By Howard Tsumura (Varsity Letters)
BURNABY — Tayler Drynan’s passport defines her as something of an outlier within the world of Simon Fraser women’s basketball.
Yet while the Clan senior point guard’s uniqueness may be reflected by the fact that she is the only U.S. player to ever suit up for Bruce Langford during his 19-year SFU head coaching career, she still has much more in common with the program’s tried-and-true lineage of Canadian playmakers.
“I wrote her a long letter,” Langford remembered Tuesday when asked to reflect on his memories of recruiting the 5-foot-6 Drynan out of Spokane’s Quad-A powerhouse Gonzaga Prep following her Grade 11 season.
“I told her that I knew she was small, but that I had coached a lot of small guards and that small is an advantage because you have to prove yourself more,” paraphrased Langford, who then went on to rattle off a list of former blue-chip Clan guards — his daughter Dani Langford, longtime national team star Teresa Gabriele (Kleindienst), Kelsie Thu, Lisa Tindle and Lani Gibbons among them — who all played bigger than their actual size.
It seems somehow fitting, then, that as Drynan heads into the final home weekend of her four-year career atop Burnaby Mountain, she will continue to added to a streak which seems at once at odds with a player of her physical stature.
Since the team’s first game of her 2016-17 freshman season, Drynan has never missed a contest, and when longtime announcer Steven James calls her name as part of the Clan’s starting lineup for Thursday’s 7 p.m. clash against Central Washington (8-6), her ironwoman streak will hit 116 games and counting.
Drynan, who came off the bench behind explosive Australian senior Ellen Kett in all 34 of the team’s games over her rookie season, has started at point guard in every game since, a streak within a streak which will reach 82 games.
Not the typical CV for a smaller guard who, over the seasons, has become as adept at driving the ball inside, as she has shooting it from the outside.
“It’s motivated me, but honestly, it’s not something I think has ever defined me… it doesn’t limit me as a player,” says Drynan who this season sits second in team scoring at 10.8 ppg, and fourth in assists within the GNAC at 4.1 apg.
“I have other skills and attributes that I bring, and besides, I think it all comes from the heart, and I’ve had to fight harder than others,” sums Drynan, who along with the junior quartet of Jessica Jones, Kendal Sands, Ozi Nwabuko and Claudia Hart has helped lead the Clan to a tie for second place in the conference at 11-3 with six more games remaining.
The team that the Clan are tied with, Nampa, Idaho’s Northwest Nazarene Nighthawks (11-3), provide the competition in Saturday’s 7 p.m. home season-finale, which will be prefaced by a Seniors Night ceremony to honour Drynan, the team’s only graduating player.
GROWING UP WITH THE BULLPUPS
Just as she has played both understudy and leading roles with the Clan, Tayler Drynan did likewise over a three-year senior varsity high school career with one of the top programs in the U.S.
In fact when a Grade 11 Drynan buried a dramatic three-pointer with just a couple of minutes remaining as part of Gonzaga Prep’s 57-51 double overtime win over Inglemoor in the 2016 Washington 4A state championship final at the Tacoma Dome, she had helped her team not only repeat as state champs, but complete a perfect 26-0 season and extend its two-season win streak to 50-0. That season Gonzaga Prep started the campaign at No. 22 on one U.S. national girls preseason Top 25 ranking sheet.
The same level of success eluded the Bullpups the next season as three of the four seniors with whom Drynan had started with graduated and left for NCAA Div. 1 careers, including 5-foot-8 point guard Laura Stockton, who joined the Gonzaga Bulldogs, and 6-footer Otiona Gildon who joined the Oregon Ducks.
Drynan, however, still enjoyed what 99.9 per cent of high school point guards can only dream about: Getting tips, pointers and coaching from the NBA’s all-time assists leader John Stockton, a Gonzaga Prep alum who would help out head coach Mike Arte on his daughter Laura’s team in an assistant coaching role.
“He did help me with little things, here and there that I could improve on,” begins Drynan, who says she still uses some of the drills he taught he taught before her games. “I see the court better because of him. Knowing him and how successful he was, I think I was just fortunate to learn from him, to take whatever advice he would give.”
As well, over her time at Gonzaga Prep, the transition in roles she went through from her sophomore through senior seasons with the Bullpups helped her navigate a similar road atop Burnaby Mountain.
“I was fortunate to show up at Gonzaga Prep at a time when it had a lot of great players, especially my junior year, where I got to start with four seniors,” says Drynan. “I think I got to enjoy the role of keeping the seniors happy (as a junior) but my role changed in my senior year.”
After graduation, as she came north to enrol in Simon Fraser’s acclaimed Beedie School of Business, Drynan played the transitional role again, this time as the freshman understudy to Australian star Ellem Kett, who in 2016-17 put forth one of the most dominant playmaking performances across all levels of NCAA women’s hoops by dishing 8.5 assists per game.
“Being able to learn from a senior who was very good and had such a successful year was good for me,” said Drynan. “It was the right choice for me… to come up here and be able to sit back a bit and watch from the bench. Now, I’m grateful to have been that person (at point guard) for the Clan these past few seasons.”
A TRIBUTE TO HER TENACITY
Simon Fraser’s recruitment of Tayler Drynan almost didn’t happen, yet thanks to the keen eye of Bruce Langford’s brother Paul, the point guard was spotted doing her thing while playing for the Spokane Sandpipers’ club team in the summer heading into her Grade 12 season at Gonzaga Prep.
“We go to Portland ever year, and while I was watching some games (at the End of the Trail tournament), Paul was in the other gym coaching his own (club) team,” says Bruce Langford.
“His team had just finished playing the Sandpipers and so he tells me that they had this little guard who was tenacious and who really shot the ball. So I started to watch her play.”
Adds Paul Langford, whose club team in those days included current Clan players Ozi Nwabuko and Claudia Hart, and current UFV Cascade Abby Zawada: “I just remember that she was tiny, she had a lot of assists, and she hit a buzzer-beater to beat us.”
Over her Clan career, Bruce Langford has seen a lot of the same.
“She shoots it really well, and at the end of many close games, she is poised and able to hit clutch free throws down the stretch and that keeps us ahead,” he says. “At first, she wouldn’t drive or shoot but she’s grown a lot in those areas.”
And of course there are the assists.
Drynan heads into Thursday’s game against Central Washington one away from a career milestone, as GNAC statistics currently have her sitting on 399 assists.
“I’ve done a lot of reflecting and it’s sad that it’s coming to an end,” says Drynan of her career. “When I came here, I wanted to make an impact on the court, but more importantly, I’ve been thinking about what I want to leave when I step off of it. I hope that in the future, when they bring up my name, they’ll say she was a good player, but also a great teammate who was there for others and a good person to be around.”
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