Matt Le Cren’s girls baskeball notebook

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Shannon Ryan is always doing something on the basketball court.

If the senior point guard doesn’t have the ball for Naperville Central, she’s not far from it.

Always in the thick of the action, Ryan has been one of the most interesting players to watch this winter. She leads the Redhawks (12-17), who face Oswego East on Wednesday at the Plainfield South Regional, in scoring (13.6 average), rebounding (6.6), assists (4.9) and steals (2.0).

“I think Shannon’s play has been a key factor,” Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum said. “I think she’s distributed the ball real well and she’s shooting the ball real well.

“It’s really an unusual situation for us in the sense that I can’t tell you the last year we had only one starter returning. I think we’re just markedly improved over where we were in November and December. In fairness, her teammates have gotten better, too.”

A three-year starter, Ryan has had to carry an inexperienced and undersized team. Early on, that meant putting up a ton of shots, but recently she has been passing as much as shooting.

“It was the mental aspect of learning how to trust your teammates,” Ryan said. “You don’t have to go out there and score [lots of] points every game as long as you look for your teammates so they can get those critical baskets.”

Ryan did that against West Aurora when she dished to junior Haley Minick for a buzzer-beater that gave Central a 43-41 win. But more often than not, Ryan will take the critical shot, as she did in making the game-winning baskets in two upset victories over Naperville North.

“I don’t look at it as a burden,” Ryan said. “I look at it as a chance to work on my mental aspect of the game instead of just physically and it’s helped a lot. I’ve had a lot of compliments, especially from the Wheaton North coach, saying ‘You’re a fantastic player, you’ve really put a lot of work into it.’”

“She’s tough to guard,” Naperville North coach Jason Dycus said after Thursday’s 52-50 loss to the Redhawks. “That’s for sure.”

That was the last home game of Ryan’s career and epitomized the fascinating roller-coaster ride the Redhawks have been on.

Ryan went scoreless and made several turnovers in the first half as Central fell behind by 14 points. But she scored 10 points, including the game-winning three-point play with eight seconds left, and dished four assists after intermission.

A streaky shooter, Ryan can miss 10 straight shots and make as many, sometimes in the same game. Nussbaum doesn’t mind because he knows Ryan gives his team the best chance of winning.

Ryan pointed out that overcoming asthma has given her the energy to do more.

“What helped a lot was I learned how to breathe, so I can really move around and get up and down the court,” Ryan said. “I used to always be constantly thinking about my breathing and I couldn’t think about anything else. It’s a scary thing, so once I got past that it was easy for me.”

Now the only thing Ryan thinks about is keeping her high school career alive.

“My dad always tells me that basketball is only a small part of your life, so try to give it all you can,” said Ryan, who will play at Benedictine next year. “So I come into every game thinking that, because I do love the game of basketball. I come out and play like it’s my last game and that’s the kind of mentality that I hope the other girls catch on to.”

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