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Canisius' Declan Ryan's development leads him to become Allen Wilson Player of the Year

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Declan Ryan

Canisius high school basketball player Declan Ryan, the Allen Wilson Buffalo News Player of the Year.

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Years ago, during Quintin Redfern’s “Last1Best1” training sessions, Declan Ryan didn’t have his peers’ respect.

He was girthy, unathletic, and struggled running baseline to baseline. Ab workouts were difficult, leading him to do them with 7-year-olds even though he was 13, and his work ethic was so poor, he would be kicked out of the gym multiple times.

“Declan was the joke of this group,” Redfern said of the age group he trains. “I don’t want to say picked on, but he was the one that got laughed at and picked last. He was the biggest one in the gym, and they picked him last. He was that kid.”

The operative word is “was.” After completing his second varsity season, the Canisius senior center emerged as one of the best players in Western New York, and has been selected as the Allen Wilson Buffalo News Player of the Year. He joins Darren Fenn in 1997, Adam Weir in 2013 and Stafford Trueheart in 2016 as Crusaders who have won Western New York’s most prestigious boys basketball honor.

The All-WNY teams and player of the year are selected by The Buffalo News in consultation with area coaches and basketball observers. For the first time in basketball, the teams are divided into large and small schools, with an overall player of the year chosen.

Ryan’s senior season was capped with the Catholic High Schools Athletic Association Class A state championship, a 15-game winning streak to end the season, and the New York State Sports Writers Association (NYSSWA) Class A Player of the Year. His play led him to decide on a post-graduate year at Worcester Academy (Mass.) next against the elite competition of the NEPSAC in hopes of impressing additional college coaches.

Now, he’s surely respected by his peers and the basketball community. Going from struggling mightily to who he is now isn’t what Ryan expected, despite averaging team and career highs of 20.6 points and 9.3 rebounds, along with 3.1 assists this past season.

“Not really,” said Ryan, who now is 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds. “I had a lot of confidence in myself. I always had the mentality that I wanted to be the best, but I didn’t expect this as much.”

To him, it’s new because it’s all happening so fast. For the Ryan family, it’s business as usual. His sisters Siobhan (Richmond), Kathleen (Brown), and Micaela (Iona) went on to play Division I basketball.

Declan saw his sisters receive all the attention and accolades, and that eventually pushed him to want to be great like them. Getting there was the difficult part.

His past included him being forced to work out; multiple conversations among him, his parents, and Redfern; and on some days, not touching a ball and doing strictly cardio.

“I’ve been waiting for this conversation,” Redfern said, as he was finally able to speak on Ryan’s progression.

Redfern is a former player at Livingstone College and has become a premier trainer in Western New York, with his clientele including the Ryans, reigning Sister Maria Pares Player of the Year and St. Mary’s guard, Shay Ciezki, Williamsville East’s Max Schneider, Williamsville South’s Gretchen Dolan, Hamburg’s Clara Strack, Amherst’s Nick Moore and many more.

“Declan is one of my most special stories that I’ve ever had,” Redfern said. “Declan started off as not a good player. He was out of shape, had no work ethic, and was kind of just there. This is from my heart.”

The two have had their moments. That has included Redfern yelling at Ryan to do a drill again, only for his pupil to resist, leading to a back-and-forth between student and teacher.

Through the tough times, Redfern said he always had Ryan’s best interest at heart, and his student knew it. Things clicked for Ryan after multiple conversations on playing Division I and what it would take to get there.

“Freshman year was a struggle because I was severely out of shape and overweight and I could barely run,” Ryan said. “So, that was bad overall. After freshman year, I was like, ‘I got to take this seriously,’ so I got in the gym three times a day. Sophomore year, I wasn’t fully there but after that year, I dropped the weight.”

Ryan is still big, but has a svelte frame in comparison to his body composition of the recent past. Along with a new dedication to the game, he put in the same effort into losing weight.

Entering his junior year, he partnered with a nutritionist and ate the same meals daily. His mornings consisted of egg whites and oatmeal. For a snack, he’d consume Greek yogurt and apples with almond butter.

Once it was time for lunch, he’d eat chicken or turkey sandwiches on wheat bread with a berry, and then the same snack. For dinner, it was either steak or three chicken breasts, broccoli and rice. For an entire summer, that was his diet with two or three workouts per day. He dropped 25 pounds.

“I just need to put effort in every day,” Ryan would tell himself.

During his junior year and first full varsity season, Ryan impressed, being named to the All-WNY fourth team after averaging 15.7 points and 7.9 rebounds. A stress fracture in his right leg ended his season.

Despite the setback, it was clear he benefitted from his hard work, and all the hours in the gym when it was just him and Redfern. His work ethic went from nonexistent to one of the best his trainer has seen. Gone are the days of Ryan’s mom texting Redfern. Instead it’s her son texting his trainer to figure out when the gym will be available.

“I haven’t had a kid go from those extremes, from being the worst,” Redfern said. “He is the prime example of what my organization stands for, ‘Last one, best one.’ He is the prime example of a kid going from the bottom to being in the Player of the Year conversation. You can’t write that. It’s unfathomable of how much of a drastic change was made in the last couple of years with Declan Ryan.”

Entering his senior year, Ryan and his family already had an idea of what would come after graduation. Due to Ryan being moved ahead from pre-school to kindergarten because of his height after the family moved from Maryland to Buffalo, he lost a year of development.

In their eyes, he’s regaining that year by doing a post-grad year at Worcester Academy. Ryan joins the Oskees after sending game tape to head coach Jamie Sullivan during the fall. He also sent game film to Brewster Academy and Bridgeton.

“I normally don’t take post-grads, but I’ll take you,” Ryan said Sullivan told him.

Worcester Academy stood out early because of Sullivan’s eagerness to coach Ryan. After seeing his film, Sullivan became entranced of what he could become and called the Canisius senior immediately after watching his tape.

“I love the way that he passes the ball,” Sullivan said. “It just stood out to me the way he can catch the ball in traffic and the way that he passes the basketball. Obviously, I liked his size and motor.”

Ryan and Sullivan developed a relationship over months, which included phone calls multiple times per week. Ryan visited the school twice and will join a program that just won the 2022 NEPSAC Class AA championship. Given that he’ll only be there for one season, Ryan is aware he’ll need to make the most of it if he wants to be like his sisters.

“My body mostly,” Ryan said. “I need to get more athletic, that’s the main thing. Around here, I’m bigger than everyone so I play in the post. Over the summer, I play on the perimeter, so I need to develop that more.”

With just a few years of dedication to the sport, Ryan went from being picked last in training sessions to lapping those who snickered at him. He will be in a position to push himself against others who also were the top players at their respective high schools.

“I know he’s going to be a good player there,” Canisius coach Kyle Husband said. “I know he’s going to get better while there. To have the opportunity, I can’t wait to follow and watch. I know there’s only new heights he can go.”

Ryan will arrive at Worcester Academy with two impressive titles: State championship and Player of the Year.

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Sports Reporter

Born and raised in Boston, MA. My experience includes The Boston Globe, The Arizona Republic, The Athletic, The Tennessean, Bleacher Report and NBC Sports Northwest. Open to suggestions and connections: Cmurray@buffnews.com

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