Former Colorado State women’s hoops star Gritt Ryder could be playing basketball professionally somewhere in Europe right now.
Instead, she is working as a graduate assistant for CSU coach Ryun Williams’ program this year while she pursues a master’s degree in Business Administration from the University.
But coming back to the program as a GA this year after leading the Rams to back-to-back regular season Mountain West championships the last two seasons was not her first choice. Rather, it was her fallback plan.
Playing professionally in Europe was the Denmark native’s true aspiration following her college career, but Ryder discovered a serious injury she actually played with nearly all of her 2014-15 senior season before she was able to sign with a pro club.
When Ryder appeared to pull a hamstring last season against Florida Atlantic on Dec. 14, 2014, she sat out the next game a week later. By the start of MW play against Boise State on Dec. 31, though, Ryder was back in action.
But she shouldn’t have been.
Ryder’s injury was not a pulled hamstring, but a broken bone in her leg where the hamstring attaches. No wonder her pain lingered all season last year.
She only found out about the injury with an MRI scan last spring, well after CSU’s season had ended and she had already signed with an agent in hopes of landing a spot on a roster overseas.
“I think I’m at 90 percent now, but I actually broke the bone where the hamstring attaches back in December last year, so I played through that the whole year,” Ryder said. “We just didn’t know that was it. So, when I got the news back that that’s actually what happened, I was of course shocked, because I thought I was going to go play (professionally).”
Yet, the injury preventing the start of her pro career has not been a total disappointment for Ryder, as she has enjoyed her return to CSU’s program in a grad assistant role.
“I’m so happy Coach (Williams) offered me this position because I love being here, even though it was a hard adjustment at first,” Ryder added.
The broken bone makes her performance last year, which earned her Co-Mountain West Player of the Year, quite stunning. As a senior in 2014-15, Ryder averaged 34.8 minutes per game, and played all 40 minutes in six contests, including a four-game stretch during which she never once saw the bench. Those kind of minutes had to take a toll on her body.
Yet in MW play, the point guard still averaged 10.3 points per game, 3.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists (third in the league). She was the most versatile player on the league’s top team.
“Even though she ran on one leg, she was still MW Player of the Year, so that’s kind of impressive,” Ryder’s former teammate and current CSU star Ellen Nystrom said. “That just tells you how mentally tough she is.”
If Ryder had been at full strength, it is hard to imagine Fresno State’s Alex Sheedy would have been included to share Player of the Year honors with her, and maybe the 23-8 record the Rams posted en route to a second consecutive conference championship would have had even a few more tallies in the win column.
But, Ryder and her former teammates avoid wondering what last season would have looked like had she been healthy.
“That’s something I do not like to think about,” Ryder said. “It’s kind of hard to think about what could have been if that hadn’t happened. But I’m just happy with my years here at CSU, and I’m happy to have this (GA) opportunity, too.”
Nystrom echoed that sentiment, and hopes Ryder can get back on track toward a playing career.
Both Ryder’s current MBA studies and graduate assistant position with the Rams will help her in the start to her career, no matter what she ends up pursuing. She says she still has a lot of decisions to make, including whether to enter the business world or stay around basketball to explore coaching.
“I’m looking at going into business somehow, or going into coaching, because it is fun and I would love to still be around basketball,” Ryder explained. “But I don’t know. One day I want to do this, one day I want to do that, and then I want to stay in the U.S. and then I want to go back home, so I’m still a mess with decisions.”
Williams, her former coach turned boss, believes she could find success in coaching.
“Gritt would be a great coach,” Williams said.
“Her basketball IQ was really solid, she’s a team player, she knows the importance of roles, she knows when she should speak and not speak, she knows to give me the clipboard during timeouts,” he added with a smile. “She’s doing a good job.”
Though Ryder’s senior season was certainly no disappointment, there are still times she wishes she were on this year’s team that is on a historic win-streak and undefeated in the MW through 13 games.
“I think it’s so unique how they (CSU’s current players) play together and how they care about each other, but I’m just happy I’m still a part of it,” Ryder said. “Because also, even though sometimes it’s of course hard to say, ‘I wish I could still play,’ but just still to be a part of this run they’re making right now is a lot of fun.”
For now, Ryder will help the Rams continue improving in practice as they near the end of the regular season.
“She can give some good advice, even though she’s not an assistant coach; she’s a grad assistant coach,” Nystrom said. “But if you need her she helps you out. She just does a lot of little things. She’s a very smart player so you can learn a lot from her.”
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @samlounz.