Jon Teitel's "Forgotten Legends" Series: Utah Valley's Ryan Toolson

December 23rd, 2011
In the latest installment in his "Forgotten Legends" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Ryan Toolson, the greatest player in Utah Valley history. After his time at Utah Valley, Toolson left as the school's all-time leader in points, assists, three-pointers made and free throw percentage just to name a few categories. Toolson is now playing professionally in Turkey.

Jon Teitel: In 2003 at Gilbert (AZ) High you were named Arizona Player of the Year. Why did you choose to go to Utah Valley?

Ryan Toolson: In high school I was not highly recruited because I did not go to many AAU tournaments until the summer before my senior year. I had a few good schools interested in me after that but I chose to sign before my senior season started. UVU felt like a good choice because I thought coach Dick Hunsaker could help me progress the most. UVU was just transferring from a JC to a D-1 program, and it was in a great area where there are a lot of members of my faith.

JT: You served an LDS church mission to Guatemala City. What role does your faith play in your life, and what lessons did you learn from your mission?

RT: The LDS faith means everything to me. It has helped me become the man I am today and teaches great principles that every family should want to have in their own lives. On my mission I grew from being a boy to being a man; that was the time in my life where they "cut the umbilical cord" (so to speak) from my parents. In the two years I spent in Guatemala I only spoke with my family twice a year: once on Christmas Day and once on Mother's Day. I wrote home via email once a week but other than that I did not have a lot of contact with anybody from home. The quote that describes my mission perfectly is, "Pray as though everything depends on God; work as though everything depended on you." My family was not there to help me through my problems so it helped me rely on the man upstairs.

JT: In 2007 you led the nation in free throw shooting with 97% (96-of-99). Did you feel like you were going to make every free throw you took that season, and do you still remember the three you missed?

RT: When it comes to shooting I am a very confident person. Every time I shoot I think the ball is going in. I guess I always thought that is how you should think if you want to be good, and that is the approach I also take when it comes to free throws. For me missed free throws haunt me more than missed buzzer-beaters because you should not miss free throws. During a game there are so many things that can impede you from getting a good shot or prevent you from even getting a shot off, but during a free throw you have ten seconds to shoot a wide-open shot right in front of the hoop. I do remember the three I missed. I missed the front-end of a 1-and-1 in a game at Southern Utah, and then I actually missed two in a row in a game at South Dakota State. The two in a row were actually the second of two free throws followed by the front-end of a 1-and-1 later in the game.

JT: In 2008 you led the nation in free throw shooting for the second straight year (95.1%) and were named Division I Independent Player of the Year. What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor?

RT: Winning the Player of the Year award did not really mean a whole lot other than the fact that I played on a good team. You are not a good player unless you have other good players around you.

JT: After the 2008 season you got married. What was it like to be married while still in college, and do you think it had any effect on your game?

RT: Getting married in college was the greatest decision I ever made. I found the girl of my dreams and knew that she was the one for me so there was no point in wasting time. Being married also helped my game. No more parties until 2 AM or staying up late with your buddies doing who-knows-what! I had time to focus on my studies, basketball, and her, and that is the way I wanted it.

JT: In 2009 you had 12 rebounds and scored a school-record/NCAA season-high 63 points in 60 minutes in a quadruple-overtime win at Chicago State (the tenth-highest total in NCAA history). How did you have any energy left for each successive overtime period, and how has that one game changed your life?

RT: I finally got the respect that I thought I deserved after the CSU game. Pro scouts knew that I was pretty good but I needed a performance like that to catch their attention and help them realize that I could play at the next level. I was playing on pure adrenaline in the overtime periods because after every play I thought to myself that I was finished and could not go up and down the court one more time. Somehow we managed to win it and it felt amazing.

JT: In 2009 you led the nation in free throw shooting for the third straight season (92.7%), and you finished your career ranked second all-time in NCAA history in career free throw shooting (93.9%). How were you able to maintain your focus over your entire career, and what is your secret for free throw shooting?

