By mid-June 2019, finding a replacement for Josh Perkins was not going well. Gonzaga pushed hard to acquire Duke and USC grad transfer Derryck Thornton, but he chose Boston College. Adding insult to injury, Greg Foster Jr. who’d saw time in 28 games the previous season, announced he’d be transferring to St. Joseph’s. It looked like the 19-20 season’s point guard would be by committee of transfer Admon Gilder, seldom used Joel Ayayi and freshman Brock Ravet.
Meanwhile in North Texas, Ryan Woolridge was preparing for a grad transfer senior season at a mid-level, major conference school. He had narrowed his choices to Minnesota, Oklahoma State or Arkansas but first he had to recover from two screws being inserted in his kneecap to correct a stress fracture. Gonzaga previously contacted Woolridge about possibly transferring, but then told him they’d decided to go in a different direction.
When Gonzaga contacted him again in June, he said it was just in time. If they had waited another week, he’d have committed elsewhere. A trip to Spokane with his parents to meet the coaching staff, the players and tour the facility changed his future. A few days later, he was a Bulldog.
Ryan flew under the radar in the 2019 grad transfer rankings. Maybe it was the sore knees and knee surgery. Maybe it was the questionable offensive statistics; an average of three turnovers per game, shooting .469% from the field and .333% from deep or making just .58% of his free throws after making just 50% the previous season. Even if his offense was questionable, he was a very good defender, solid playmaker, good rebounder and would be expected to provide some solid minutes.
Fans were hoping for solid, but it soon became clear what they got was spectacular. Woolridge was a revelation. With apologies to Demetri Goodson, he may have been the fastest player with the ball in Gonzaga history. He gave the offense a shot of Nitrous Oxide, pushing the ball up the court on every possession without playing out of control. His drives to the rim were spectacular and he demonstrated an assortment of acrobatic shots with both hands. He also reminded fans of Perkins on several occasions firing laser-like pinpoint passes to teammates.
I don’t know if he spent his knee rehab working on his outside shot, but he raised his shooting percentage from beyond the arc an incredible .100 percentage points (.432%) in a year the three-point line was moved BACK A FOOT. He also added .60 points to his field goal percentage(.529%), decreased his turnovers by a third (3.1 to 2.1) and shot above 60% from the line for the first time in college. Oh yeah, the defense was also as advertised.
On the intangible side, he also brought a degree of leadership and bad-assery (for lack of a better term) the team sorely needed. He seemed to play with a chip on his shoulder and it was never more apparent than against old North Texas opponent Texas Arlington. I’m not a fan of showing up opponents, but watching him walk in front of the UTA bench after hitting a three and seeing one of their assistant coaches blow a fuse made he smile. The UTA game was the first time Gonzaga was tested last year, with Ryan meeting the challenge by leading the team with 19 points and 9 rebounds. I also remember his back to back baskets against Washington in the final 2:18 after UW had cut the GU lead to 75-73. Finally, I remember his hitting two key free throws to ice the Arizona game to prevent an epic Gonzaga vs. UCLA-esque collapse.
On a team becoming known for integrating transfers and grad transfers, I don’t think one has played such an important role, so seamlessly, in such a short time (remember Williams-Goss sat a year). Here was a guy who’d injure one of his two bad knees, have to limp to the bench, then return five minutes later and beat everyone down the court on the break. Despite those knees, he was second on the team in minutes to Corey Kispert (32.7 to 33 mpg) while leading the team in assists and steals. The guy was a warrior.
His “So you telling me I transferred to not play in the tournament” tweet encapsulated all our frustration at the way the season ended. Maybe the saddest part is those fans who only watch NCAA tournament games will miss out on seeing a blazing fast, super-exciting player. It was only a single year Ryan, but it was thrilling and meaningful. You’ll be fondly remembered by the Gonzaga fan base.