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Michelle Smith WBB Feature: ASU's Robbi Ryan digs deep this season

Feb 7, 2020

Robbi Ryan wears her effort, her will and her passion for basketball on her face.

Those rosy cheeks that pop up during every game are not just the subject of good natured teasing by her Arizona State teammates, they are her badge of basketball honor.

“Yeah,” Ryan says, laughing when asked about it. “I can thank my dad and his Irish blood for that.”

Ryan is in the home stretch of her college career. The Sun Devils senior guard can see the end, but she is playing in the moment. As No. 19 Arizona State travels north to Oregon to take on No. 9 Oregon State and No. 3 Oregon in a pair of very consequential games this weekend, Ryan has finally figured out how to relax and play.

She was not in that headspace when the season began.

“At first this year, I was nervous,” Ryan said. “I was squeezing too tight. I think all of the seniors were. We have had to figure out how to embrace this moment and to have fun.”

Ryan’s career hasn’t always been fun. She has been hobbled by ankle injuries through much of her college career, injuries that began when she was in high school in Sheridan, Wyoming.

“That poor kid with her ankles,” said Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne. “She was a phenomenal high school athlete, she played multiple sports. Everybody I talked to was like ‘Oh my goodness, she is going to be so good when she is focused on one sport.’ And she is clearly good, but she has been slowed by injuries. It’s gotten in the way of her being able to train and do some of the things she’s wanted to do. But she is a great athlete and a really good leader.”

Ryan is averaging a career-best 10.6 points a game for the season, and 13.5 points a game in conference play. She has stepped up her offensive since Pac-12 play began, knowing that her team needed more of her offense. 

“There is definitely a sense of urgency and we want to win,” Ryan said of her team, which has lost two of three after vaulting in the national rankings with season-defining home wins over the Ducks and the Beavers in mid-January. “But we need to find the happy medium of having urgency and being relaxed and playing our best. It reminds me of that saying, ‘Be quick, but don’t hurry.’”

Her injuries have also helped to drive that lesson home.

“Nothing is promised,” Ryan said. “I feel grateful to be able to play every day. The extra treatments (on my ankle) and the work, it’s not fun. But it applies to life. It’s about perseverance.” 

Turner Thorne said she knows she can depend on Ryan right now. And she will need Ryan to have some big games this weekend if the Sun Devils want another weekend of upsets.

“You know that if you get her the ball, she will get you a bucket,” Turner Thorne said. “Defenses have been keying on her a lot and she’s still scored well. People are going to hold you and jam you off your line and you have to make the adjustment. But it’s hard to shut down a jump shooter and her mid-range game is really hard to guard.”

Ryan said she is ready to finish her college career without being able to say “What if?”

“I’m feeling confident. If you take a shot, you know it’s going to go in, and if it doesn’t, you go get the rebound and you shoot it again,” Ryan said. “You’ve got to dig deep for what you want.”

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, San Francisco Chronicle, The Athletic and AOL Fanhouse. She was has won several awards, including the WBCA's Mel Greenberg Media Award, presented annually to a member of the media who has best displayed commitment to advancing the role of the media in women's basketball. For previous Michelle Smith features on, visit the archives page.