Clearwater coach Tom Shaneyfelt's playbook is thicker than a textbook. In fact, it contains so many screens and pick-and-rolls he sometimes forgets which play to run.
Whenever that happens, Shaneyfelt knows who can jog his memory. His point guard, Nicole Ryan.
"She's definitely like a coach on the floor," Shaneyfelt said. "I throw a ton of stuff at her and she picks it up pretty quickly."
Ryan, a junior, was the undisputed floor leader for the Tornadoes this season. All that Shaneyfelt asked her to do was play defense like a demon, rebound at both ends, call plays, distribute the ball evenly and score.
She did it all, averaging 12.6 points, 7.3 assists and 4.6 rebounds. Her performance helped offset the loss of Dominique Redding, a three-time Pinellas County player of the year who graduated in May of 2003 and is now playing at Tennessee.
Ryan also played a big role in getting Clearwater back to the state tournament, where the team lost in the Class 5A final.
"I feel like coach Shaneyfelt and myself think along the same lines in terms of basketball," Ryan said. Ryan's brain has become such an encyclopedia of basketball Shaneyfelt trusts her implicitly on the court.
"She has a lot of leeway to call things on her own when she's playing," he said.
Basketball has always been in Ryan's blood. The sport was the center of affection for her parents, JoAnn and Tim. They met in elementary school and played the game through college.
It was only natural Nicole would gravitate toward the sport. Nicole started playing T-ball and soccer when she was 5. But once she grabbed a basketball, nothing else came close. When her mother went to the grocery store, Nicole basketball dribbled a basketball down the aisles. At the dinner table, Nicole used one hand to shovel down food, the other to bounce a ball.
Even after darkness fell, Nicole stayed out at a nearby park, shooting and dribbling. It was that type of dedication that helped Ryan develop her off-the-chart hoops IQ. Nevertheless, she still considers herself a student of the game.
"I'm always watching basketball tapes, talking about basketball, breaking down plays," Ryan said. "You have to do whatever it takes to get the job done."