Big kid on campus
Mesa freshman Stephan still learning how to use his height to his advantage
Four years ago, Ryan Stephan was an average 5-foot-10 high school freshman at Green Mountain High School.
Stephan is now a not-so-average 6-foot-10 college freshman at Colorado Mesa University.
“I was short going into high school, I was about 5-10, an average-sized kid,” said Stephan, who comes off the bench as a center on the CMU men’s basketball team. “Then through high school I grew to 6-2, 6-5, 6-8 and now I’m 6-10.”
His steady growth is one reason he can still hit mid-range jumpers and even step back to the 3-point line, even though his coaches keep reminding him he needs to play on the low block — or at least start out there.
“I think I struggle with still not realizing how big I am,” he said. “I need to go down there and use my size and strength to my advantage.”
When he signed with Mesa last November, he was listed as 6-8. On the Mavs’ roster this season he’s listed at 6-9, 250 pounds. He’s trimmed down some 20 pounds since the school year began — and he’s grown another inch.
“Ry, you’re 6-10, people aren’t going to block your shot,” is one piece of advice he gets regularly from Chandler Burgon, who is coaching the young post players, Stephan and redshirt freshman Trevor VanTassel, another Green Mountain product, as he recovers from shoulder surgery.
When he hit campus this fall, Stephan expected to redshirt, just like most freshmen in the Mavs’ basketball program do. Only one player in Jim Heaps’ 17 years as CMU’s head coach has started his first year out of high school, point guard Brandon Pollard.
Then Burgon’s right shoulder gave out and he had surgery just before practice began.
Heaps wanted to redshirt Stephan, but didn’t have that luxury. Still, he was hoping he’d be the second big man off the bench, with VanTassel at least having a year in the system to rely on, so he could somewhat ease into college basketball.
Just before the Mavs’ season opener, though, VanTassel tweaked a knee and couldn’t play the first weekend. That left one big man behind Colton Burgon — the 18-year-old kid who was still finding his way.
Stephan’s head was spinning that first game, but the second night was better, and he played well in the Mavs’ home opening weekend.
“I felt a lot better at home. It was nice to play in front of our own fans and it gave me another week to think about stuff after playing a couple of games,” Stephan said.
He struggled Friday night at Chadron State in the RMAC opener, missing his only shot, committing one foul and turning the ball over twice in four minutes.
Saturday, though, he was a different player against Black Hills State.
“Saturday morning we went over some things I struggled with in the Chadron game,” he said of a talk he had with the coaches. “I had a lot of time to think during that day sitting in the hotel room. I looked at my notepad at stuff I wasn’t doing and I decided to really focus in that Black Hills game and it worked for me.”
He went 7 of 10 from the field and scored 14 points in 16 minutes, added a couple of rebounds and one steal.
Stephan is averaging 5.8 points a game for the Mavs (5-1, 2-0 RMAC), who return home this weekend to play Western New Mexico (3-3, 2-0) on Friday and New Mexico Highlands (3-2, 1-1) on Saturday. Both games tip off at 7:30 p.m. at Brownson Arena.
“Saturday night there were two times he ran the floor for layups and everybody was like, ‘Wait, Ry’s running the floor?’ ‘’ Chandler Burgon said, noting that by dropping some weight, Stephan gets up and down the floor better and had a boost in confidence.
“He and Trev hated preseason. They kept telling me and Colton, ‘You guys aren’t normal big guys,’ but I think they understand the importance of being in shape. That’s a huge change from high school.”
So’s the physical nature of the game. Stephan’s high school offense was “one or two passes and kind of get Ryan the ball,” he said.
It’s different in the RMAC.
“Guys will bump you when you’re running, for no reason at all,” Stephan said. “You’ve got to be ready to take it and you’ve got to be just as physical right back and show you belong.”