Ryan Ems credits work ethic, faith for strong breakout season with Eastern boys basketball

After struggling with a hamstring injury during his junior, Ems has been a force for the Vikings in 2018–19, averaging more than 16 points per game.

Eastern Regional High School senior Ryan Ems always had the talent to be an impact player on the basketball court.

Standing at six-feet, six-inches tall, Ems showed his ability to score a ton of points inside and outmuscle his opposition when he jumped from the freshman team to the postseason varsity roster as a ninth grader and then joined the varsity team full-time as a sophomore.

However, heading into what was expected to be a big junior season last year, Ems was never able to play to his full potential due to a hamstring injury.

“It was one of those things where we could get some mileage out of him at times and then other times, he would feel like (his hamstrings) were tight and going to pop,” head coach Kevin Crawford said. “It was enough to get inside his head, and he went at his own pace last year.”

This year, the hamstring is healed and Ems has emerged as a threat in the Vikings’ lineup. In helping Eastern to a 10–2 start to the season, Ems is averaging more than 16 points per game. This is a huge step up from last season, where Ems only scored 16 or more points in a game three times.

Coming back from the hamstring injury wasn’t easy for Ems. He talked about how much pain he was in throughout 2017–18 and how he was unable to play at a high level.

“It was frustrating, because I wasn’t able to play to my potential,” Ems said. “But I’ve been working with strength and conditioning coaches for this whole entire year. I’ve gotten a lot stronger.”

Ems set a goal at the start of the school year to get in the best shape of his life. In September, Ems began going to the gym each morning to work out. After school each night, he would go back to the gym to lift. With the hamstring healed and his conditioning improved, Ems entered 2018–19 ready to be a dominating force in the Vikings’ lineup.

Crawford believes Ems was able to bounce back in part due to his strong work ethic and resilience.

“He plays hard,” Crawford said. “He plays with passion. I have other people who come up to me and say, ‘you’re kids play hard this year.’ I think Ryan’s as much of a part of that as anybody.”

Eastern Regional High School senior Ryan Ems dunks in a game at Paul VI on Thursday night. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)

In the first six games of 2018–19, Ems was among the top scorers in South Jersey, having score 16 or more points in each of Eastern’s games, all of them wins. However, when playing against Moorestown High School in the final game of the Vikings’ holiday tournament on Dec. 28, Ems struggled to get open shots as the Quakers double-teamed him throughout the game. Despite this, Ems and the team adjusted.

“We had to rely on our perimeter shooters,” Ems said. “I only had 10 points, but it didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. We won our tournament, we beat a quality opponent and we got the power points.”

Scoring points and receiving accolades isn’t the first thing on Ems’ mind. When asked what he wanted to improve on the most the season, his answer was simply being a leader.

“For him to say, I want to be a leader…it’s great,” Crawford said. “I thought he was a leader on our team the last couple years because he was a strong body and kids looked up to him. But even more so this year, he clearly is our guy.”

Ems drives through the paint for a basket against Paul VI. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)

Ems’ faith has helped him build leadership skills. Over the past few years, Ems has helped build a Christian club at Eastern called the Fellowship of Christian Students. Ems added his faith also played a big role during his rehab from his hamstring injury as well as from a pelvic avulsion fracture injury he suffered a few years ago. Two of his biggest idols are Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Nick Foles, athletes who have also talked publicly about their faith.

“From being in that club, I’ve learned to know when people need help,” Ems said. “I’m just there as someone to talk to. I don’t necessarily have all the answers for them. But if you’re talking on the court, you have to realize how you can push people and how to get the best out of people.”

Ems wants to bring those same qualities to his future career. Ems will attend the University of Scranton beginning in the fall. He will play basketball there and is also enrolled in the school’s physical therapy program.

“My sophomore year, I wasn’t able to walk that summer (after the pelvic fracture), Ems said in talking about physical therapy as a career. “You take someone who’s at their lowest point and you help them get to eventually where I am now. I knew I wanted to help other athletes do that someday.”

Ems is consoled by teammate Colin Prendergast after a hard foul in a game at Paul VI. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)