Summarizing an athlete’s entire life in five minutes is an impossible task.
In assembling the feature story about Ball State Basketball’s Ryan Weber, I learned it also may be the wrong task to attempt altogether.
One thing I’ve learned about storytelling in my short time at Ball State is the broader the scope, the fewer the details.
This is a problem, since the beauty is in the details. That’s where you capture the character, the idiosyncrasies, the color that makes the person who they are. It’s what makes a story interesting and makes people want to watch.
So the conflict arises, because you (the creator) want the story to be comprehensive enough to do justice to the subject’s entire life. The ultimate product hinges on deciding what slice of life fully epitomizes the person, while still captivating the audience.
And the craziest part: you never really capture it until you’re already done.
Imagine opening up a blank project in your editing program. Ready and waiting in your database are hours and hours of highlights, behind-the-scenes footage, childhood pictures, long interviews and more. It’s overwhelming.
And so I did what is most commonly done, the path of least resistance. I just told his story chronologically, and let the audience extract from it whatever they will.
Is it bad? Certainly not. In fact, it’s probably the most fair. But people who only watch my segment on Episode 4 of “Out of the Shadows” may watch and walk away not feeling as though they truly know who Ryan Weber is, and how he got to where he is today.
I asked Weber how he would describe his “story” in one sentence.
“It would probably be about an Indiana kid with good Indiana parents, just trying to be the best basketball Hoosier he can be.”
Weber was born in Indianapolis and grew up, like many other Hoosiers, with basketball dreams.
“Growing up in Indiana, you have a lot of heroes around you in the sport of basketball,” Weber said during our interview.
He like many other similarly-aged Indiana kids idolized Reggie Miller, who played just 10 or 15 minutes from Weber’s house.
In many ways, Weber is just the prototypical Indiana kid. Except he is now a Division 1 basketball player, a dream that all those kids have and so few actually achieve. What makes him different?
Is it his father? Well no, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
Ryan’s father, Matt Weber, is 6-foot-8 and played college basketball at Catawba College. Young Ryan was given a winning genetic lottery ticket, along with access to a large basketball knowledge database.
Still, it was far from a cakewalk. By Ryan’s own admission, he wasn’t very good growing up.
“I remember how bad I was, I almost wanted to quit because I was so bad, but my dad told me to stick with it.”
Ryan’s dad chose to keep him out of AAU basketball, he says because he “didn’t want Ryan to get burned out on basketball.”
Instead, he liked coaching Ryan’s teams and reinforcing “the fundamentals of the game and that basketball was a team game.”
As he got older, Ryan got taller and his skills got sharper, but that skill wasn’t being translated onto results on the floor. What was missing?
At the end of Weber’s eighth grade year, he attended a “top 100” showcase, where 10 teams of 10 were divided up to see who the best kids in Indiana were going into high school. In attendance were the likes of Gary Harris, Yogi Ferrell, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson.
“I’ll never forget driving out there that morning,” Ryan’s dad said. “I could tell Ryan was nervous, he wasn’t talking, he wouldn’t answer my questions. Finally I looked over at him and said, ‘Buddy what’s up, what’s wrong talk to me.’ He said, ‘I don’t know if I’m good enough to play with these guys.’
I said ‘Ryan just do what you know how to do and you’ll be fine.'” Ryan’s team ended up tearing the thing up, in some cases outshining the future NBA talent, much to the delight of his onlooking father.
“I had people saying, ‘Who is this kid? Where’s he from, why hasn’t he been playing AAU ball?’ It showed him that he could compete with what was called the top echelon talent.”
What comes next is the key.
“If I’ve said one thing to Ryan, I’ve said it a thousand times, ‘This game is 90% confidence, as soon as you realize you can play with these guys, you can play with them.'”
The confidence of a shooter is a tricky thing. In some ways it’s like baseball, where players struggle mentally for their entire careers because they have to be content with failing two-thirds of the time or more.
