Ryan Kane's friend, who had accompanied the Ripon men's basketball coach to a regional high-school basketball game, turned and told Kane flatly, "There's no way you're getting this kid."
Kane had gone to watch Catholic Memorial's Ty Sabin, who put on a show from beyond the arc and finished with 31 points as his team downed Pewaukee in the Division 2 regional final in 2013, 68-58. Sabin had narrowed down his college choices between Ripon and Platteville in the final weeks of his senior season.
"Every night, I’d tell my wife if we can get this kid, we can be good again right away next year," Kane recalled. "I knew he would help us right away. The arc of a player's career depends on when they get that moment of confidence, and when he got on the floor early in his career, he knew he could do it at a collegiate level. Most successful people are more motivated by success than failure. That‘s the case with Ty. That motivated him to continue working on his game."
Needless to say, Sabin did, after all, choose Ripon, and the results have been exhilarating. Sabin headed into last week leading the NCAA in career scoring average across divisions (25.0 points per game) and had scored in double figures all 74 games of his career. The New Berlin native scored a school-record 53 points – including a staggering 45 in the second half – against Loras on Nov. 26 to break his own school record in a 105-100 victory. When he scored 35 points in a 38-36 win over Monmouth on Dec. 2, he set the Ripon all-time scoring record, now with 1,915 after the weekend.
The mark, which breaks the 1,871 points scored by 2011 graduate Scott Gillespie, is something that resonates with Sabin as well as any plaudit he's received – and there have been many.
"All those guys that have come before me are cheering for me to get it, and they reach out to me, and they’re excited about me breaking the record," Sabin said. "That’s what makes it cool, is that I have the support from all of them, too."
The two-time NCAA Division III All-American Sabin was named to the D3 Preseason All-American First Team before his final season, recognition given to the perceived five best D3 players in the nation.
"When I was looking at my options, I looked at everything school wise, location wise, being close to home, who I'd be playing for, playing with," Sabin said. "I could see myself fitting in right away at Ripon. I remember everything was laid out for me, and the opportunity was kind of there to help the team right away."
That Sabin has reached such heady territory may be a surprise considering he was just his team's third-leading scorer as a junior at Catholic Memorial. He broke out to the tune of 19 points per game as a senior.
"I started going to Orange Shoe Personal Fitness, in Brookfield, working out with the trainer," Sabin said. "Junior year when we lost (in the postseason), I was really disappointed, so I lifted more seriously than ever and got a lot stronger. I went from just being able to dunk to doing two-handed dunks. I was in the weight room a lot, one-on-one with the trainer."
Always one to work on his jump shot, Sabin had added more range, greater separation and greater explosion.
"It was my first recruiting class," Kane said. "We had five seniors, four of them were guards, and we were graduating an All-American. We were really looking for a freshman class that could come in and impact right away, come in and shoulder the scoring load. I knew we had one guy who was a proven scorer, but we had to bring in someone with a scorer’s mentality. (Sabin) had five consecutive games (in high school) of scoring 30 or more, and the Classic 8 is as strong a conference as there is in the state, so he was doing that against that quality competition. I was saying my prayers that more schools wouldn't come to see him (play) more."
Sabin is positioned to finish his Ripon career with some remarkable accolades. His 1,847 points are just 24 shy of the school record, and he'll have a chance this weekend to set a new mark against Monmouth (Ill.) on Dec. 2 and Cornell (Iowa) a day later.
It was against Cornell last year that he wrote the previous school single-game scoring record with 51 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer at the overtime buzzer.
"The Cornell game, I just hit a few shots in a row, and from then on I was just kind of feeling it," Sabin said. "That game, it wasn’t like I just exploded. With this last game (against Loras), the first half was one of the worst halves of my life, and the second half was a whole different story."
Kane saw the 53-point game similarly.
"He had 8 points and five turnovers in the first half, and for him that (turnover count) is usually over the course of two or three games, much less a half," Kane said. "They went on a 10-0 run (in the second half), and he missed his first shot. So there were really just 16 minutes on the game clock, and he scored 45 points in that stretch. He did it on 12 field-goal attempts, and he made all 12 of them. five being threes. His more phenomenal scoring games, they’ve always been those games where he’s really efficient."
Run to 2K
Should Sabin reach the 2,000-point plateau, which seems inevitable, he would become just the seventh player in Midwest Conference history to get there. He has already racked up two MWC Player of the Year Awards.
He landed his first career double-double when he totaled 33 points and 11 rebounds Saturday in an 80-73 win over Cornell, and Ripon has now opened the season 4-0 after finishing 15-9 last season. That included a 58-55 loss in the finale to Carroll, where Sabin was held to 11 points.
"Going into this year, I worried about being more efficient and having better percentages; I never worry about how much I score," Sabin said. "I'm just doing what it takes to get our team to win, get more involved and attacking the hoop. If they collapse on me, all our shooters will be wide open; if they don’t collapse on me then I’ll have an open lane to the hoop.
"Something I’ve been working on a lot (is getting to the line). A lot of good scorers get to the line a lot, and it can slow the game down. Free throws, good shooters can be good at. It's the only shot that never changes in the game."
Sabin made 18 of 22 from the free-throw line against Loras. He shot 80 of 102 last year at the line (78 percent) and averaged 25.9 points per game.
"As great a player as Ty his, he’s just as good a teammate," Kane said. "I’ve had coaches ask me, 'Are the guys happy for Ty when he does these things?' Since his sophomore year, he's been getting a lot of media attention. It's easy for there to be animosity, but Ty has never once put himself above the team. Everything he does is in a way to try and make the team better. I watch other teams and their benches, and our bench celebrates every shot Ty makes; they never get tired of watching him. I don’t necessarily see that from a lot of programs."
Sabin is majoring in exercise science, but he does hope to play overseas when his career at Ripon concludes. He'll look to catch on with an agent in an effort to find that opportunity.
"The hope is to allow him to take basketball and use that as a vehicle to see the world, develop himself in that way," Kane said. "I've talked to a number of people that play in the higher leagues, There are a lot of lower level leagues in Europe where he could work his way up and establish himself. For now, we'll focus on our season and then try to secure an agent. He'll have every opportunity to get a spot."