It happens every spring. High-major college coaches scour the high school, prep and JUCO ranks for late-blooming players. Particularly big men. Had Ryan Gomes decided to bypass the upcoming fall signing period, he might very well have been one of those cross-your-fingers spring signees.
Instead, Gomes will put pen to paper next month on a letter of intent to Mount St. Mary's, where he committed in July. Three months removed from his decision, the Friends School senior said he's still convinced that he made the right move.
"I honestly feel like it's a weight off my shoulders," said Gomes, who averaged 12.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.0 blocks as a junior. "I feel confident with my decision. All I really feel the need to do is get better [and] focus on schoolwork. I'm honestly glad I made my decision early, rather than waiting around."
A 6-foot-10, 235-pound center, Gomes' journey from a gangly freshman at Westminster to an assured, productive upper-classman at Friends featured plenty of highs and lows.
On the AAU circuit, Gomes spent time with Nike Baltimore Elite and then DC Premier (formerly DC Assault) before finally landing with the District Basketball Club. There were plusses associated with playing for those first two nationally renowned AAU programs – even though Gomes, at a young age, did so in a minor role – but his development left something to be desired.
Still, Gomes received plenty of inquiries over the years. He made unofficial visits to American, Auburn, Brown, Boston University, George Mason, Holy Cross, Loyola, Marshall, Maryland, Navy, St. Joseph's, Temple, Towson and VCU. Mount St. Mary's was Gomes' only official visit, and ultimately the only school that offered him a scholarship.
"As a sophomore getting offered by Mount St. Mary's, it's a Division I school, so I was pretty excited," Gomes said. "Honestly, I thought then that there was more coming. But I just kept on working. As I got older, I came to the realization that maybe the first offer is the best offer. … [Recruiting] just kind of slowed down. I don't really know what happened. I've just been working my butt off, to be honest. It was kind of frustrating to know that things are kind of slowing down, but it kind of made it easier on me, committing early, knowing where I'm going."
Part of the appeal of Mount St. Mary's was the familiarity he had with the campus. Growing up 20 minutes away from the school, Gomes made frequent trips to see a friend of the family play for the Mountaineers' baseball team, in addition to later visits to basketball camps.
"I've been going there as long as I remember," Gomes said. "It didn't really affect my decision, but my family can come watch me play. … My grandparents want to watch. It didn't really play a part, but it just kind of seemed like a pro that my grandparents always wanted to watch me play college basketball."
On the court, Gomes sees his game as a perfect fit for coach Jamion Christian's offense. He's a center that doesn't "feel like a Jahlil Okafor," but is versatile and comfortable with his mid-range game and ability to pass out of the post.
"Honestly, I love the way they play," Gomes said. "What [Christian has] told me on multiple occasions is that I'm the kind of big guy that loves to run the floor. Big guys do it, but it's not very common to just run the floor. I don't mind. I'm going to hustle. I'm going to kick it back out. I like the up-tempo, get-it-up-the-floor system. I played pickup there, and on my official I watched practice. I just really fell in love with how they played."
Gomes, who plans to major in "something in the medical field," had another seemingly tough decision to make over the summer. Several national high school powers were interested in him as a transfer, including Huntington Prep in West Virginia. Going to a school like that would've undoubtedly raised Gomes' profile, and probably led to more interest and offers from colleges. But finishing high school at Friends and playing for coach Albert Holley – one of Gomes' "favorite coaches and people in the world" – made sense given his love for the school.
"I was going to Mount one way or another," Gomes said. "I'm set in stone. I'm not going anywhere. Loyalty is a recurring thing with me. I was loyal to the program, loyal to my high school, loyal to my family. I didn't feel the need to leave."