Ryan Wedel admired the reputation of the Missouri Valley Conference. It's a conference known for basketball, and known for letting guards build and protect that reputation.
Now he is contributing to the Valley's scouting report as a conference controlled by shooters and passers in the backcourt.
"I always wanted to play in the Missouri Valley," he said. "It's pretty much a guard-oriented league. Basketball is pretty much every team's No. 1 sport. This conference loves basketball."
Wedel, a junior from Minneapolis, Kan., grabbed his chance to play in the MVC after a coaching change at Arkansas State in the spring of 2008. He transferred to Drake, where he averages 12.6 points and makes 41.7 percent of his three-pointers.
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"He's a terrific shooter, but also a terrific competitor," Drake coach Mark Phelps said. "I don't think we've seen the best of Ryan this year. He can shoot it better. He can improve on the defensive end."
Wedel, who takes more than half his shots behind the arc, grabbed the attention of Wichita State coaches. The teams meet tonight at Koch Arena, both trying to rebound after losing conference openers. Drake (5-8, 0-1 MVC) has lost three straight. WSU (11-2, 0-1) had a nine-game win streak snapped at Illinois State on Tuesday.
"When he's in the gym, he's open," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "We've got to be there when he walks in the gym, and all night long."
Wedel is one of many good shooters on Drake's roster. The Bulldogs make 39.4 percent of their threes and rank fifth nationally by making 9.4 a game. Senior guard Josh Young, a player defenses keyed on last season, is shooting better because of Wedel's presence.
"You've got to have more than one guy that can really defend," Marshall said. "You've got to show on screens. They're going to set a lot of screens for those guys. One of them will have the ball in their hands as they push it up the court."
Wedel is playing point guard, something he did not do at Arkansas State. He spent two seasons there and averaged 15.1 points as a sophomore. At Class 2A Minneapolis, he earned Mr. Kansas Basketball honors after averaging 25.6 points in 2005-06. His shooting got him noticed by ESPN's "SportsCenter," which showed highlights of him scoring 25 points in 2:02 against Southeast-Saline. He expects around 40 friends and family to pile in a bus and ride to Wichita from Minneapolis, about 24 miles north of Salina.
Phelps was looking for players when took over for Keno Davis after the 2007-08 season. He knew coaches who knew Wedel and heard good things about his shooting and his demeanor.
Both proved to be good fits.
"He's one of those easy guys to be around," Phelps said. "There's no hesitation when I have to address him in a positive manner or correcting manner. He's not thin-skinned at all."
Wedel watched the MVC season from the bench last season. In the Sun Belt Conference, athletic ability and offense ruled. The Valley plays a different style.
"I was surprised how physical this conference was," he said. "Each team plays pretty good defense. I had to get quicker and stronger and meaner."