As it has the past four seasons, Evansville is riding Colt Ryan hard as he heads down the home stretch.
The senior guard probably has only a handful of games before one of the Missouri Valley’s most productive careers is over. He ranks 10th on the league’s all-time scoring chart with 2,113 points, and needs just 52 more to jump all the way to seventh.
He recently passed Larry Bird on the Valley’s all-time free-throw chart and needs six free throws to move into the top five in league history. He’s played more minutes than all but nine players in conference history.
Yet, one has to wonder what Ryan’s legacy will be when his playing days are over. Evansville has not won more than 16 games in any of Ryan’s four seasons as a starter. The Purple Aces’ best league finish was twice going 9-9.
Evansville’s lack of success probably has kept Ryan from getting some of the recognition he deserves outside of the Valley’s footprint. Inside of it, the respect is universal.
“When you play Evansville, you know you’re going to have to guard 11, and you know you’re not going to be able to guard him with one guy,” said Indiana State coach Greg Lansing, identifying Ryan by his uniform number. “He’s as good of a player as there is in this league.”
Ryan heads into the final week of the regular season second in the league in scoring behind Creighton’s Doug McDermott. Ryan’s 19.2 average probably would be a point or two higher if a hip injury hadn’t kept him from performing at full speed for much of the nonconference season.
He’s been healthy throughout Valley play, and his 22.6 average puts him slightly ahead of McDermott for scoring in conference games. Like McDermott, Ryan’s versatility makes him a handful for anyone who has to try to guard him.
“The thing that makes him so tough is his pace,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said. “He’s always moving, but he’s never rushing around out there. He knows how to use screens, and he’s really good at putting defenders in tough spots.
“He’ll keep moving until you fall asleep for a second, and then it’s too late.”
Ryan’s coach, Marty Simmons, finished sixth in the nation in scoring as an Evansville senior in the mid-1980s. He is considered one of the school’s best players, even though he played just his final two seasons with the Purple Aces.
Simmons was asked if Ryan has gotten the proper amount of respect for his accomplishments.
“I think he has, although the only thing that holds that back a little bit is our inability to be more successful as a basketball team,” Simmons said. “But I think most of the teams that have played against us understand what he means to our basketball team.”
Simmons recruited Ryan out of Batesville (Ind.) High School, where the player finished fourth in the state in scoring as a senior. He broke the school records set by Michael Menser, who went on to lead Indiana State to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances in 2000 and 2001.
As an Indiana State assistant coach, Lansing tried to recruit him to Terre Haute.
“But I think he had his heart set on going to Evansville,” Lansing said. “I wish I could have had a chance to coach him. I respect the heck out of him. He is just so tough.”
Simmons said Ryan’s legacy won’t be in the points he scores or in the wins and losses the Purple Aces have accumulated during his four seasons at Evansville.
“He’s just been a great ambassador for our school and our program,” Simmons said. “He’s been a major part of any success we’ve had, and I think the impact he’s had on this program, as a player and a person, is something people will remember for a long, long time.”
Is there one thing about Ryan that Simmons will remember a decade or two from now?
“I think it’s going to be all the extra work he’s put in outside the normal confines of the team,” Simmons said. “He’s always done more than what’s been asked of him. His willingness to raise that bar and push himself to get better each and every year, each and every day, is what I’ll remember most about Colt.”
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