For many college student-athletes, the past two years have been anything but normal. The impact COVID-19 has had on their student life and playing careers is extensive, and there are no do-overs.
Former St. Joseph’s University basketball standout Ryan Daly had big plans following an amazing individual Junior year that saw him average 20.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 4.3 steals. His numbers earned him first-team All-Big Five, as well as the Big 5’s leading scorer award. The Hawks season concluded before authorities canceled the NCAA tournament in March of 2020 due to the pandemic.
“I don’t think I ever went into a season less prepared just because I couldn’t get into the gym,” Daly said of last summer. “We were not allowed in the gym at Saint Joe’s, and I truly believe the summer sessions are the most important part. Fast forward to this past season with different pauses because of COVID. Because I am not a freak athlete, a 14-day pause costs me another week to get back into game shape. You are always playing catchup with the virus, essentially because none of us had any control.”
COVID-19 was not all Daly couldn’t control his senior year; he suffered a broken thumb and torn ligaments in his left hand that sidelined him for ten games. When all was said and done, he played a total of just ten games. Still, he managed to lead his squad in scoring and rebounding.
When this season ended, Daly had a choice to make; return to college because everyone had been given an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic, or turn pro. After talking things over with his family, Ryan decided he was ready to chase the dream of being a professional basketball player.
“I was never the most recruited kid in high school,” Daly reminded. “I went to ESPN the other day, and I think I had one star back then. Out of all the kids in Pennsylvania in my class, I was bottom five out of 25. Then I never thought I would go Division I, and it happened. So I say to myself, keep at it no matter how mentally exhausting because you never know when your life can change.”
Keith Stevens has already changed his life. Stevens, an agent with Imperative Sports Consultants, signed Daly and wasted no time preparing the 23-year-old to find his “niche” at the next level.
“Keith Stevens told me straight to my face; you need to move to D.C. in April. We will put you with Luka Garza (Iowa), and we will get you both down 20 pounds and in the best shape of your life. It was non-negotiable. I said, ‘That’s good for me.’ I wanted to be around people who knew what they were doing, so I moved to D.C. I got there the second week in April, and I didn’t move out until July 1.”
Today Daly is 18 pounds lighter. He is indeed in the best shape of his life, and it earned him a spot on the Chicago Bulls summer league team. He has gone from being the best on his team for the last decade to selling his versatility and good character.
“Pop (Jim Lynam) and my Dad gave me the best advice,” Daly shared. “They told me that everyone in that gym can do something that you can’t do athletically, but you know that going in. They don’t need a million guys to be the best athlete, the best scorer in the gym; they need guys who can fill roles.”
Daly is not a knock-down three-point shooter, but he is working on it every day. He believes he is a better shooter than the 29 percent made from behind the arc this past season. Still, he has to prove it. He looks at guys who made the jump from college to the pros and learns.
“I am not as athletic as Pat Connaughton, and I don’t shoot as well as him, but I think his value showed in the playoffs because he is tough as nails,” Daly said of the Milwaukee Bucks reserve. “He goes for offensive rebounds, and he is willing to go one more step when others wouldn’t.
“I also love watching Josh Hart. He can get you nine points, eight rebounds, and four assists, and you notice his impact. I look at versatile bigger guys that don’t necessarily go up and dunk on you, but they are strong and have good floor instincts, and that’s where I like to draw my thinking.”
Daly is now playing a waiting game. There is interest from two European squads. The possibility of an Exhibit 10 contract exists, where Daly would end up in the G-league; the latter situation has strong appeal to the guy-in-wait.
“I would be with a team that has my rights and will be paying attention to me,” Daly said. “If I go overseas, I may not get the same eyes on me that I will if I am stateside, in an NBA gym consistently. It is exhausting mentally because you think you can do something, but you are waiting on a call.”