NAPERVILLE – Oswego East coach Ryan Velasquez said he feels like Ryan Johnson is always growing.
Whenever Johnson, an Oswego East 6-foot-7 senior, comes back, he looks taller. One might say that is the case both literally and figuratively.
Johnson was around 5-foot-11 when he first arrived at Oswego East. A year later, he was the starting point guard for the school’s sophomore team.
After a big growth spurt, he was the fifth wheel on a Wolves’ team last year that went 33-2 and reached a sectional final. Now, though, it appears Johnson is one of the guys driving the bus.
That was the case Monday, as Johnson scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, powering Oswego East to a season-opening 61-31 win over Downers Grove South in the Hoops for Healing Tournament at Naperville North.
“I had a good summer, I feel a lot more aggressive, more confident in myself, getting more involved in the offense and defense, using my length to block shots,” Johnson said. “I like to get involved more.”
His inside-outside ability is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams.
Johnson did much of his scoring Monday around the rim, using his long and strong frame. He also had two of Oswego East’s six blocked shots. But he also showcased a smooth outside game, knocking down three of the Wolves’ seven 3-pointers. All three of the shots from distance came in the second half, when Johnson scored 17 of his 23 points.
No coincidence for that success.
“I lived in the gym, pretty much,” said Johnson, who shot 8-for-10 from the floor. “Getting more confident, mostly getting shots up to get my confidence up. Worked on ball handling and finishing around the rim.”
“Confidence is key to success for Ryan,” Velasquez said. “I thought he played confident throughout the summer, throughout the fall he was a leader. He looks a lot more athletic than he did last year. It’s a credit to his offseason workouts and conditioning. He’s versatile, he’s a guard, we can put him in a lot of different roles.”
Johnson is a key part of a new-look Oswego East team that graduated three starters – but is still very good. Bryce Shoto, a 5-foot-9 senior point guard who transferred from Plainfield Central, had a strong debut with his new team, scoring 12 points – nine in the first half – with three assists.
His best assist was telling Johnson, who had just three shot attempts in the first half, to shoot more in the second half.
“I’m just doing whatever it takes to win,” Shoto said. “I try to get my teammates involved and then look for me. I think I can do a little bit of both.”
A season-opening matchup with Downers Grove South, coming off a 5-20 season, looked like a mismatch on paper – but wasn’t at the start.
The Mustangs, who return four starters for second-year coach Zach Miller, jumped out to a 10-3 lead after a 3-pointer by Richard Gasmen. It was 14-14 after a quarter, but Oswego East seized control of things with a 13-0 second-quarter run to go ahead 30-18 at half, holding the Mustangs scoreless for nearly five minutes.
Downers Grove South shot just 25% (10-for-40) for the game, and made just two field goals in the second half. Gasmen scored nine points and Justin Sveiteris had four points and six rebounds for the Mustangs.
Oswego East’s Tyler Jasek scored seven points and four rebounds and Towson recruit Mekhi Lowery had five rebounds, five assists and two blocks while not scoring and taking just one shot.
“Oswego East is the real deal. They’re as good as advertised,” Miller said. “We did come out, we threw that first punch, but they’re a good team, they’re going to punch back. I don’t think we were able to rebound after that first punch. They were able to speed up up offensively and they started to knock down some shots.
“We hopefully learn from it and we’re able to piece it together for 32 minutes instead of two eight-minute segments. Basketball games are won or lost then.”