By: Monty Mosher
MacKenzee Ryan had a daunting choice coming out of high school.
A guard with a scoring touch and a top student as well, there were dozens of places available to pursue university life on and off the basketball court.
She'd have been forgiven for looking beyond the Cape Breton Capers for all the usual reasons. It would be a chance to have a new experience away from her home in Glace Bay.
But there was an even larger reason to leave, perhaps. That would be her father, John.
John Ryan, a high-scoring guard, casts a mighty shadow over CBU basketball history. It would be hard to name a player who left a greater impression.
If that's not enough, he's the current athletic director.
MacKenzee Ryan knew all of this and had long conversations with her father about it before joining coach Fabian McKenzie and his Capers team. Not only did she embrace the Capers, she chose to wear her father's jersey number.
Hard choice in the beginning
"I kept my options open," she said. "I never told myself, 'MacKenzee, when you reach Grade 12 you are picking CBU.' My dad said the same thing. He told me just because he was here didn't mean anything.
"But CBU, for me, was always in the back of my mind. I've always loved the coach, the team and the atmosphere. In the end, it was an easy choice, but it wasn't an easy choice in the beginning."
Ryan shared league MVP honours in her final year in high school with the Glace Bay Panthers, scoring better than 21 points per game. She was also MVP of the league in her Grade 10 season.
She also played in the Basketball Nova Scotia system at the under-15 and under-17 level.
As an AUS rookie in 2017-18, she played in all 20 games, starting 14. She averaged 9.4 points per game, netting 10 or more in 11 games.
She had 13 points in her first AUS playoff game at Scotiabank Centre in March as the Capers were eliminated in their tournament opener 78-73 by UPEI.
The familiarity with the coaching staff, her teammates and those who went before them were of major significance to Ryan, now 19.
"Knowing players that have gone through the program and being able to ask them questions was huge. Alison Keough – I knew her going in – and just being able to pick her brain and asking her questions about the team was a huge advantage."
Capers will have new look
Keough and Hannah Brown, two of Ryan's teammates last season, are native Cape Bretoners who stayed home and reaped the rewards. Both have had tremendous careers with Brown, a powerful forward, slated to be the fifth-year leader in 2018-19.
Keough, Sandra Amoah and Valentina Primossi played their final varsity games this past season, leaving increased roles for newer players in the upcoming campaign.
"Familiarity is a pro and a con," said Ryan, who just received CBU's award as the best student in all of the first-year class. "It's a pro because I know them. But it's a con because my father goes here. Did I want to get away from that legacy that was built here?
"But I just chose to face it front on. My dad was a great player, but I'm going to come in here and I'm going to try to make a name for myself. If I do that's great. All I can do is try my best. It is hard to stick around when your dad is so well known, but I chose to stay and be close to home."
Like so many CBU players who stay home, they grew up as fans of the Capers. They sat with the fans who now cheer them on.
"I see people in the crowd today and I remember seeing them as a little girl. I used to run around in a cape … and I still see the same faces in the crowd. It's definitely full circle. It's pretty amazing where your fans stick with you thick and thin."
Proud papa always watching
John Ryan has no concerns about legacy. He's just fine with whatever his daughter does in school or basketball.
"I'm very proud of MacKenzee and the fine young lady she has become," he said. "She has become a very good student-athlete and has achieved a great deal in her first year at CBU.
"As a former player who wore the orange, I am so pleased to see her play for my alma mater. As a father, I love seeing her perform so well in the classroom and on the court."
As the athletic director: "I am pleased she chose CBU as she posses all the qualities we love to see in our student-athletes. She is selfless and wants the team to succeed above all else. In the classroom she does very well and has an exceptional work ethic to receive those results. It's not been easy for her coming behind me to play at the same university and the same sport but she has handled it exceptionally well.
"In year one she has been referred to as John Ryan's daughter many times, but in due course I would love to be referred to as MacKenzee Ryan's dad.
John Ryan, who played from 1991-95, scored 1,500 points in 96 career games and remains the all-time leading scorer for the CBU men. Cape Breton won two conference titles in that era.
Pressure always there
Does daughter have to measure up to father?
"The pressure is always there," MacKenzee Ryan said. "Not only did I pick the same jersey, I picked the same number. I'm embracing it. I know my father was a tremendous player. I've seen tape of him play and he coached me when I was growing up. I'm biased, but of all the people I've talked basketball with my dad has the best brain for basketball."
Dad and daughter chew over most basketball games. It means butting heads from time to time.
Some say they are similar players, at least in how they view the court. John Ryan could shoot. MacKenzee can, too.
MacKenzee played the majority of her minutes in her rookie year as a point guard and was a point guard in high school. She likes to have the ball in her hands.
The Capers had a solid season in 2017-18 with Ryan clocking 24 minutes per game. She was selected to the all-rookie team.
"I definitely got way more than I thought I would. I came in kind of unsure. I knew I had a small body and being able to adjust to the physicality of the AUS was something that I found troubling at first. But throughout my first year I kind of found my spot. I had great leaders in Valentina, Alison and Sandra. And Hannah, too. Teams would focus in on the post with Alison and Hannah and left a little opening for me to step in and shoot the ball."