Matt Ryan: sparked by USA national team in the Windows and now clutch for the Lakers
MIAMI (United States) - The name Matt Ryan may be unfamiliar to most basketball fans, but in light of recent events that have transpired, that could be changing.
On Wednesday November 2, Ryan, who's currently playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, did the unthinkable, hitting a game-tying fadeaway three-point jump shot from the corner as time expired to send the game to overtime against the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Lakers would ultimately end up winning that game 120-117.
Recently, the 25-year-old's spot on the Lakers' roster was reportedly uncertain, as he had picked up a couple DNPs (did not play) through the team's first handful of games, so his career-high 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field and 3-of-9 from three-point against the Pelicans came at a perfect time.
Now, flashback to February 2022 when Ryan played two games for USA in Window 2 of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Americas Qualifiers. In a 93-76 win against Puerto Rico on February 24, Ryan finished with 15 points and 4 rebounds, going 5-of-8 from three-point.
He then followed up that performance with 12 points in an 89-67 victory over Mexico on February 27, this time knocking down 4-of-10 shots from three-point range.
"He took it so seriously," remembered David Stockton in a recent article from The Athletic, who has represented USA in multiple qualifying windows. "Nothing mattered to him but the team."
Ryan's five made threes in the first game and four made threes in the second game were both game highs and in those two games, the 2.00m (6ft 7in) swing man took 18 shots, all of them threes, connecting to make nine of them.
His performance in these two World Cup Qualifiers turned out to be a springboard for an NBA career that he probably thought was unlikely.
Boston Celtics president Brad Stevens had sent a scout to watch USA's workouts and games and was impressed with Ryan's shooting ability, as he was "ripping the nets." After the game against Mexico, Ryan realized that he had missed calls and a voicemail from Stevens himself.
He finally returned Stevens' call where he was told "You're an NBA player," and that the Celtics were immediately signing him to a two-way contract.
"I talked to Brad [Stevens] for like five minutes and then hung up the phone and started crying," said Ryan. "My family, my family was crying, and then [USA] coach (Jim) Boylen came over to me and saw that I was crying, and he started crying."
Ryan's time with the Celtics took him to the NBA Finals where he only played five minutes in one regular season game, but he didn't appear in a postseason game. It was all part of his journey in his rookie season, and he was grateful to get that experience.
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Ryan, who was 24 at the time, was playing in his first G League season before he got that call from Stevens after he went undrafted in the 2020 NBA Draft. He attended three colleges: Notre Dame (2015-17), Vanderbilt (2018-19) and Chattanooga (2019-20).
The year before Stevens called him after playing for USA, Ryan was also delivering food as a DoorDash driver and working at a cemetery near his childhood home in Yonkers, New York. He had also kept working on his game, spending hours alone in the gym and even swam laps at a local pool to stay in shape.
"When I was home alone, and I was in a gym alone, just shooting for hours and hours a day, like, I was convincing myself that I was the best shooter in the world," said Ryan. "Now I come here [to the Lakers], and I'm playing with the best player in the world. Every day I've got to come in and prove I'm the best shooter in the gym."
Sean Ford, USA Basketball's Men's National Team Director, is in charge of overseeing all facets of the program, which includes putting together a roster for qualifying windows.
"Matt [Ryan] is an example, and there are others, of us being able to showcase a player, just kind of give someone an opportunity," said Ford. "For us, it's gotta help their career, like, 'Well I'm going to USA Basketball to help them, but it's gonna help me too.'"
Langston Galloway has played in six games for USA, the most of any player across all of the qualifying windows and was again named to USA's 12-man roster for the upcoming Window 5. The 30-year-old, like Ryan, also went undrafted, so he knows what it's like to be in the position that Ryan was in, receiving calls and texts after USA's win.
Before the two players parted ways after Window 2 of the qualifiers, Galloway, 30, was sitting close enough to Ryan to give him some advice and words of encouragement.
"He was like, 'Whoa, like, that happened fast,' and I said to him, ‘Hey, look, don't worry about anything else. You just go take care of your business,'" said Galloway. "Go have fun and enjoy the ride and look up at where he is now. It's crazy."
The World Cup windows can serve as an opportunity for some young players to show what they can do on the court, to prove that they can compete at a high level in various atmospheres around the world. Ryan was no exception to this, as the qualifying window and games that he played in were crucial and helped jumpstart his NBA career.
It's clear that Ryan has made the most of his chances through every stop in his career and he'll now look to continue to ride the wave of his recent success to see where it takes him next in his unprecedented basketball journey.