The post-man delivers
Stephan's presence inside a big boost to Mavs' offense
Ryan Stephan knows the Colorado Mesa men’s basketball team runs its motion offense through its post players.
That means 6-foot-10 sophomore will have an opportunity to play a big role for the Mavericks this season.
“I’ve always been one of the taller guys, but in high school I shot a lot more jump shots. I knew coming into college that would help me develop my post game more,” Stephan said. “That was something I was eager to work on, but it’s definitely coming along nicely.
“I’m usually the biggest guy on the floor, and I know that. I have to establish being the biggest guy on the floor on both ends of the floor.”
Stephan has been up for the task.
He has started every game for Colorado Mesa (5-3, 3-1 RMAC) this season and leads the Mavericks in scoring and blocked shots. Stephan is averaging 22.5 minutes, 15.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, and he has blocked nine shots. He is shooting 62.3 percent from the floor.
“I definitely get a lot of touches on offense and I’m shooting a high percentage right now,” Stephan said. “I have such great passers. When I get doubled, I can kick the ball out. I just need to make strong post moves and finish at the rim.”
Stephan has scored in double figures in every game but one this season. He’s scored 20 or more twice.
“Teams are going to try to take him out a bit, I’m sure,” Mavericks coach Andy Shantz said. “He’s been really active in the post. When he does that, he puts a lot of pressure on a defense. Even if he’s not getting a lot of catches, it opens up other kids on the floor. It’s nice to have that post presence.”
Stephan’s size, and a shoulder injury to Chandler Burgon, allowed Stephan a rare opportunity to play as a freshman last season.
“I think we knew what kind of player Ryan could be,” Shantz said. “In our 16 years, we’ve only had two freshmen that haven’t redshirted, and the first one was 16 years ago.”
Stephan played 9.5 minutes per game in 28 games off the bench last year, averaging 4.5 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.
“I enjoyed it,” Stephan said. “I liked playing behind Colton (Burgon). I learned a lot from him. Even if I redshirted, I would’ve learned a lot from him. It was nice getting that game experience, especially on defense. I’ve always been an offensive-minded player. To get that pace and type of physicality on defense was nice.
“I had Colton to learn from on the court and Chandler to learn from off the court watching from afar. Chandler was a lot more in my ear than Colton was, because Colton had a lot to focus on for himself, but Chandler helped me a lot.”
Stephan already had the size to compete at the college level out of high school, but he needed to improve his defensive skills to get playing time at the next level.
“Ryan was college-ready because of his size and skill,” Shantz said. “The biggest thing for him was consistency on the defensive end. He’s really improved every day. He’s really trying to be conscientious and improve that aspect of his game. When he does that, it’s great for us, so we can keep him on the floor for longer stretches.”
The experience he received playing limited minutes last year paid off mostly on the defensive end, where Stephan has stayed out of foul trouble this season. He hasn’t fouled out and had four fouls in a game only once this season.
“I think he’s a very good player,” Fort Lewis coach Bob Hofman said. “He really came on as a freshman and has progressed tremendously from last year. If you have a good big man in this conference, that’s a big plus.”
“They’ve always done a good job using big men,” Hofman said of Mesa. “They do a really good job isolating the post, going back to the Doug Schakel days.”
Junior transfer Carlos Perez has played valuable minutes in the post, so Stephan is available in the final minutes. Perez is averaging 9.3 points in 19.1 minutes per game off the bench.
“Carlos can really score in the post,” Shantz said. “Carlos has good post moves. He’s big enough and has good post moves as well. It’s nice when Ryan comes off the floor we still have a post presence with Carlos as well.”
Stephan and Perez will face one of their biggest challenges of the season this weekend against Fort Lewis junior Alex Herrera, a 6-foot-9 post who was an All-Region selection last year and is the RMAC preseason defensive player of the year.
“I know he’s a good player,” Stephan said. “As long as I stay disciplined on defense, shot fake and clear space on my post moves, I’m not too worried about it at all. We’re going to have our guys on help side and double when we can.”
“Herrera’s more physical, but Ryan has much better touch than Alex does,” Shantz said. “It will be interesting Friday night to see where he’s at. Alex is as good as there is in the conference (in the post).”