Blugold sports red as coach with Wisconsin Badgers

Photo credit: David Stluka/UW Athletic Communications

When the Wisconsin Badgers tip off Friday night in Philadelphia during the NCAA Sweet Sixteen, there will be a little blue and gold mixed in with the red.

Erik Helland, a 1987 University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduate, is in his third season as the men's basketball strength and conditioning coach for the UW-Madison Badgers. The Blugold earned his UW-Eau Claire degree in physical education with an emphasis in kinesiology and coaching. 

Helland and his approach to keeping the Badgers players in top condition are featured in a New York Times story, "A Strength Coach for Wisconsin Uses an App That Works More Than Thumb Muscles."

Helland joined the Badgers in 2013 after spending 25 years as a member of the NBA's Chicago Bulls strength and conditioning staff, serving as the professional basketball organization's head strength coach for more than a decade. 

Helland credits UW-Eau Claire with creating an environment that recognizes individuals and their unique qualities.

"Tom Prior (professor emeritus, kinesiology and athletics) was a coach and professor who saw a passion for training athletes in my class work and afforded me an opportunity to work with his swimming and diving teams," Helland says of his time at UW-Eau Claire. "Looking back, experiences like that are life-changing. The opportunities to gain not just academic but hands-on practical experience at UW-Eau Claire were all around me." 

Helland said he shares the core values and principles on which former Badgers head coach Bo Ryan built the program, making UW-Madison a great fit for the UW-Eau Claire alum. During Helland's tenure with the Bulls, Chicago won six NBA championships and an NBA-record 72 regular-season games during the 1995-96 season. 

The Badgers made it to the NCAA Final Four in Helland's first two years with the program, and now under coach Greg Gard, the Badgers are focused on moving one step closer to a third Final Four. Helland is enjoying the ride.

Prior to joining the Bulls organization, Helland spent a year coaching at Elk Mound High School.