"Big Country" has gone svelte. Yet Conant's Ryan Davis still enjoys wearing his work clothes.
Davis has a new look this year, and that has meant even more trouble for his opponents all season.
Davis was 295 pounds by the end of his freshman year. He began to work out and dropped some weight while adding muscle to go to 280 his sophomore year, and then to 270 his junior year.
Last summer, Davis, who is a legit 6-foot-9 and now 245 pounds, began working out with his brother Joshua, a personal trainer. Joshua got his younger brother to go from 275 pounds to his current size through weight training and better nutrition.
"My brother really helped me a lot," Ryan Davis said. "I am way more athletic than I have ever been."
Ryan Davis has taken that out on Conant's opponents all season long. Despite being double- and triple-teamed, Davis has averaged an eye-pooping 25 points and 11 rebounds this year. He also averages 1.3 blocks and 1 steal, and he's the choice to captain the Daily Herald's Northwest all-area team.
Davis, MVP of the York Christmas tournament and player of the year in the MSL West, credits his off-season upgrade to his strong play in the paint this year.
"As far as conditioning, it has been huge," Davis said. "I get doubled a lot, and all that weight training and being able to maintain muscle has been able to get me through all that contact."
It is not just his inside game that has opposing coaches on edge. Davis has nailed 16 three-pointers this year, which is down from 31 from the previous season, mainly because he played more on the low post this year.
His play led Conant to a 20-7 record this season entering into the Class 4A postseason. In his four years at Conant, the Cougars have won at least 20 games in each of those seasons. They have won 90 games in his career and he joins teammate Ben Schols, who was also on the varsity as a freshman, in holding the school record.
Davis has been an all-area choice the previous two seasons. He averaged 14.5 points and 10 rebounds as a junior and 11.8 points and 8 rebounds as a sophomore.
James Maley, who took over for veteran Conant coach Tom McCormack, said he knew of Davis' skills before he arrived at Conant.
"I saw him a little at York tournament and on film," Maley said. "I knew he was a good player in the spring when I saw him. I was super impressed when he began to show me what he really could do.
"He is awesome. That was probably one of the most dominant seasons I have ever seen up close and personal. He just could not be stopped. Teams would double- and triple-team him, and he still would get to the basket and score. He is such a great kid and that just adds to it."
McCormack was not surprised at how good Davis, who was called up to the varsity team as a freshman, has become.
"We lived in the same neighborhood, and I watched him develop," McCormack said. "It was a no-brainer because he was so skilled. He just got better and better every year."
Maley said the hard work continued even more during the season. After a tough loss at Palatine early in the season, his team returned to Conant. As Maley left his office at Conant, there was Davis shooting.
"That just typifies what kind of player he is," Maley said. "He works his butt his off. It's 10 o'clock at night after a loss and he is still shooting."
Maley considers Davis not only the best player in suburban Cook County, but also in the entire Chicago area.
"A lot of those other guys are surrounded by Division I players," Maley said. "Ryan is surrounded by great teammates, but Ryan has to carry the brunt of the load."
"He is one of the best players I have seen or coached," McCormack said. "He will do very well in college."
Davis raised quite a few eyebrows when he committed to Vermont before the start of this season. But to Davis, Vermont is the perfect fit for him.
"They had been recruiting me the longest," said Davis, who had a couple of dozen Division 1 offers. "They have a great basketball team and great academics. I went there and fell in love with it and really connected with the guys on the team."
Davis also had an academic plan in mind.
"I want to study kinesiology and business," Davis said. "Both are strong programs."
It was a natural for Davis to head to the Vermont, which is located in Burlington. It is a city of 42,600, a bit smaller than Davis' hometown of Schaumburg. Also, Vermont's mascot is a Catamount.
"I know that it is a cougar," Davis said. "It is almost the same thing, isn't it?"