A lot has happened in Ryan Appleby's career at Washington over the past year. Last year he was asked to fill the void of outside shooting left by the departure of three outstanding guards, (Nate Robinson, Tre Simmons and Will Conroy) all adept at hitting big threes in big games on a team that won more than any other since 1938, all the way to the Sweet-16.
His shooting helped a great deal in that area and helped last years Husky team get to the Sweet-16 for the second straight year and found themselves an Appleby three attempt at the buzzer away from moving on, perhaps to the Final Four. After struggling early in the Pac-10 last season, he distinguished himself by his consistent improvement over the course of league play and was honored as Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year.
Over the off season his intention has been to develop a game inside the three point line, fill out his frame and improve his ability to penetrate and create for his team mates in the process. From the looks of things so far this year he has succeeded in doing much of that. He's still on the thin side, but somewhat stronger and more mature looking.
He's show flashes of an ability to score more efficiently inside the perimeter and has played more intensely and with greater resolve on the defensive end. It was remarkable to see Ryan and fellow Snohomish County basketball legend Jon Brockman on the cover of this season's Sports Illustrated College Basketball Preview issue.
"It's a great honor to be on the cover of a magazine like that. Not too many people can say they were on the cover of something like that in their lifetime. It was a great honor, but you've still got to play basketball."
He won the starting spot for the first five games of the season, by being more ready to go as the year kicked off and Ryan seemed to understand what goes into that position in Coach Lorenzo Romar's line-up. "If I hadn't have earned it, I wouldn't have been there. I played better than the other guys at that spot. You get what you earn."
Appleby today was officially replaced for the time being by Adrian Oliver, after an incredible effort last Friday night by Oliver versus Eastern Washington and Rodney Stuckey. Appleby didn't seem to notice in his resolve to keep moving forward, when we spoke to him today.
"The coaches are going to do what they are going to do. You just have to go out there and play basketball. It's still basketball and you just keep going out there and playing, no matter what."
He feels that he has made progress with his goals over the off season and just wants to continue to play the game. "I've been taking the ball to the basket more, not necessarily being able to score, but I've been able to pass the ball up to guys to get then open looks. I think I've improved since this last year and I think I'll just keep getting better as the year goes on."
Bringing in talent over the last two years with the ability to score and pass on the interior like Spencer Hawes, Brockman, Quincy Pondexter, Joe Wolfinger and Artem Wallace has motivated the coaches to focus on ways to utilize all of these big men inside. Appleby, with his ability to shoot from the perimeter is an important asset to keep defenses honest, as the Huskies further establish their low post prowess.
"That's kind of been our emphasis right now, to throw the ball inside. That's what the coaches want us to do, so we've try to really work on throwing the ball inside to the bigs and then playing out there."
One would imagine that Appleby will benefit greatly from the open looks that players like Hawes may create for him, but Ryan feels it's too early to tell how his abilities might be applied to this new style for Washington.
"I feel comfortable doing that, it's hard to say right now if it's complementary to the way I play or not. As the year goes on you'll probably be able to tell if it's helped me (contribute) or not. It's kind of up in the air right now, we'll see."
Appleby was known for his three point flourishes off the bench last year and his ability to help get the ball to the right spot on the floor. If it continues that Oliver earns the starting role, Ryan will likely see "starters" minutes, as a back-up to Adrian and starting point guard Justin Dentmon. Fans may wonder if Appleby missed the train, when the Florida Gators won the national championship last year, winning in the title game over the UCLA Bruins from the Pac-10. Appleby is convincingly unremorseful.
"It's worked out fine for me. I think that leaving Florida was a decision I had to make. I didn't think it was the right fit for me and turns out has been the right fit for me to be here. In the end it's been good for me."
In a not so bright moment, among many good memories of the last year of Appleby's career as a Husky was an incident in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament in which he was quite deliberately knocked out of the game by a fore arm shiver from Oregon Duck Aaron Brooks, a fellow Puget Sound area guy from the class of 2003. The Dawgs went on to lose that game embarrassingly and many observers thought that play might have been a catalyst, or possibly a distraction that took the Huskies out of their rhythm and left them without, for all intents and purposes their "zone buster".
I remember the picture in the Seattle Times, less than three years ago, of the All-City team, with Appleby, Brooks, The Twins, Lodrick Stewart and Rodrick Stewart and fellow Husky Hans Gasser and I wondered if he and Aaron had ever been friends back in the day.
"I talked to him before, playing against each other in summer stuff, but I haven't really been tight with him, friendship or anything like that."
Was there any animosity that led up to that game?
"We really never knew each other well enough to have anything like that. Bad things happen and after a while you have to move on. You can't sit there and let 'em boil over."
I asked him he was able to forgive pretty easily in life?
"It depends on what it is. I think some things are easier to forgive than other things. I don't sit there every night and think about it. You've got to move on."
It seems to me that Appleby is ready to move on from being removed as a starter, if he in fact has and has the team's success firmly in the fore front of his thoughts. His philosophy is very clearly about taking it one game at a time and being realistic about what level of accomplishment you have achieved as a team, but always keep winning.
"As far as the team goes, win games and get better as the year goes on. You can win games in the regular season, then as tournament time comes around and the team doesn't get any better, then you start losing games. So if we can keep getting better and winning games at the same time, that's important. For myself, just keep getting better every day. Have a better game than you did the game before. I just try to keep getting better each game.