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Salmonson’s transformation

Colfax boys get a major boost from 6-9 center, who cashes in on his potential just in time
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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To look at him now, you would never guess that Ryan Salmonson’s sport of choice five years ago was ping-pong. But back in seventh grade, two years before he set foot on a basketball court, the Colfax High senior spent a year living in Singapore, where table tennis rules. “Over here, during recess kids are playing basketball,” Salmonson said. “Over there they have 20 ping-pong tables set up and everyone plays. I wasn’t really into sports then, but I started playing. I just practiced every day and I got really good.” The story sounds familiar to those around the Colfax basketball program, who have seen Salmonson transform from a gangly freshman to an imposing 6-foot-9 senior who patrols the paint with authority and throws down dunks with regularity. “He’s been very coachable and put in tons of hours just working on his game,” first-year Colfax coach Mike O’Connell said. “He’s a gym and weight-room rat. He’s been really focused on improving and he’s reaping the benefits of a lot of work.” Salmonson is a big part of Colfax’s 4-0 start in the Pioneer Valley League and its dazzling 16-3 overall record. Few would have predicted the breakout season from the senior, who hardly saw the court as a junior last year. O’Connell has witnessed Salmonson’s metamorphosis firsthand. He coached the freshman team on which Salmonson was a little-used reserve. “My freshman year I never started — I couldn’t even do a layup,” Salmonson said. “As a sophomore (on the JV) I didn’t start. I haven’t really played much at all. This is my first year starting and I love it.” Salmonson is averaging more than 11 points and nearly seven rebounds per game as the Falcons prepare for a showdown at Lincoln on Friday. He took home the first individual honor of his career earlier this season when he was named MVP of the Rosemont Roundup after leading the Falcons to the title. Salmonson’s been a key to the efficient Colfax offense. He’s surrounded by sharp shooters like Justin Witt, Joey Jergo and Austin Oberg. The Falcons are shooting a remarkable 52 percent from the field as a team. “He’s a big inside presence,” O’Connell said. “We have some very good outside shooters, so it gives us a good angle to approach it from. I’ve just told him to use his height and not to bring the ball down. He’s definitely been a huge factor for us.” The Falcons are looking to reclaim the PVL crown. After winning three straight league crowns from 2006-2008, Colfax settled for third last year. “I couldn’t imagine it,” Salmonson said. “It would mean everything. That’s my first goal this year.” His second goal is to play college ball. O’Connell believes he’s got the tools and the drive to play at the next level. “He could play college ball,” O’Connell said. “He’s got to find the right fit, but he’s still got tons of upside. He’s going to keep improving and he’s open to learning. He’s very coachable.” Salmonson said he’s gained about 30 pounds since his freshman year, when he was 6-4, 180. He’s often the only one in the Colfax weight room after practice and he’s gained confidence with every ounce of muscle he’s put on. Despite his considerable height, Salmonson didn’t dunk until last season, when assistant coach Dave Witt told him to give it a try one day after practice. He credits his coaches for believing in his ability all along. “Coach O’Connell’s been great,” he said. “He told me at the beginning of the year to round out my game and he’s expanded my skills. Coach Witt is amazing. I don’t know what I’d do without him.” Maybe play some more ping-pong?