By MICHAEL LYCKLAMA
At 6-foot-2, Madison High School junior Ryker Pierce doesn’t surprise anyone with his skills around the perimeter. He’s quick off the dribble, uses his body to drive and shield off defenders, and can shoot the 3. He looks like a prototypical guard.
Except he’s not a guard.
Despite being undersized in the middle, Pierce dominated the paint against larger opponents all season. His combination of quick feet, soft touch and lunch pail-carrying attitude made him the most dangerous inside-outside threat in eastern Idaho.
It’s a threat that led Madison to the 4A state title and makes him the 2011 Post Register Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
No matter what Madison needed Pierce to do, he did it. When the Bobcats asked him to slide over to center when Austin Blair went down with an injury, he did it and led the team in rebounding at 6.2 per game. When Madison needed him to carry the scoring load, he did it, leading the team with 13.4 points per game on 58 percent shooting from the field. And when Madison needed someone to put the team on his back at the state tournament, he did it, hitting game winners or leading late charges in all three games.
“You need that from a player,” Rigby coach Justin Jones said. “You need them to do more than they’ve done all season, to seize the moment and carry the team.”
The state learned at the tournament what eastern Idaho coaches have known all year long: Pierce is a matchup nightmare. He’s too quick for posts to contain him on the edge. And he’s too strong and has too many inside moves for a guard to have any chance of stopping him in the post.
“He’s like a utility man,” Bonneville coach Tim Hooten said. “They can put him where they want him, and they do.”
But it’s those moves in the paint that raise Pierce to the elite level. Pierce admits he never was the tall kid growing up. But he always found himself inside, mixing it up.
He then received a crash course of playing in the post last season when Madison coach Bill Hawkins called him up to varsity as a sophomore and then inserted him in the starting lineup. But the real education took place in practice, where instead of taking it easy on the perimeter, Pierce ended up matched up with 6-7 Josh Fuller, last year’s Post Register Player of the Year and a current member of the University of Utah basketball team.
“I got a few bloody noses, cuts to my eye, lots of stuff,” Pierce said. “It was real physical ball. That’s where I got my physicality.”