VALPARAISO — Quiet, unassuming, 6-foot-7 with a Peter Brady voice, Ryan Fazekas isn’t your stereotypical yelling, jersey-grabbing teammate.
“It’s probably not natural from a rah rah component,” Valparaiso University coach Matt Lottich said.
But that doesn’t mean the Marquette Catholic graduate and Crusaders senior doesn’t know how to lead, it’s just all in the understated manner in which he does it.
“Between my freshman and sophomore years (at Providence), I was pushed out of my shell,” Fazekas said. “Playing under Kris Dunn, Ben Bentil, Rodney Bullock, those are tough dudes. They expect you to be tough. I latched on to that and brought it to now where I need to be vocal, to do all the leadership stuff. I definitely take more of a vocal stand. I’m not one to say the most, but I will call it how it is.”
Even with his modest 20 games of playing time at VU, Fazekas has been around the block more than any Crusader, entering his fifth season as a collegian.
“With (John) Kiser, we have the most experience playing, and we share that with the younger guys,” he said. “If guys are messing up, we won’t let it happen. Pulling guys aside is the best way to do it. You can both get your thoughts out without having a big argument where everyone’s listening. It’s not high volume, but it’s quality.”
Lottich overheard a moment before a practice last season that exemplifies Fazekas’ low-key style.
“Last year, we started off conference really well and Ryan was a big part of that,” Lottich said. “We were getting ready for a practice, one guy was saying, what kind of day are we going to have today? Ryan says, who cares? you better bring it. That mentality is who he is, trying to become that every-day person. You can have individual conversations. He’s taken on that team leadership role. A lot of guys, especially when we get to the season, we’re coaching the team, sometimes it’s harder to get individual skill work. Ryan dedicated in showing guys how to do that. He’s a senior. Seniors lead. That’s our expectation.”
For Fazekas, it’s simply about effort, bringing the proverbial lunch pail and hard hat, punching in his time card and getting to work.
“I’m more of let it happen type guy,” he said. “We have a system, you work with the system. Along the years, I’ve learned what works, what doesn’t work for me, what I need to do to give myself the best chance to stay healthy. It’s high energy every day. There are no excuses for taking the lazy way out, the easy way out. You’ve got to go into a game every night and bang. You’re going to get bumps and bruises, but you can’t let that affect you the next day in practice.”
That credibility is valuable to any team, but means even more to a transitioning Valpo squad with plenty of new faces after an active offseason of roster changes.
“There’s no substitute for experience,” Lottich said. “The thing I’m pleased with is how much he tries to bring young guys with him. Being guy who’s going to rep out, Ryan’s allowed, by example, the freshmen to see what success looks like, and it’s not just in a game. Ryan’s very self motivated. Even now, he’s in here a lot on his own. Our challenge with him is, bring someone with you, show guys how to work. His toughness, he works extremely hard, if he can instill those qualities within team, we’ll be just fine. We’re big on making sure you leave anywhere you’re at better than how you found it, and Ryan’s doing a good job of that.”
Though his beard’s not showing any gray yet, Fazekas embraces the veteran’s role on a young team.
“In a lot of ways, it is a new team,” he said. “I’m used to it. It’s college basketball, there’s always new pieces. I don’t hold grudges with anybody that left. They’ve got to do what they’ve got to do. It’s a new year with new opportunities. I’m excited for the group of guys coming in. They’re motivated. They’re going to make the most of it. We’ll get them on the right path and go with it.”