A great three-point shooter only makes about 40% of his attempts. You have to trick yourself you’re going to make every single shot, while still being okay with missing most of the time.
For Weber, his success walks hand in hand with his confidence.
At Roncalli High School, it was in his workouts with former college coach Sean Bledsoe he discovered he could play at the D1 level.
“He kind of just straight up told me,” Ryan said. “You have the body, you have the ability, you have the potential skill-set that if you want to play Division 1 basketball, if you really put your mind to it you can.”
The confidence he could play in college pushed Weber to work harder.
By his senior year, he was an All-County selection and led Roncalli to a sectional championship.
When I traveled down to Roncalli to film the gym for “Out of the Shadows”, I had the chance to meet Ryan’s high school coach Michael Wantz, who had nothing but fond memories from Ryan’s time playing for the Rebels.
Weber was far from a highly sought after recruit, but at 6-foot-6 with a silky shooting stroke he wasn’t about to slip through the cracks either.
The college offers followed, and Weber signed with Youngstown State. He had achieved his dream. He made it to the D1 level.
But with achievement came new expectations. Perhaps doubt started to creep in. His first year, he averaged just 9.0 minutes per game and saw his three-point percentage dip to 19.5%.
Was he good enough to play at this level? Would he be able to adjust to the college game? He needed the confidence of a shooter.
“I was still a skinny kid coming into college,” Weber said. “I knew what I needed to work on and that’s what I did.”
Weber’s dad agrees, “He didn’t shoot the ball well, you know the world was ending. He was thinking about leaving then. He said dad I’m gonna go to work.”
That’s exactly what Weber did, transforming into the team’s second leading scorer at 12.2 points per game and shooting 41.7% from deep against very talented Horizon League competition.
He particularly took pleasure in reminding the Indiana schools what they missed out on.
“Every time we played Valpo I was ready to play,” Weber said. “I had my career high against them at the time which was 24. You get in those games and there’s kind of a chip on your shoulder like you didn’t want me at the time, but I’m going to show you what you missed out on.”
But Weber was an Indiana kid through and through.
While he didn’t have any complaints about the basketball program at Youngstown State, he was upset at how many people went home on the weekends. Deep down he wanted to come back closer to home too.
So he transferred to Ball State, only an hour or so from where he grew up. In doing so he signed on to a team that went 5-25 the year before. But he was now confident and ready to lead.
Due to NCAA transfer policies, Weber was forced to watch from the sidelines while the Ball State team suffered another disappointing campaign, going 7-23.
Weber took the time to work on himself, getting stronger and refining his skills. He admits the 17-game losing streak was hard.
“It kind of got me down feeling like I could’ve helped us out a little bit,” Weber said. “Seeing my guys out there playing hard and doing the best they could but coming up short time and time again. It was hard for me to see my best friends going through that.”
Which brings us to this season.
Those that only remembered Weber as that skinny kid from Roncalli wouldn’t have been able to recognize the player who stepped on the floor.
In addition to the physical transformation, Weber had more importantly gained the confidence of a shooter once and for all.
If you attend a Ball State game this season, he’s impossible to miss.
He plays like a leader, and carries himself with a quiet swagger that’s unshakable. He may follow a three-pointer in an opponent’s face with a smile and some trash talk, and you wouldn’t be able to tell if he had missed his three previous shots or made them.
All that has translated into Weber being Ball State’s leading scorer, one of the MAC’s most lethal shooters and the engine to propel Ball State to a 15-8 record following Saturday’s overtime win against Western Michigan.
It has been a long and eventful journey for Ryan Weber, but in it he found his most important tool — the confidence of a shooter.
For me, whether it was blindly approaching and meeting Weber’s parents at a basketball game, hanging out with Ryan, his roommate Tayler Persons and his dog Scooter, traveling to Roncalli High School or sitting in an editing bay for dozens of hours putting the story together, it was an absolute pleasure getting a look into the life of Ryan Weber.
By Matt Craig
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