RT: For me free throws are more mental than anything else. I remember arguing with my uncle Danny Ainge about why big guys cannot make free throws and why the average free throw percentage in the NBA is so low. He tried to tell me that it is like putting in golf...but I think he used this example because he knew that I sucked at golf! My counter-argument was that the putting greens on every course are different and even the same green can be different in the morning vs. the evening, which basically makes for a hard putt every time. A free throw is the only thing that has not changed in basketball. Three-point lines have changed a few times, along with the length and width of the court from college to the NBA, but the free throw line has never changed. The floor is flat, the hoop is 10-feet high/15-feet away from you with nobody guarding you, and you have 10 seconds to put it in. If I missed a putt I could say that the grass was too wet or dry, or sloped too much, or whatever. There are no excuses for missing a free throw.

JT: You graduated as the all-time leading scorer in school history, and you also hold the school record for career assists. Did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were, and how were you able to balance your scoring with your passing?

RT: During my junior and senior years all the attention was on me. I was double-teamed coming off screens every time or just had a box-and-one on me the whole game. Due to that happening so much I was able to free up a lot of my teammates for easy shots. However, being a shooting guard I never thought that I would set the assist record.

JT: You went overseas to play in Turkey, where you currently lead your team in scoring and made your first All-Star game. What have you learned from this experience, and how does it compare to college basketball?

RT: Right now I am on a very young team that relies on their foreign players (like me) a lot. I guess that I just came to the right situation during my rookie year and it has helped me make a good transition to the European style. The difference from college to the pros is the athleticism of the players and the speed of the game: here you get up and down the floor a lot faster than in America. They love shooters too. They even want their centers to be able to shoot well which makes the need for teamwork on both offense and defense an absolute necessity.

JT: Your family has a very impressive athletic lineage. Your cousin Andy played for the Utah Jazz, and your uncle Danny is the only person to be a high school First Team All-American in football, basketball, and baseball. Is it a coincidence that you have such an athletic family, or do you credit at least some of your success to genetics?

RT: My lineage is not as strong as everybody thinks. I am not actually related to Danny by blood; he just married my dad's sister Michelle when he was at BYU. Everybody thinks that we are related because we are both shooters and we look alike, but that is where it ends. My dad's side of the family has Andy but my mom's side of the family is mostly cowboys, so I am leaning more towards coincidence and a little bit of a competitive drive.

Toolson is also on Jon's list of best players in Independents history.

CSU Bakersfield: Kenny Warren (1993) 1521 PTS (#1), 520 AST (#1), 278 3PM (#1), 46.4 3P% (#1), All-American
Chicago State: David Holston (2009) 2331 PTS (#1), 529 AST (#1), 254 STL (#1), 450 3PM (#1), 84 FT% (#1), 39.5 3P% (#5)
Houston Baptist: E.C. Coleman (1973) 1846 PTS (#2), 1287 REB (#1)
Longwood: Jerome Kersey (1984) 1756 PTS (#2), 1162 REB (#1), 255 STL (#1), 142 BLK (#1), 57 FG% (#5), 2-time All-American, conference POY
NJIT: Clarence Pierce (1996) 2028 PTS (#1), 787 REB (#5), 273 STL (#1), 76 BLK (#4), 259 3PM (#1), 78.8 FT% (#5)
North Dakota: Dave Vonesh (1991) 2053 PTS (#2), 1207 REB (#1), 122 STL (#4), 118 BLK (#4), 56.7 FG% (#4), 2-time All-American, 2-time conference POY
Seattle: John O'Brien (1953) 2733 PTS (#1)
Texas-Pan American: Otto Moore (1968) 1880 PTS (#1), 1679 REB (#1), 3-time All-American
Utah Valley: Ryan Toolson (2009) 2163 PTS (#1), 282 AST (#1), 100 STL (#2), 315 3PM (#1), 93.9 FT% (#1), 43.2 3P% (#1), conference POY