understanding of what we worked on and that the time they spent was worthwhile.”
Borowicz, who grew up just minutes from Lambeau Field and graduated from Ashwaubenon High School, has been surrounded and grounded with legendary influences. But he credits his father Marty, who coached him in his youth and rarely missed a college game (even on the road), and Jeff Trickey, a quarterback coach for teaching him how to break down and focus on the fundamentals, and also how to teach kids to be leaders on their teams and in their schools.
“At my camps, I always try to get kids to think about the bigger picture of life and how they can lead and influence people in a positive manner,” he says. “I learned much of that, both in content and style of delivery, from Coach Trickey.”
A devout Christian, Borowicz says that Jesus Christ is his biggest influence.
“I’ve heard other people say that if you can take what you love to do and figure out how to make it a career, you’ll have a pretty fulfilling job. And I can honestly say that with my job at Appleton Alliance Church, and with my basketball instruction side business, that I love what I’m doing and look forward to work each day. I’ve had other jobs in the past where that wasn’t the case, but I’ve been blessed to get to this point in my life where ‘work’ is pretty fun AND fulfilling.”
Success for Borowicz has less to do with those in his past — including a near-WIAA state football championship as quarterback for Ashwaubenon and a couple of NCAA Tournament appearances. Instead, it’s seeing his clinicians grow in confidence because of elbow positioning, stance, and practice, practice, practice.
“I talk about the three parts to shooting: technique, repetition, and confidence. I can teach them technique. They are responsible for the repetition on their own. But confidence is the “X” factor, and I can’t teach that. But by developing their shot mechanics and constantly encouraging them through their changes to their shot, I can see when the confidence starts to develop in their head. Once they have confidence in themselves, the sky is the limit as to how good of a shooter they can become. And this ability to grow in confidence is also transferrable to life in general, and a skill they can learn that will help them later in life. Aaron Rodgers has great skill in throwing the football, but his confidence is what is setting him apart as the best quarterback in the NFL. I love to see kids grow in confidence, and I’ll often times get emails from parents thanking me for imparting confidence to their child and that is very rewarding to me… and a sign of success.”
Borowicz, who makes his home in Appleton, says coaching with his former teammates is a special opportunity to influence kids who love the game like they do.
“It’s great coaching with guys you have played with because you have that instant chemistry from all of the experiences you had together in the past, and we’re typically on the same page with what we are trying to get across,” he says. “And hopefully we’ll be funneling some future local stars to play for the Phoenix in the future!”
Wayne Walker is the customer services manager of the University Union at UW-Green Bay. Jeff Nordgaard ’96, who spent time in the NBA and a long professional career in Europe, is a team sales representative with Impact Sports. They and their families make their home in the Green Bay area.