Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of profiles of local athletes.
After averaging almost 20 points per game last season, the fact that Whittier Regional High junior Ryan Grant's scoring average is down 5 points through the first four games of this year may be seen as a regression in development.
But with an increased focus on defense and perhaps a better team around him this year, Grant does not need to concentrate as much on scoring.
"(Playing well) offensively I don't worry about," Grant said. "Defensively, I want to hold my man to as little points as possible to help us win basketball games."
So far, the attention to defense has been a huge factor in the Wildcats' 4-0 start, with Grant often being asked to defend opposing teams' best players. Whittier has held opponents to 169 points total in four games this season, an average of 42.2 points per game.
"(Whittier head coach Tom Sipsey) stresses to us that defense wins championships," Grant said. "The more we play defense, the more wins we'll get."
Grant has also emerged as a leader in his third year in the program.
"Each year he has taken a big step in making himself a more complete player," Sipsey said. "He has really embraced more of a leadership role this year, which has been very helpful for me. The team around him has really improved as well, so it doesn't look like he's doing everything."
With the continuing progression of Grant's game, Sipsey sees no reason why Grant can't make the step to the next level.
"He has worked hard and has really dedicated himself to basketball," the coach said. "I see no reason why he won't be able to play basketball beyond Whittier."
For now, Grant is focused on this season and getting past the quarterfinals in the Division 3 North tournament, where the Wildcats have been eliminated the last two seasons.