Prior to Ryan Gravley’s first collegiate start, Emory & Henry’s basketball team was 2-19. But since inserting Gravley into the starting lineup, the Wasps are 2-2.
The former Carroll County star burst onto the scene in a big way Feb. 17, leading E&H with 21 points and three assists in a monumental 78-74 upset of Guilford College, the second-place team in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. Not only did the win snap a 20-game losing streak for the Wasps, it was Emory & Henry’s first victory over Guilford in 10 years.
Gravley was instrumental in the upset as he put up a stat line similar to many that made him the Region IV Player of the Year last year at Carroll County. In 32 minutes of action, the freshman point guard drilled 4 of 5 3-pointers and made 9-of-10 free throws to lead his team with 21 points and three assists.
“Ryan is further ahead of probably 90 percent of other freshman coming into college. He just has a great feel for the game and understanding of team principles,” said first-year E&H head coach David Willson. “He’s just a high, high character kid. He’s exactly the type of kid we want in our program, just a great representative for Emory & Henry and our basketball program.”
Riding that wave of momentum, the Wasps won their second straight game Feb. 19 in a 77-75 thriller over Roanoke College. This time it was another freshman leading the way as Brandon Self scored a game-high 21 points for Emory. But Gravley was again instrumental in the victory, playing a team-high 36 minutes as he scored 10 points to go along with five assists and five rebounds.
“That’s the thing I love about Ryan. He could come out in the next game and score four, but will still help us because he’s very intelligent and a good leader,” Willson said. “He’s not the most vocal kid as far as rah rah, but he’s very good at communicating with teammates and getting them to where they need to be. He’s added a lot of value to us in that area.”
Gravley, who is averaging 5.5 points per game during his freshman campaign, began the season as a shooting guard. But toward the end of December, Willson decided to move Gravley to point guard to take advantage of his decision making, ball handling and shooting abilities. His playing time had increased until he was ready to assume a starting role. But then an injury delayed those plans.
“He is just a really smart kid on the court. He got to a point where he was doing a lot of good things for us and we thought there was a good chance he would start,” Willson said. “Then he had a collision in practice the day before our next game and he had to miss two-to-three weeks with a shoulder injury. He’s worked hard to get back in the flow of things and I think he is playing really good basketball right now.”
Ironically, Gravley said his move to point guard happened by accident. He said he was assigned to play point guard on the practice team one day, and he’s stayed there ever since. He played point guard in high school most of his career, so he’s perfectly comfortable with the position. But now his teammates are quickly learning what he can do.
“Everybody has confidence with me on the team and they tell me to shoot when I am open,” Gravley said. “I’m feeling a lot more comfortable now.”
The E&H freshman continues to improve his game as well. Willson said he’s particularly been pleased with the strides Gravley has made on the defensive end of the court.
“The area I’ve been really pleased in the last couple of games is his defense,” Willson said. “I was concerned about that because we have a lot of really quick guards in the ODAC, but Ryan has done a really nice job of staying in front of the ball and guarding the quicker guards in our league.”
The Emory freshman said the whole team has renewed its focus on that side of the ball, which he thinks is a big part of the late-season turnaround.
“Our focus kind of shifted toward the defensive side in practice and we’ve been getting better and playing more together,” Gravley said. “And now that we have momentum, we have some confidence.”
Carroll County head coach Brad Hawks got a first-hand look at Gravley’s coming out party as he was in attendance for the Guilford-Emory game. Austin Horton, a teammate of Gravley’s on last year’s Region IV championship team at Carroll, is a freshman for the Quakers’ basketball team. “I was very glad I got to see two former players teams play against each other. It just made me proud the way both those guys handled themselves and carry themselves on and off the floor,” Hawks said. “I told Coach Wilson after the game I was really impressed with the player Ryan has become and how well he moves his feet now. He was very complimentary of our program and the things Ryan already knew going in, which made me very proud of how Ryan handled himself.”
Allen Worrell can be reached by calling (276) 728-7311 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN.