When Ryan’s season started in November, the Raiders had lost all-state 6-foot-9-inch center Adam Choplick. Ryan was coming off a season cut short in the Class 4A Region I semifinals by Fort Worth Arlington Heights.
With a lack of height and a team full of guards led by Trey Mohair, not many expected Ryan to make it far in the playoffs or even be one of the top two teams in District 4-4A.
And sure enough, Ryan was third in the district at the end of the regular season. But when the playoffs ended, Ryan was one of four 4A teams that had reached the state tournament — the furthest the Raiders have advanced since their 2000 state title run.
The Raiders’ improbable run finally ended against Houston Yates in the state semifinals. Ryan head coach Bryce Overstreet credits his team’s mentality as the driving force behind the successful season.
“We had a group of kids that were very competitive and had a strong desire to win. I think anytime kids have that mind-set, you’re going to end up in a situation like we did at the end of the season,” Overstreet said.
On top of a microwave in the coaches’ office sits Ryan’s Region I trophy, with the net ceremoniously draped over it. Ryan defeated Fort Worth Trimble Tech and Arlington Heights to reach the state tournament.
Looking back at the season, Overstreet pointed to two instances when the Raiders (23-12) could have stumbled. In the second half of its district schedule, Ryan blew late fourth-quarter leads to Little Elm and The Colony, the two teams that finished ahead of the Raiders in the standings.
Another point that could have crippled the Raiders’ season was their meeting with crosstown rival Denton on Jan. 31. Denton needed the victory to keep its playoff chances alive. Ryan needed the win for positioning in the standings.
The Raiders came back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat Denton 62-60. But for Mohair, the way Ryan came back was just as significant as the victory itself.
Overstreet was ejected from the game and Ryan was forced to play the entire fourth quarter without its passionate head coach. Mohair said that from that moment on, the team came together for the rest of the season.
The starting point guard said the only thing that held the Raiders back during the season was a lack of unity. Ryan conquered that problem and rolled through the playoffs.
“We knew we could play with the best of teams if we all played together, because we’ve been playing with each other for so long,” Mohair said. “If we got our chemistry together, we knew we’d be fine.”
Mohair, a four-year starter, finished as one of the most successful players in school history. The Raiders won district championships in his first three years. Mohair said the run to Austin will be one of his favorite basketball memories.
Next season, Mohair will be playing football at Texas-San Antonio, with a June 3 departure date set for the defensive back. Mohair finished the season averaging 19.7 points per game and shot a staggering 56.6 percent from the floor. He was named to the Class 4A all-state team by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches.
Mohair is one of two players Overstreet has coached for four years. The other player is Austin Jackson, whom Overstreet coached for two years as an assistant and two years as a head coach. Jackson is now a center fielder for the Detroit Tigers.
Overstreet said Mohair ranks among the best to ever play basketball at Ryan.
“There are guys that were maybe better basketball players or better athletes, but when you take everything into consideration — the loyalty, the commitment, the academics, the character — he’s arguably the best to come through Ryan,” Overstreet said.
Mohair is one of four seniors graduating this spring, joining Sam Johnson, Trey Cook and Steven Epperly.
Johnson said Ryan’s run was special because of how long he’s known most of the team. He said he remembers seeing teammates Montarius Banks and Gilbert Jackson running around the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center since they were “this” high, extending his hand to his waist.
One day, the group will be immortalized on the wall at Billy Ryan Gym, joining the 2000 team and the rest of the squads that built Ryan’s winning tradition.
For Overstreet, the departure of one class and the arrival of fresh faces are things that come with his job.
“End of the season — no matter who you are — it’s tough because you realize whether you win it all or not, the relationships, to a degree, come to an end,” Overstreet said.
BEN BABY can be reached 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.