Ryan’s Devon Vargas ready for expanded role

The Archbishop Ryan High School senior is ready to take on a leadership role — and prove predictions wrong.

When Ryan coach Joe Zeglinski needs a boost for his team, he puts junior guard Devon Vargas in the game. TIMES FILE PHOTO

Devon Vargas isn’t worried about predictions.

Vargas is a senior on the Archbishop Ryan High School basketball team, and if you follow local basketball rankings, his squad isn’t supposed to do much this year.

There is good reason for the skepticism. The Raiders have advanced to the Catholic League semifinals in each of the past two seasons and last year made it to the semifinals of the 5A state tournament, but the team did see some great players graduate in June.

Izaiah Brockington is now playing at St. Bonaventure. Matiss Kulackovskis, the Latvia native who lived with Vargas’ family during his days at Ryan, is at Bowling Green. And guys like Fred Taylor and Chris Palantino, who were strong role players, also graduated.

There are a lot of minutes up for grabs, but Vargas doesn’t see that as a negative. Instead, he sees it as an opportunity.

“We weren’t surprised when people were picking us to not be that good, we didn’t even get picked to win when we had Izaiah,” Vargas said. “It doesn’t matter what people think is going to happen, it matters what we do. And we’re working to make sure we do pretty good. It might not be the same way we did it, we’re trying some new things, but we’re going to be better, I think, than people say we are.”

One of the reasons is Vargas.

Last year, when the Raiders had talent at every position, Vargas came off the bench and supplied energy and excitement. He would go all out for a few minutes, drive the other team crazy with his defense, and then work hard on the offensive end, pounding the glass and cleaning up misses by his teammates.

This year, he’s a starting shooting guard, which means he’ll spend a lot more time on the court than he did a season ago.

Just don’t expect him to try to conserve energy. That’s why the substitutes are on the bench.

“I think what makes us dangerous this year is because we have nine or 10 guys who can play,” said Vargas, who has the Raiders at 3–1 on the year. “That’s going to really help our defense. We’re not as big as we were last year, so we’re going to try and run teams and get them tired. When you have a lot of guys who can play, you can do more.

“I’m excited because this year I’m starting, so I have to play better. Last year, I didn’t stand around and watch, but I knew those guys were usually going to do something to help us win. This year, you have no idea who is going to help us win. It’s going to be a different guy every night. We don’t have two guys who are going to get 20 points every night, but we do have a lot of guys who can do it and we can do it together without having one or two guys do everything.”

Still, Vargas is ready to do his part.

Coming off the bench and providing a spark is a great role to have, but this year there will be more pressure on him.

He doesn’t see that as a bad thing.

“I worked really hard on playing better,” Vargas said. “I think I’m ready. It’s not going to be the same as last year, but I still have to work just as hard. Defense and rebounding is about toughness and effort. I’ve always been tough since I played football growing up. I’m still going to do those things, but I’m ready to do the other things. I think we’re all ready to do more. That’s what it’s going to take.”

For his career, Vargas has watched his team accomplish a lot, and he’s shared those great achievements with his family.

But one of his biggest fans has missed most of his high school career.

Vargas’ dad developed liver cancer when his son was in eighth grade and he passed away during his freshman year.

He receives a lot of support from his mom and his two sisters, and he knows exactly what his dad’s reaction would have been had he watched his son play at the Palestra.

“My dad wasn’t a basketball player, but he was very supportive,” Vargas said. “I know he would have been really happy with us winning like we did last year. I would have loved to tell him. He came to games when he wasn’t working.”

While dad wasn’t there, Vargas made mom proud.

“My mom is great, she’s a single parent putting me through Catholic school,” said Vargas, who lives in St. Matthew’s parish. “I try to help her anyway I can because she’s so supportive of me. I know she was happy when we were winning.”

He intends on making her proud once again, and in the process, he believes the Raiders will once again be a force in the Catholic League.

“It doesn’t matter who we have out there, (coach Joe Zeglinski) has us ready,” Vargas said. “He’s always coming up with something to help us win. We’re going to surprise people. Last year and the year before were the same way. People don’t think we’re going to be good, but we always play better than people expect.”