His basketball career blossomed in Arizona’s desert, flourished at UVU and most recently expanded in Europe. Now, Ryan Toolson’s career is coming full circle.
Following his visit to catch up with coach Dick Hunsaker and speak to kids at the coach’s camp, Toolson returned to his native Arizona this summer to play with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns summer league team.
Toolson hopes his skills, which earned him All-Star honors in the Turkish Basketball League, will land him a spot on an NBA roster.
Before raising his game to the next level, Toolson took time to teach kids at Hunsaker’s camp about work ethic — both on and off the floor — which he claims was his ticket to basketball relevance, not his talent.
“I never was super athletic in high school,” Toolson said. “I still don’t think I was in college. I think the thing that made me a special guy was my work ethic.”
Toolson didn’t make the varsity team his freshman year at Gilbert High School in Arizona. He didn’t even make the junior varsity team. He made the freshman team but, get this, he didn’t start.
The evolution of Toolson’s game didn’t make a Jordanesque leap in high school, either.
Sophomore year at Gilbert High School in Arizona, he made junior varsity team.
Junior year saw him make the varsity team, but he didn’t start until the latter portion of the year.
In Toolson’s senior year, he was named Arizona’s Player of the Year.
The gradual ascent continued at UVU, where Toolson went from sniper off the bench to a marked man as the Wolverines’ leading scorer.
Despite opposing defenses’ attention, he averaged over 23 points per game his junior and senior years.
A stellar college career was tempered by where it happened in the eyes of NBA personnel, so Toolson took his game overseas. There, he says, “basketball IQ” took on a whole new meaning.
“Everyone can shoot over there,” Toolson said. “Guards, forwards, centers, everyone can shoot the ball. They play such a smart brand of basketball.”
Toolson hopes the new lessons learned and his old work ethic translate into a spot on an NBA roster. It’s a dream made even more personal by auditioning for his favorite team, the Phoenix Suns. One of Toolson’s childhood heroes, former Suns’ greats Dan Majerle, will coach the summer Suns.
“I think [playing for Majerle] is awesome,” Toolson said. “I grew up watching him play. I used to dream of putting on a purple and orange jersey as a kid, and just to have a chance to do it is unbelievable.”
As big as the dream is, the reality can be more so. NBA teams saw many of their affordable roster needs met through the NBA Draft.
With cost-conscious NBA owners and general managers, roster spots for undrafted rookies are few and far between.
On the flip side, summer league pick-ups and undrafted rookies are often more affordable than established veterans who want bigger paychecks. Often, it’s a question of talent versus cost.
For Hunsaker, there’s no questioning the former.
“He’s absolutely, absolutely an NBA player,” Hunsaker said. “I’ve told the NBA people that I’ve coached a lot of different players during my career, and I’ve never seen an offensive mentality like Ryan Toolson’s. It’s unmatched. Whether he’ll be given the opportunity to display that remains to be seen. But he is an NBA player, without hesitation.”
Toolson will try to make NBA teams feel the same way.