This article was written by Brian Plamandon and appeared in The Observer on December 4, 2015. It has been republished with the author’s permission.
Freshman forward Matt Ryan has only played in seven games for Notre Dame, but a quick look at his bio on Notre Dame’s official sports website and makes it seem like the Cortland Manor, New York native could one day etch his name in the Irish record books.
“A true pure and skilled shooter who could become one of the special scorers in the history of the program,” one description reads. “Will be a player that will flourish in Mike Brey’s system at Notre Dame given his shooting ability,” says another.
Maybe one day Ryan will be the big shooter Brey hopes can stretch defenses along the perimeter, but for now he is just soaking in his first six weeks of college basketball. Although freshmen do see the floor on Mike Brey-coached teams, not many have seen it so often early on like Ryan has, averaging 15.3 minutes per game right off the bat. In a short amount of time, Ryan said he has already learned a lot.
“[Number one thing is] just letting the game come to you,” Ryan said. “If you try to force anything and play faster than you can, then you’ll mess up. You’ve got to compete 100 percent on the defensive end, but on the offensive end you’ve got to stay patient and play within the offense, play within yourself and trust your teammates.”
Ryan will be the first to admit he hasn’t shown off everything he can do so far. The freshman said he is simply finding his role on the team and helping out in whatever way he is asked.
“I’m just being patient, not trying to force anything offensively,” Ryan said. “Defending, rebounding, just doing whatever I can. Right now spotting up shooting — that’s how I’m helping the team right now.
“… A few dribbles here and there, get other people involved whenever I can. They don’t limit me, but I’m just picking my spots now, staying patient.”
While noting Ryan has been humble about his impact, Brey has been more effusive about how big a difference the 6-foot-8 swingman has on the team already, more than just the 5.1 points he averages per game.
“I think he’s going to be a key guy for us,” Brey said. “… I thought during our win against a very good team in Iowa he was fabulous for us, and he rebounded for us. The one thing he does is he can put his body on people physically and defend. He can rebound, and we know he can make shots. I thought he made some big passes in the Iowa game so I want to keep teaching and building his confidence because he’s a key guy for us.”
The Iowa game last weekend was Ryan’s best of the season, as he logged 26 minutes and scored 11 points on 3-for-5 shooting. But Ryan has had some growing pains as well, totaling 18 minutes and zero points combined in Notre Dame’s two losses so far this season. Although Ryan wasn’t even on the team last year, he already sounds like a veteran when talking about the differences between this year’s squad and last year’s.
“We had so much success last year,” Ryan said. “We know we’re a whole new team. We lost a couple close games but I think it’s good for us in that we got a couple losses out of the way. A couple bumps in the road, but I think we’ll be good going forward.”
Ryan said the key for him through the ups and downs of the early going has been learning from the other successful shooters Notre Dame fields in junior guards Steve Vasturia and Demetrius Jackson and junior forward V.J. Beachem.
“It’s great being able to watch them,” Ryan said. “A bunch of veteran guys … [that teach] always moving in the offense, picking your spot on the offense — especially when Demetrius is coming off so many ball screens. Interchanging with the guys, not just standing still.”
While Ryan has come a long way since he fist stepped foot on campus, he will be the most inexperienced in the rotation as the Irish progress through the season.
“I love our group,” Brey said. “My frame of mind has been teach, teach, teach, and it will probably be the case up through February.”
Maybe one day Ryan will fully flourish in Brey’s system, setting records and guiding the team as a leader. For now, though, he said he’s just trying to soak up as much as possible.