The partnership between Ryan Gomes and Mount St. Mary's men's basketball goes back a few years, to when Gomes was a sophomore at Westminster High School and preparing to transfer to Friends School in Baltimore.
Gomes made the move and had to sit out one year, which re-classified him as a Class of 2016 senior. After taking the 2013-14 season off, Gomes thrived against Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association competition and filled out his 6-foot-10 frame.
He had also committed to the Mount by then, and coach Jamion Christian could hardly wait to have his prized player.
"I love him," said Christian, who is in his fifth year as MSM coach. "He was such a big recruit for us, and he's going to be such a dominant player for us moving forward. He's a guy that we identified really early in the recruiting process.
"We always want to make sure we do a great job of keeping elite players close to home. And Ryan was a guy that we identified as a sophomore, as one of those guys we had to have in our program."
Consider this winter the official beginning of Gomes' transformation into a college big man.
Gomes, 19, is one of six freshmen on the Mountaineers' roster, and Christian has only two seniors on the squad. Inexperience could be a factor in the team's 1-10 record, but consider the opponents — a schedule that includes West Virginia, Iowa State, and Michigan, all of which were ranked among the top 25 in the country when the Mount played them in November.
Mount St. Mary's started 0-3, then edged George Mason in overtime, but has dropped seven straight with Northeast Conference play beginning Dec. 29.
Gomes averages eight minutes per game, with 2.0 points and 1.1 rebounds. He has seen minutes in every game but hasn't made a start yet.
He scored six points against Minnesota, a season high, and grabbed four rebounds in the WVU game.
Minor contributions, maybe, but it's all part of Christian's plan for Gomes.
"Having him here has really changed the dynamic of our program and where we're going to be able to go in the future," Christian said. "I love how he runs. He's going to be a tremendous rebounder, learning how to use his size. When you look at guys we play against, the non-conference [teams] ... they look like him."
Gomes said he felt the same when facing big-time D-I frontcourt players, which is part of the reason why he showed up on campus over the summer to put in extra work. Christian said he knew what sort of basketball skills Gomes possessed in high school, and was eager to see how the teenager developed over time.
The Mountaineers coach said he liked how Gomes ran the court, and his knack for being a good teammate. Gomes, who averaged around 15 points per game for Friends a season ago, credits Quakers coach Albert Holley for helping him make a smooth transition from Westminster.
Gomes also points to Christian and his up-tempo style — called "Mayhem" at the Mount — as being attractive qualities for an aspiring college basketball player.
"I'm just trying to find my place and find how I can benefit our team," said Gomes, who paid attention to MSM's games over the last few seasons. "Being a college big man, it's coming along really well. I've just got to keep coming along with the process and trust it, buy into everything here."
Another part of Christian's plan, the coach said.
Mawdo Sallah, a redshirt sophomore from Gambia, and junior Chris Wray are the Mount's regular forwards. Senior Will Miller comes off the bench for most of the other frontcourt minutes.
But Gomes and guard Miles Wilson have emerged as the team's top freshmen in terms of playing time.
"My ultimate goal is to play, that's what I came here to do," Gomes said. "I'm not shying away from the work or anything, but I can't complain. I don't really expect anything, I just work hard and try to get in. Try to work my way in."
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Christian said he envisions a day, not too far off, when Gomes and Sallah become Mount St. Mary's "two-headed monster" under the hoop (Sallah is listed at 6-9). The coach thinks his team can compete in the NEC this year, that it's better for taking lopsided losses against some of the nation's best.
By working as many players as possible into his rotation, Christian tries to have everyone within the program on the same path.
Gomes is glad to be a part of it.
"I'm very happy," He said. "Loyalty is a big deal with me, and Coach Christian has shown that he wants me here. There's a reason for me being here, and I truly believe that."
It showed me that I can play Division I basketball, and he believed that I could. He wouldn't have wasted all his time and effort with me being here.