By: Zac Ellis
– The best coaching advice Matt Ryan
ever received was music to his ears:
Never stop shooting.
"I've gotten that advice so many times, not just once," Ryan said. "Sometimes, you start a game and you're 1-for-7, but if you're the best shooter on the team, you're hurting the team if you don't take an open shot. For good shooters, you hit one, and the next six could go in. You always have to have that 'just keep shooting,' next-play mentality."
Shooting is why Ryan could become an impact player for Vanderbilt basketball in 2018-19. The redshirt junior sat out last season after transferring from Notre Dame during the summer. But the 6-8 Ryan will be eligible this season and a threat to start as a sharpshooting forward for the Commodores.
"There's the possibility that four or five starters this season have never played a game in Memorial," Ryan said. "But I think we're going to be very deep this year. Practices are going to be a battle."
Ryan transferred to Vanderbilt in 2017 following two seasons in South Bend, where he played in 72 games and a pair of NCAA Tournaments. As a kid, Ryan said he routinely imitated the likes of J.J. Redick in his Courtlandt Manor, N.Y. driveway. He wasted no time emerging as a similar 3-point threat off the bench at Notre Dame.
As a freshman in 2015-16, Ryan knocked down a trey with 12:18 remaining in the second half of a first-round NCAA Tournament meeting with Michigan to help the Irish rally from 12 points down and claim a 70-63 win. During his sophomore season, Ryan came off the bench against Chicago State to hit his first five threes and finish 7-14 from downtown for a career-high 23 points.
Ryan decided to transfer after his sophomore season at Notre Dame. When he announced his intention to look elsewhere, Vanderbilt's Bryce Drew
became the first head coach to reach out to Ryan. The two quickly formed a bond, which led to Ryan arriving in Nashville as a new Commodore last summer.
Ryan is most comfortable with the ball in his hands. But as he sat out the 2017-18 season, he learned to see the game from a new perspective.
"I felt more like a coach than a player last year," Ryan said. "I was always getting ready to watch and use my words to help. I couldn't be as much of a leader because I wasn't on the floor, but the guys know I'm very vocal. I've embraced being a leader of this team this summer."
Ryan will have his chance to lead with a new-look Vanderbilt squad this season. Gone are seniors Matthew Fisher-Davis
, Riley LaChance
and Jeff Roberson
, each 1,000-point scorers. But Ryan should team with center Yanni Wetzell
, a 6-10 transfer from St. Mary's, as immediate difference-makers on both ends. Plus, Vanderbilt adds three freshmen as part of its highest-ranked signing class in program history: guard Darius Garland
and forward Simi Shittu
– both five-star signees – and 6-6 guard Aaron Nesmith
, a four-star signee. Those new faces join the likes of sophomore Saben Lee
(10.6 points per game last season) and senior Joe Toye
as impact players.
"We had two players sitting out who would have been starters for us," Drew said Ryan and Wetzell. "I'm glad our names are on the back of our jerseys, because next year our fans are going to have a whole different group of names they're going to be looking at and learning who they are."
A year on the sideline served Ryan well. Under the tutelage of Vanderbilt assistant coach Jake Diebler
, Ryan honed his technique and gained comfort in Drew's system. Now Ryan hopes his experience pays off as the Commodores eye a big season in 2018-19.
"I'm a fourth-year guy," Ryan said. "I've played in the Sweet 16 against Wisconsin. I've played in the Elite Eight against North Carolina. I've been there and I've played in situations where we're trying to play this year. Hopefully, guys see me and know what I've done, and I can take that experience and translate to this season."
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.