by ACAC Sports Writer Curtis J. Phillips
If you have a good imagination and some basic knowledge of the history of basketball, a Ryan McLaren three-point basket will take you back to the 1940s' or early 1950s'.
A time, when the sport of basketball was dominated by two-hand set shots with both feet planted firmly on the hardwood.
"A few people say I shoot like that," admits the 6-foot-6 McLaren, of the Concordia University of Edmonton Thunder. "From the three (point line and beyond), I like to shoot more of a set shot. I find it more accurate. Once I was able to grow a bit (going from 5-foot-9 to 6-foot-3 in Grade 10) I was now able to get it off without it being blocked."
Graduating from Bev Facey High School, where he was named an Edmonton Journal All-Star in Grade 12, McLaren started playing hoops at the age of five in the Sherwood Park community league.
Aside from hoops, he also dabbled in baseball and golf.
In fact, he was a member of the Concordia Thunder golf team in 2014-2015 where he shot a 182 in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) North Regional for a 38th spot in a field of 57. At the ACAC provincials he was 37th in a 53-player field with a two-day total of 169.
"I tried golf for one year (post-secondary) but basketball was my main passion," said McLaren, 22. "Growing up, at least 90 per cent of my time went to basketball and on my off days, I spent time at the golf course."
It was also in his first year of post-secondary education, that McLaren would pay his rookie dues with the Thunder men's basketball team, averaging a respectable 5.9 points per game (ppg).
Of his selection of Concordia he said: "I had a few offers from other schools but I chose Concordia because, first, it was close to home, offered a good school program for me and I wanted to play for coach Reagan (Wood). He had come out and scouted me a couple times and I knew he was a good coach."
In 2016-2017 and 2017-2018, McLaren would drop in 18.8 ppg and 18.6 ppg while being named ACAC North Second Team All-Conference and ACAC North First Team All-Conference respectively.
"My first couple of years I spent more time on the perimeter and was strictly a shooter. The last two years I gained a little bit of strength and that helped with me getting in the paint more and using my body to score with contact."
McLaren had entered the ACAC tipping the scales at 175 pounds and bulked up to his present-day 195 pounds.
Such was his success in developing his game, that McLaren was honoured as the 2018-2019 ACAC Men's Basketball Player of the Year while stopping, popping and dropping an impressive 23.3 ppg.
Nicknamed "Hoist" by his teammates and "The White Devil" by his father, McLaren finishes his ACAC career with a total of 1,692 career points for No. 2 all-time spot. According to the ACAC Archives, NAIT Ooks' Jason Damery is No.1 at 1,909 points.
|Ryan McLaren with Coach Wood, 5-year career with Concordia|
The Thunder had their best finish since McLaren's tenure with a 2018-2019 ACAC silver medal, falling to the two-time defending champion SAIT Trojans 95-84.
McLaren had 17 points and 8 boards in the final, while in a 100-70 semi-final win against University of Alberta Augustana Vikings he had 34 points. In the opening game of the tournament hosted by the Lakeland College Rustlers in Lloydminster, he dropped 35 points in a 113-80 decision against Ambrose University Lions.
The previous year, 2017-2018, the Thunder slammed their way to bronze following a 19-5 regular season.
"Ryan is a rare talent from a quiet leader in the men's basketball program at Concordia. He is calm, composed, and leads by example every time he steps onto the basketball court," said Thunder Athletic Director Joel Mrak in a ACAC media release.
"While he has had a stellar 5-year career at CUE, he has worked extra hard to make his teammates better and ensure that they are making valuable contributions to the team in order to achieve their goals. It has been enjoyable watching such a selfless player compete at such a high level over the years and am proud of his accomplishments while wearing the blue and gold."
McLaren said his future plans are to play basketball professionally in Europe or here in Canada, perhaps with the Edmonton Stingers of the fledgling Canadian Elite Basketball League.
"For me it is not so much about the money but playing basketball as long as I can."
Asked what improvements are needed in his game to go to the next level, McLaren answered: "I'd like to add a couple of inches to my vertical. Maybe be a little bit more hungry and being engaged the entire game...diving to the floor and all of the little plays I can improve on."