Wave’s big man rides big bike

Jonathan Harvey, Online Sports Editor

Go watch this high school tape. It’s everything you could ever want in a big man’s mixtape. You can see the talent, a great nose for the ball, a raw, but developable hook shot. But most importantly, you see one human who is just so significantly larger than the rest bully his way to success.

Sophomore center Ryan Smith was last year’s prized recruit. A big man that head coach Ed Conroy could cultivate into an inside presence to fit in his offensive scheme. Smith has started 24 of the 26 games this season, but only sees the floor for an average of 11 minutes per game.

His upside might make him the most intriguing cog in this young Wave squad, but what might be more fascinating than his upside, is his comically large industrial sized bike.

“I went through at least three bikes and my friend’s bike,” Smith said. “And I’ve broken all of them.”

This bike is a vibrant orange-red — no — more like a warm scarlet — it’s a little unclear, (but I had fun googling “shades of red.”) It makes a statement nonetheless. Smith is known across campus for this bike, and he knows it.

The 6’11’’ 250 pound center has never owned a truck, and isn’t into giant wheels or flashy whips, but he laughed he’s just simply too big for the unfortunate standard size rides he’d sported before.

“I wasn’t doing anything crazy I just broke them,” Smith laughed. “I’m just not built for small regular bikes so I needed an industrial bike.”

On the court, Smith is a work in progress, but Conroy stresses how crucial Smith’s play is, no matter how many minutes he might get.  

“Ryan’s an important player for us,” Conroy said. “With his experience, he knows more of what we’re trying to get done. “Ryan has gotten us out to some really good starts in games so I think that combination with [freshman center Dylan Osetkowski and Smith] playing 40 minutes at the center spot is really important to us.”

To start the season, the starting job was Smith’s for the taking, but emerging Osetkowski has sprung onto the scene, and dominates whenever he hits the floor. Smith may start the game, but Conroy consistently pulls Smith just a few minutes in, in favor of the freshman. Now Conroy is debating switching up his starting lineup. 

“We need Ryan to play some major minutes for us every game,” Conroy said. “I think getting him off the bench to start the game is probably where he’s going to be most productive.”

Osetkowski has been Mr. Efficiency for the Wave thus far. He’s shooting 56 percent from the floor and 50 percent from deep. Osetkowski can shoot and take his man off the dribble, whereas Smith has trouble scoring anywhere away from the low block.

Smith credits Osetkowski’s vision from the high post and understands Osetkowski brings another element to this offense when he plays. 

“[Osetkowski] can control possessions and he has a really great view of the court,” Smith said. “He can see passes that a lot of other people can’t see from a postposition.”

Smith’s take on his playing time is simple. To stay on the floor, he needs to convince Conroy he’s earned more minutes. But at the end of the day, Smith is a team player. 

“I need to prove to him that I deserve it,” Smith said. “I trust him to do the right thing that we need to have done for the team. If that means me playing the first five minutes and then not playing again the rest of the half then that’s what it is.”

Like Smith’s former bikes, Conroy knows the center needs a tuneup, but stresses Smith makes strides every day at practice and has potential to be a key contributor with big minutes for this squad in the future.  

“He needs to keep improving,” Conroy said. “I think he’s improved his low post game quite a bit. People try to get him off ball screens because that’s a big part of the college game, but other than that I think he’s doing a nice job in developing and I think he’s going to be a very good player for us.”  

The Wave has struggled recently, and can reclaim some of its early season mojo when it goes to Oklahoma to face Tulsa tonight, but Smith said he does not know how the this team can turn recent late game struggles and win close games. 

Though he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what the Wave can do to get this favorable outcome, he thinks sophomore forward Josh Hearlihy could give Tulane an added punch off the bench, if given more of an opportunity. 

“I think [Hearlihy] can really bring a lot to the court, he just needs to be given the chance to do it,” Smith said. “He’s really slippery, he’s crafty and he’s a good finisher around the basket. He can make really athletic catches and he can really shoot the three, really well.”

Hearlihy, like Smith, was a prized recruit last year. Hearlihy recently played the most minutes of his career in the dramatic 50-49 thriller against Cincinnati, with 18 minutes. Hearlihy averages 7.8 minutes per game and is shooting 36.7 percent from the field and 30 percent from deep. 

Whether Hearlihy gets minutes or not, Smith’s play needs to improve in the next several games for him to reclaim his starting role. He can start tonight, when the Wave take on Tulsa, which is currently sits No. 2 in the AAC standings, in Tulsa, Okla.