CU men's basketball: Colorado Mines exhibition
Tipoff: Saturday, 4 p.m., CU Events Center.
Notes: The CU players will be available for autographs and selfies on the CU Events Center floor after the game...Tickets are available for as low as $5...Sophomore guard McKinley Wright (nine points, four assists) is the top returning scorer from the Buffs' 78-52 win against Mines in an exhibition game last year...The Orediggers finished 22-9 last year and reached the NCAA Division II tournament for the fifth consecutive season...The first official day of competition for the 2018-19 college basketball season is Tuesday, but the Buffs don't open until a Nov. 13 home date against Drake.
On days when his body doesn't quite feel right, or when he's a little apprehensive about pushing his pulse too far, Frank Ryder lags behind.
Given what the former Fairview basketball star has endured the past year and a half, falling a few steps behind the pack actually counts as a remarkable feat. Still, rules are rules. And whenever Ryder and his new teammates on the Colorado men's basketball team set off for a series of punitive wind sprints during any given practice, everyone must finish in the allotted time or do it again. No exceptions.
Only, in Ryder's case, this fall head coach Tad Boyle is perfectly fine with making a few exceptions. Ryder has come home to Boulder after going through two open heart surgeries in the past 17 months, and the fact he can even suit up for his hometown team is an accomplishment that far supersedes being a few ticks slow during a random workout.
"It's one of those things if he's lagging in sprints I'm going cut him a little slack," Boyle said. "With Frank, obviously I watched him play at Fairview. I've known his family, really good family and a great kid. When he decided that he wanted to come to CU and wanted to be part of the team, as long as our doctors were OK with it he's a great addition because he really helps us. He's another big body out there who has played Division I basketball."
On Feb. 16, 2017, almost 51 weeks to the day after playing his final game at Fairview, Ryder, then a freshman at the University of San Diego, felt sluggish when the Toreros visited Brigham Young. Despite playing just 12 minutes that night, Ryder felt even worse the next morning when the team flew back to San Diego. Back in Boulder, while watching that game at home, Ryder's father Doug thought, "He doesn't look good."
Ryder tried going to class but was waylaid by a fever. His mom was alarmed enough to travel to San Diego. She got there in time to help get him to the hospital when one entire side of his body went numb in the middle of class.
"It hit fast," Ryder said. "You're playing BYU, and I didn't feel well playing BYU, and the next thing you know you're in the hospital wondering what happened. You just can't take anything for granted, really."
What happened was endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers and valves. Suddenly Ryder's lifelong journey to Division I basketball was rendered meaningless compared to the journey ahead.
Four months after falling ill, and following eight weeks of a heavy diet of strong antibiotics that failed to quell the problem, Ryder endured an open heart procedure to repair his damaged heart valve in June 2017. Battered yet buoyed by the belief the issue finally was corrected, Ryder slowly but diligently embarked on the road to recovery, figuring 2017-18 would be lost as a redshirt year but that his career would resume relatively seamlessly afterward.
Even the long road wasn't going to be that easy. Last winter, as Ryder was attempting to get cleared for the next level of his rehabilitation, doctors discovered the valve repair hadn't worked. The wound still was seeping ever so slightly into Ryder's chest cavity. He would have to do the surgery all over again. Except this time, the entire valve would be replaced.
"Basically the same surgery," Ryder lamented, "but longer."
Before his second surgery in February, Ryder says San Diego disqualified him medically for competition. Not long after waking from the second open heart procedure, Ryder's doctor leaned over and asked what he was going to do now. Ryder's response was clear. He planned to walk-on at CU.
"Myself and the surgeon just looked at each other," Doug Ryder said. "But three days later Frank is actually walking about. He was out of the hospital within five days and started his recovery. Now here we are. As a parent you worry, but being young and aggressive, he puts it behind him and he wants to play basketball to forget about what happened. And I think he has a chip on his shoulder, angry at what happened to him. He put his energy into this, and he's in a good place now."
Ryder isn't the only Colorado basketball player who has recently required more diligent monitoring during workouts.
Throughout 2018, redshirt freshman forward Evan Battey has worked his way back from a well-publicized stroke he suffered in his southern California hometown on Dec. 26, 2017. Part of that process involved Battey donning a workout vest beneath his practice jersey affixed with a wireless heart monitor.
Ryder required similar monitoring when he carefully began working out with the Buffs this past summer. Eventually it was decided if strength coach Steve Englehart, with an assist from team trainer Rawley Klingsmith, was going to monitor two players, why not all of them? At every Buffs practice Englehart can be seen at the end of the court, watching an iPad displaying the heart fluctuations of each CU player.
"It allows us to tell some players they can go harder, or kind back off from certain players," Englehart said. "We got this because of Evan last year, and then with Frank coming in, it's good to have the monitors so if you see something going on during the practice, you can pull them real quick to see if they're OK. We want all our players to be healthy and for nothing to happen to them."
The monitors aren't merely a resource to make certain a player's health doesn't go awry. By recording and cataloguing the spikes and capacity of each player's cardiovascular system, Boyle now has tangible evidence telling him which players are working hard ... and which ones aren't.
"This helps us be able to communicate and show numbers to each athlete and say, 'Hey, this is how hard you went today, internally and externally,'" Englehart said. "This is how hard you ran. This is how far you ran. And this is how hard your heart worked for the whole practice. I think it helps the players visualize their numbers and say I thought I was going hard, but I'm not."
There is a chance the Buffs' other walk-ons — holdover AJ Martinka, along with newcomers Aidan McQuade and Benan Ersek — will get off the bench late in the action when CU hosts Colorado Mines in an exhibition contest Saturday afternoon. Ryder will not.
Despite not playing last year, the NCAA deemed Ryder's move to CU from San Diego was no different than any other transfer. So while Ryder has passed every physical test required of a 21-year old who has endured two open heart surgeries in less than a year and a half, he must sit out the 2018-19 season per NCAA transfer rules. He will have two years of eligibility remaining but fits the criteria to eventually apply for a sixth year of eligibility.
While Boyle has taken the same "no guarantees" approach to any potential future playing time for Ryder as he would with any walk-on, Ryder nonetheless doesn't have the same pedigree as any walk-on. At 6-foot-10, Ryder gives the Buffs another thick-shouldered forward to battle with another sidelined teammate, injured 7-foot center Dallas Walton, at practice in future seasons. And few walk-ons can say they averaged 4.1 points as a freshman at the Division I level, as Ryder did two seasons ago at San Diego in 25 games off the bench before falling ill.
If playing time happens, Ryder will gladly take it. Yet at this point, simply being able to don the black-and-gold for his hometown team is rewarding enough.
"I went to San Diego and you're 18, 19-years old and you think you're invincible and you can do anything," Ryder said. "I remember my coach back there telling everyone back there you can't take your time for granted. You can't, because the game can be taken away from you so quick. That's kind of what I realize now. You're not going to get some days back."