The Skyview High School boys basketball team got one big monkey off its back Saturday, defeating Wasilla 54-52 for its first win over a Mat-Su team in five years.
Now the Panthers can work on the next monkey weighing them down making it to the state tournament but shedding the first was definitely a prerequisite to knocking off the second.
"We've just got to prove that we can beat at least two of the (Region III/4A) Northern Division teams," said Skyview's Ryan Geller last week prior to the Panthers' dramatic win. "If we're going to go to state, then we have to beat those teams."
And if the Panthers are going to be able to beat those teams again, it's going to be because of the leadership provided by players like Geller.
Geller, a 6-foot-4 senior, has been everywhere for the Panthers this season. Geller said the strength of his game is his versatility, and he's happy to handle the ball or battle in the paint whatever role the team needs him to fill.
"I like to be able to handle the ball, but I just play where the team needs me to play," Geller said. "If they need me under the basket, I'll go there.
"... I'd like to think I could play any position that makes it hard for defenders to match up."
In fact, Skyview coach Dave Blossom frequently asks Geller to play several different positions not just in a game, but each time the Panthers get the ball.
"He's our best ballhandler. Other teams will pressure our guards pretty good, but once the ball gets to Ryan Geller, they back off," Blossom said. "Then he has to play shooting guard, small forward, post quite often he'll play all five positions in each different (possession), and then he's one of our leading rebounders."
Geller's teammates also respect his ability.
"He's just a well-rounded player," said Skyview's Andrew Smith, a teammate of Geller's since their elementary school Boys and Girls Club basketball days. "He can shoot from the perimeter, he can drive and dish, or he can drive and put it in."
Smith said Geller is the type of player that makes his teammates better, citing the last play of a one-point win over Homer earlier this month.
"I happened to cut baseline, and he hit me with a perfect pass," said Smith, who then deposited the shot for the game-winning basket. "He said he knew (my cut) was coming."
Geller said he first started playing basketball in first grade, but it was during fourth grade that he fell in love with the sport.
"It was all that was on my mind," Geller said.
Geller said he started going to summer hoops camps, and would go shoot baskets any time he had the opportunity and sometimes, he made his own opportunities.
"I used to stay out in the wintertime, shovel off my court and shoot in the snow," Geller said.
Geller said he's always been fairly tall for his age not a bad trait to have for a basketball player but it wasn't until a middle school growth spurt that he really began to tower over his classmates.
Geller said he's tried other sports since then, but his heart and his skills always seems to lead him back to the hardcourt.
"I was a little bit better at (basketball) than I was at other sports, so that inspired me to practice more," Geller said.
Geller also has done well in the classroom. He said his favorite subject has been art, but he's also enjoyed economics and is considering it as a course of study in college.
Geller said he's still considering his college options; he's received some interest from about a dozen college coaches and is looking to either stay in the Pacific Northwest or find a school in Arizona, where he has relatives.
Geller said he'd like to continue to play basketball and added that a Division III college might be his best fit for pursuing that goal.
But, Geller said, there's still one more big goal he'd like to see his team reach before he heads off to college.
"Make it to state that's been my goal since I started at Skyview," Geller said.
Geller said his eighth-grade season might have been the most fun for him because of the team's success, but he's enjoyed getting to know his high school teammates. Some players, like Smith, he's grown up with while others he didn't meet until high school.
"Coming to Skyview, you get to learn to play with new guys," Geller said. "That was an adjustment, but I'm glad I got to know these guys."
While Skyview has had its ups and downs this season the Panthers are 10-8 overall and tend to get their wins in streaks Geller said the team is working hard as the region tournament approaches.
"We're trying to get back on track before regions we just have to get together as a team. We're doing that more and more," Geller said. "We've been working harder in practice and stepped it up. We're trying to play better team basketball. Hopefully, if we work harder in practice, it will carry over into games."
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