Ryan brings basketball program to new heights

Ryan senior basketball players Christian Tomasco, Dominic Vazquez, Dylan Maloney and Aaron Lemon-Warren show off the school’s first District 12 championship. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The bad will eventually go away.

The good will last forever.

And the best part is, they’re mature and strong enough to realize that, even after a result they weren’t happy with.

The Archbishop Ryan High School boys basketball team lost to Cathedral Prep 69-49 in a game in which just about everything went wrong for the Raiders.

“It wasn’t what we wanted, but it doesn’t take away from everything we did,” said captain Dylan Maloney. “I wouldn’t have traded what we did for anything. This was the best thing I’ve ever been a part of. I’m sad it’s over, but being part of it meant everything to me.”

Maloney is a great spokesman for the team because everyone on the squad feels the same way.

In fact, the trip to Hershey, the site of the state championship, wrapped up a pretty impressive two-year stint that saw the Raiders make it to the Catholic League semifinals in both years, and go 4-1 in the state playoffs. Last year, Ryan was in the quarterfinals when the season was halted by coronavirus concerns.

This year, coach Joe Zeglinski’s team went as far as they could go, but it fell just short of its ultimate goal. And as disappointed as the players are that they didn’t bring home a title, they were possibly more upset that this group has played its last game in a Ryan uniform together.

“I really wanted to win this year, but not as much for me as for our seniors,” said junior guard Jalen Snead. “It hurt losing, but it hurt more because this was our seniors’ year. They really deserved to go out with a championship. They’ve put in a lot of hard work.”

Snead was talking about Aaron Lemon-Warren, Dom Vazquez, Christian Tomasco and Maloney. All were great players and better teammates.

“The seniors this year were great about everything, they were just good leaders,” said junior guard Luke Boyd. “They made us better players. They would set the tone in practice, and we would follow. Whenever we needed someone to pick us up, one of them would do it.”

All were leaders, but all did so in their own way.

Lemon-Warren was one of the most skilled players in the league, but he always put the team first, and according to Snead and Boyd, he was the voice of the team during practice.

On the court, that leader was Vazquez. A point guard who ran the offense to perfection, he wasn’t as vocal as Lemon-Warren, but he would let his voice be heard during games, quarterbacking the offense and helping out on defense.

Maloney was a perfect lead-by-example type of player. He was always there to lend an encouraging word and when the team needed a boost, he could provide energy off the bench.

Tomasco was the newest member of the team, having joined last summer. It didn’t take him long to fit in with the rest of the guys. He also led by example, doing hard work in the paint and banging with some of the more physical players in the Catholic League and again in the state tournament.

Now, they’ll leave that to the younger guys, but they certainly provided the blueprint on how to be successful, in basketball and beyond.

“I had a real bond with all of them, especially Aaron, Dom and Dylan because we’ve been playing together since I got here when I was a freshman,” Snead said. “This team was so close. When we couldn’t do anything (due to coronavirus), it was hard because we liked playing together.”

This year wasn’t an easy one for any team, but the Raiders were put behind the eight ball right from the start.

When the season began, the Raiders couldn’t play or practice because the school had too many COVID-19 cases. That meant when they did get back together, other teams had played as many as five games. Ryan then had to pack the schedule with games, meaning the Raiders were playing three or four games a week. They ended up playing 18 games in 40 days. Not only did that take its toll in terms of fatigue, it also gave the team less time to practice.

“It was hard because we couldn’t practice and we got a lot out of practice,” Vazquez said. “It wasn’t just us, it was a lot of teams, but we really liked to focus on offense one day and then defense. We had great practice and we had great coaches, so that would always help us. We could focus a lot better than trying to do everything in one day.”

The Raiders didn’t give excuses because they didn’t need to.

Losing in the state championship means you had to play pretty well to get there, and the Raiders did.

The best game of the season might have been their win over Chester in the state semifinals.

