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Sports >  EWU basketball

‘It’s such a great atmosphere’: Graduate transfer Rylan Bergersen brings versatility, experience to Eastern Washington

Dec. 29, 2021 Updated Thu., Dec. 30, 2021 at 5:45 p.m.

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

As a child, when he and his brothers and parents moved frequently from one European city to another, Rylan Bergersen always made sure the family got a new Nerf basketball hoop.

“That was always the first priority. We had to get an indoor hoop wherever we moved,” Bergersen said. “Thinking back on it, it probably was a comfort thing. It made us feel more at home. But back then, we just wanted something to do.”

Basketball has always been a major part of life for the Bergersens. Roberto, Rylan’s father, excelled at Boise State in the late 1990s, and so great was his stardom that the program inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2007. For much of Rylan’s childhood, lived partially abroad but primarily in Boise, his father was his basketball coach.

Now at Eastern Washington, that is again the arrangement. Berto, as his father is called, is in his first season as an assistant coach on the men’s basketball team, and Rylan is a graduate transfer who does a little bit of everything for the Eagles, who return to Big Sky Conference play Thursday at Portland State.

“(Rylan) has made a huge difference,” Eagles sophomore Ellis Magnuson said. “He’s just so versatile with what he can do on the court.”

Through 12 games, Bergersen leads the Eagles (6-6, 0-1 Big Sky) in total minutes, steals and assists, and he ranks third in scoring average at 12.9 points per game.

“He can defend 1 through 5, and he can play 1 through 5 if we need him on offense,” Magnuson said. “He’s capable of scoring and passing, and he’s a really good rebounder. But also, what he’s done a great job of is being a good leader as well. He’s been around the block a little bit.”

Bergersen earned first-team all-state honors at Borah High School in Boise, but no Division I programs offered him a scholarship, he said. After graduating in 2016, he played a year at Link Year Prep in Branson, Missouri, to increase his skills and profile, which is when interest from colleges increased.

He then played two years at BYU and appeared in 50 games.

While Bergersen said it was a great growing experience, “I wanted to play.”

That led him back east to Central Arkansas, where “I had a whole lot of opportunity,” Bergersen said, “playing as many minutes as I wanted to, so that was good.”

But the losing wasn’t: In 2020-21, the team went 5-19.

When he got the COVID year back, Bergersen – who averaged 16.2 points per game at Central Arkansas – took the opportunity to transfer as a graduate student.

“I wanted to go somewhere where I had a little bit of both,” he said, “where I could contribute and also win a lot of games.”

Eastern Washington became a natural fit for two reasons. First, Magnuson and Bergersen were longtime friends and played together one season at Borah.

Second, his dad became an assistant coach there under newly promoted head coach David Riley.

“He was already talking to other schools,” Berto Bergersen said of Rylan, “and just one day we were looking at each other and he said, ‘Do they have a scholarship for me, and do they want me?’ ”

It turns out Eastern did.

“I love coaching my sons,” Berto said, “but I never put it out there to (Rylan) because I didn’t want him to do it because I asked him to.”

After the majority of Eastern’s roster and coaching staff left when Shantay Legans did, Riley worked to reassemble both and wanted to do so via existing relationships and connections. Berto Bergersen was already familiar with Eastern through Magnuson, who is close with all three of Berto and Rhonda Bergersen’s sons: Ryzin, Rylan and Ray Ray.

Ryzin plays at Northwest Nazarene in Nampa, Idaho. Ray Ray is a senior at Ferris High School.

Berto Bergersen grew up in Seattle and began his college playing career at the University of Washington. But he played there just one year and then spent a season at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls before ending up at Boise State.

He was the 1999 Big West Conference Player of the Year and was selected in the second round of the NBA draft, 52nd overall by the Atlanta Hawks. Bergersen never reached the NBA, though, and his 11-year professional career was spent with nearly as many teams, many in Europe but also one right at home in Boise: the Idaho Stampede of the NBA Development League. The Stampede retired his No. 11 in 2014.

As Rylan got older, Berto coached his son’s traveling and AAU teams, and basketball was never something he forced on his son, Berto said.

“I guess organically it was forced on him because we were always in the gym,” Berto clarified, “but he’s always loved it on his own.”

Berto remembers the Nerf hoops in every new city, and he also remembers how the first item Rylan wanted every Christmas and birthday was a basketball jersey. Rylan said he is a particular fan of Tracy McGrady, and he is still trying to track down jerseys from some of McGrady’s later career stops.

Berto and Rylan’s reunion in Cheney means they see each other more often than they have in a few years, though Rylan lives in a house with teammates Magnuson and Steele Venters, rather than at home with his parents and Ray Ray, whose games the family attends as much as possible.

But to Berto, coaching Rylan is a bit different this year than it was a few years ago.

“Last time I was coaching him, he was a senior in high school, and the maturation that he’s had in his everyday approach, he’s a totally different person,” Berto said. “That has been a bit of a revelation, for him to be so mature now and be his own guy and to turn into the player that, as a father, I always hoped he would.”

Berto said he sees the parallels between their two playing careers and he hopes that Rylan can end his career with the same sort of winning experience that Berto did at Boise State.

So far, Rylan said, the experience of playing Cheney has been great, and he is ready to get back into conference games.

“It’s such a great atmosphere. Everyone here is a worker,” said Rylan, who is pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership. “We knew we’d have so many new guys coming in that we made it a huge emphasis to create chemistry and become a team.

“I think we’ve done a great job of that.”

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