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.
"We are more ready this year," Grant said. "We're not immature. We're a team that wants it. We're ready for that chance again."
Grant sat down with the Gazette to talk more about life on and off the court.
What are your goals for this season?
I want to be a better defender individually, be the best defensive team in the conference and make it to the state finals.
How did you get started in basketball?
I got started by my friend Noah Vonleh (former Haverhill High standout). We're great friends and I see where practice has taken him. I wanted to be the same way, so I practiced my behind off just like he did. My AAU coach Vin Pastore has helped me along the way, too.
What made you decide to go to Whittier, while Vonleh went to Haverhill High?
Academics was the main consideration. Haverhill is in a better basketball division, but Whittier was a better academic school at the time. Academics is more important to me than basketball.
Who is your inspiration?
My inspiration is my mother. Even though she stresses and gets angry sometimes, she tells me that school is more important. She's the one that kept me going during times which I didn't do well in school. She made me want to do so much better in school and become a true student-athlete.
Who else is in your family?
My little brother Scott plays football and basketball and I have a sister, Ryisha.
Let's do some favorites. Favorite band/artist?
"Make Me Proud" by Drake
Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo
Chicago Bulls. They remind me of us. They used to be average and mediocre and then last year they won 62 games and were one of the best teams in the league. We hope to be like them.
Favorite subject in school?
Anatomy. I want to be a neurosurgeon or a cardiologist, something in that nature.
"I Am Legend"
Anything on ESPN
I love to do community service at the Haverhill Boys & Girls Club.
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