But when the guys were asked to talk about what they’re most proud of, it wasn’t any one win. It wasn’t any great shot, dunk, defensive effort or anything that would happen during the 32-minute game. It was everything.

“Going to Ryan and playing for Ryan and Coach Joe was the best thing I’ve ever done,” Lemon-Warren said. “He always had my back, and I’ll always have his. Everyone calls us a family. We were. We were better because we played that way.”

All of the players had a special bond, but the two starting guards were probably the closest on the team.

Lemon-Warren and Vazquez have been teammates for four years, and prior to that, they were rivals on the AAU circuit. Once they became teammates, they quickly became friends, then best friends, then brothers.

“We became close right away,” Lemon-Warren said. “It’s a family. I know everyone says that, but it is. I’m very close with Dom. I loved him as a player, a teammate and a friend. This team has been close my entire time here. Even the guys from last year, (Christian Isopi and Gediminas Mokseckas). We just all get along great.”

“I think we played well together because I was a point guard who liked to get other guys the ball and he was a guy who would work to make sure I had somewhere to go with (the ball),” Vazquez said. “I know someday I’ll be telling people I played with Aaron Lemon-Warren and I hope someday maybe he tells people that he played with me.”

That’s the bad part to accept, though.

For now, this year’s team is a memory. They have almost nothing but great memories, including a trip to Hershey and a trip to the Palestra last year, but they’ll really miss it.

They’ll miss playing together, but they won’t miss being around each other because they plan on being in each other’s lives long after their playing days are done.

“These guys will always be my friends,” Maloney said. “I know that. That’s not really going to change. No matter where we are, we’ll always be connected. We are too close for that to change.”

Maloney, Lemon-Warren and Vazquez led Ryan to new heights. The team never made a state championship before, and while they wanted to win one, if they’re able to do it next year, their fingerprints will be on that trophy.

“They taught us a lot, especially about being leaders, but also how to practice and how to play and just how to act like good basketball players,” Boyd said. “I think next year, I’m going to have to be a leader. David Wise is going to have to be a leader, and Jalen will have to be a leader. We all learned from the guys last year and this year.”

The players also spoke very highly of their coach.

Zeglinski took over the Ryan program six years ago, and it would be impossible to call his tenure anything but a huge success.

The Raiders have been to the Catholic League semifinals four times during that tenure and have made runs in the state tournament, three times making it to the quarterfinals. This year was the first time in school history it made it to the championship game.

“He loves basketball and he loves his players,” Vazquez said. “The practices are fun. They’re intense. He wants us to be better. That means you have to work for him, but he makes you want to work.”

“Playing for Ryan was one of the best things I’ve ever done and he’s a big reason for that,” Maloney said. “He has you ready to play. He pushes you, but he’s there for you, too. My relationship with him means a lot to me. He’s a great coach and friend.”

The coach loves his players. The players loves their coach. And everyone in the Ryan community is proud of the team.

All the Raiders wanted to hang a state championship banner this year, but after it’s over, they all realized this year, and their entire careers, were a huge success.

“We just had fun together, even after we lost,” Boyd said. “We were hurting, but it helped we were together. We were there for each other and we had fun being together. It hurts, losing, but we just like being together.”

It’s that attitude that makes the program shine in everyone’s eyes.

“The AR community is very proud of our boys’ accomplishments over these past two pandemic-plagued seasons,” Ryan president Mike Barnett said. “State final four last year before the stoppage and state final game this year shows not only their athletic talent but their maturity to put the team above the individual. Furthermore, I believe their closeness as a unit also helped these boys weather the mental impact this pandemic has had on students, which enabled them to remain focused and positive.”

And win a lot of games.

“I think we had fun because we had a lot of talent, but it was more than that,” Lemon-Warren said. “It was just everything. The whole time I was here, we had fun. We got better as basketball players, and we learned a lot in other ways. Playing for Ryan was special.”