'It definitely hurt': UWGB men's basketball freshman Donavan Short reflects on Will Ryan's firing

·5 min read
UWGB center Donavan Short has played 21 games as a true freshman entering a contest at Northern Kentucky on Thursday.
UWGB center Donavan Short has played 21 games as a true freshman entering a contest at Northern Kentucky on Thursday.

GREEN BAY – Former Denmark basketball star Donavan Short committed to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2021 for several reasons, including a coaching staff led by Will Ryan who showed interest in him from the start.

It wasn’t necessarily a happy day for the 6-foot-10 freshman center Tuesday, at least not after a team meeting in which he learned Ryan was being fired after 2½ seasons.

But Short isn’t only willing to talk when things are going well. He believes in standing up when adversity hits, too.

“Coach Ryan told us the situation and everything that was about to happen and take place,” Short said. “I mean, Coach Ryan is a great guy. All the slander that is out there, he’s a great guy. It definitely hurt.

“He was part of the recruiting for me. It was tough.”

This season hasn’t gone well for the Phoenix, which is 2-19 and riding an 11-game losing streak entering a contest at Northern Kentucky on Thursday.

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UWGB didn’t win nearly enough during Ryan’s brief time here. It cost him his job less than halfway through a six-year contract and made him the shortest tenured coach for a program that started play in 1969.

Former coach Dick Lien has held that distinction for decades after going 22-62 in three seasons before being fired in 1985. None of Lien’s teams finished better than 10 games under .500, but even he boasted a better winning percentage (.262) than Ryan, who finished 15-61 (.197). Of course, neither Lien or the future Hall of Fame coach who replaced him, Dick Bennett, had to deal with the NCAA transfer portal and the free agency-type circus it has presented.

There is plenty that has gone wrong for the Phoenix, too much to simply narrow down to one issue.

Short was asked if there was anything he could put his finger on, perhaps one problem that stuck out as to why UWGB has been one of the three worst squads in a nation that has 363 Division I teams.

He paused briefly before starting to give a response, then stopped again.

“That’s a tough thing to like pinpoint,” Short said. “It was just like consistency with everything. How like some games we’d go out and we would be out there competing against an Oregon State, and then lose by 35 to Robert Morris.

“I feel like it’s a consistency thing.”

The Phoenix will be led by interim coach Freddie Owens the rest of the season and has one other assistant, Brandon Pritzl, remaining on staff.

It’s far too early to know who the next coach will be, which likely makes it difficult for some of the players to know what their futures hold.

Even programs with a returning coach can be hit hard by the transfer portal — just ask Ryan, who had his roster decimated last offseason — so it remains to be seen how many players from a squad recruited entirely by Ryan and his staff will remain.

Every UWGB scholarship player has eligibility left after this season. Many still have multiple years.

It isn’t even a lock a player like Short will be back for a second season, this despite being a hometown kid who grew up attending UWGB basketball camps and picked the Phoenix over several DI offers from around the country, including USC.

“With that, right now, the best answer I can give you is that I’m going to live in the present, live where I am right now,” said Short, who entered Thursday averaging 2.2 points and 8.5 minutes in 21 games. “Take everything one day at a time. That’s another thing that Coach Freddie said to us. The biggest thing that we are taking away from this as a team is just because of this situation, we are not done yet. We are not done.

“We are going to take this one day at a time, one game at a time. Once the season is over, then I will open my mind up and start thinking about what my next move is, if I’m staying or if I’m going. But as of right now, I’m still on this team and I’m still focused on winning.”

Short said the Phoenix practiced after receiving the news Tuesday, and he felt like he and his teammates put in a quality effort.

He doesn’t believe anybody will throw in the towel, and with Owens taking over, there likely won’t be any dramatic changes. He’s happy there is a familiarity remaining with both Owens and Pritzl, who he praised earlier this season for always getting after him in practice.

“Only 1% of high school players get to college basketball, and only 1% of that gets to Division I basketball,” Short said. “I am very blessed to be in the position to play Division I basketball. What keeps me motivated is, this is an opportunity that a lot of people work for. Whether the situations aren’t what we want it to be, or the season hasn’t been going as well as we want it to be, tanking or just giving up isn’t really in my mindset given the fact that I’m here to play basketball and I’m given a great opportunity to play Division I basketball.

“I am not going to throw that opportunity away just because things aren’t going my way.”

This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: UWGB freshman center Donavan Short reflects on Will Ryan's firing