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A passion for basketball propels Connor Cyran to success at Saddle River Day

When growing up in Garfield, New Jersey, Connor Cyran always loved playing sports, especially at the YMCA. Whether it was Little League Baseball, basketball or playing quarterback for the Garfield Junior Boilermakers, Cyran said it was year-round playing with some time off in the summer. For Cyran, the opportunity to play sports resulted in steadfast support from his parents.

“Having my parents let me play those sports at the right time even though they were working crazy hours,” said Connor. “My parents would pick me up from school at five o’clock and have me at practice at 5:30. I didn’t have time to eat dinner so I would be eating in the car going to practice and changing. It was great dedication by my parents and I want to thank them for sacrificing because without them I wouldn’t be playing basketball.”

With dreams of possibly playing as a quarterback one day in the NFL, Cyran remained playing football until a back injury altered that outlook. Moving away from baseball, Cyran turned his attention towards basketball. Attending St. Leo’s Elementary and Middle School in Elmwood Park, Cyran had a major growth spurt that made basketball his number one sport.

“Around sixth or seventh grade, I knew it was basketball,” explained Connor. “I was kind of tall and would be okay at this sport. Coming out of eighth grade, I was able to play big man throughout grade and middle school because I was the tallest on the team and you didn’t have too many six foot eighth graders.”

After graduating as the salutatorian (2nd highest in the graduating class) from middle school, Cyran had an important decision on whether to attend a public or private high school. “Making the high school decision was kind of hard because I went to Catholic school from kindergarten until 8th grade in Elmwood Park,” remarked Connor. “I was so used to wearing the uniform every day, I applied to Don Bosco, St. Joe’s and St. Mary’s. If I went to St. Mary’s, I would be able to play and grow as a player and not hard to get to in the morning and wake up early.”

A pivotal sequence would unfold with Cyran playing for the New Jersey Gym Ratz AAU team coached by Saddle River Day girls basketball coach Danny Brown, current boys basketball coach Anthony Gallo and coach Hodge. Visiting the school along with his parents who enjoyed the experience made the decision an easy one to attend Saddle River Day.

Even before starting his freshman year at Saddle River Day, Cyran continued endless training for the upcoming basketball season by playing for Ring City Basketball and John Blackgrove Basketball. “I was able to get a great experience with the Nike, EYCB, Midwest Takeover in Indianapolis and AAU Super Showcase down in Florida,” said Connor. “I was able to play against talent from other states and see what players are really doing and learn from them and take something from their game and put into my game.”

“Going to other states and experiencing different basketball I was down in Florida and playing against guys from South Carolina and Alabama. You are getting different basketball than you would get up here in North Jersey and not as much driving to the hoop but shooting from the outside and you really get to experience how different people play.”

“You had Bol Bol, Zion Williamson and LaMelo Ball. The North Carolina Camp on the University of North Carolina Campus and you get kids from all over the United States. Then I started playing guys from our league (Kristian Radovich, Brian McQuillen) on a club team and got some good chemistry because we were all high IQ players.”

Not only playing basketball at Saddle River Day, Cyran participated in soccer as well. “I thought it would get me into shape and played locally when I was five years old,” Connor said. “I was able to condition for the first three months of the school year. When I got to basketball, I could just jog because I’m always going at a fast pace.”

By the time basketball season rolled around, Cyran found himself coming off the bench as the 6th man or sometimes further down at 7th or 8th that did not bother Cyran still receiving quality playing time. What really caught Cyran’s attention was the size of players on the team. “Coming into high school a big change because we had a small forward at 6’5 and two big men at 6’6 and 6’7,” said Connor. “I was the shortest guy who should be playing point guard and that was a big jump for me.”

On his first basketball game and scoring first points at Saddle River Day, “It was really nerve wracking, the jersey was too big and at Bogota. I think I was the first one off the bench because our guard has broken his arm in one of the scrimmages and thrown right in there. I was by the Bogota bench, turned around and shot it and went in. I said to myself I scored my first varsity point and then two possessions later I did the same thing and said wow I’m going to be okay.”

Part of a Rebels team that went 20-5 including undefeated in the NJIC at 16-0 there was plenty of optimism for Cyran heading into his sophomore year. “Before I came in as a freshman, Park Ridge won and Cresskill had big names,” Connor said. “We went into those games and did not take them lightly and came out on top. We were so excited and felt unstoppable that transpired even though we came up short as league champions.”

Despite Saddle River Day finishing with a 13-13 record, the Rebels managed to go 11-5 in the NJIC (Patriot). Cyran numbers rose up significantly scoring 19 times in double figures including a season high 28 points against Cresskill while earning Second-team All-Conference Honors. “My sophomore year we went 13-13 and we had a great amount of talent,” said Connor. “We had lockdown defenders, shooters but couldn’t piece it together correctly.”

“I know one of my good friends, Nick Eiler who plays over at Hartwick College right now, a freshman and year older than me was really upset at the 13-13 season and how the season played out and we didn’t want it happening again. We knew we didn’t want it happening again, could make noise like my freshman year going 16-0 and keep doing that. We wanted to show Saddle River Day was not a joke, we’re here to play and competitive.”

“In order to develop I started working out over the summer between freshman and sophomore year, started working out a little bit and going into the gym. The two biggest factors of me changing were definitely going to the gym, working out and taking seriously. Putting in the extra time with a trainer 1 on 1.”

There would be no drop-off for Cyran, reaching double figures 24 times, equaling a career high in points with 28, with rebounding hitting the double figure mark 19 times and 18 double-doubles. Saddle River Day bounced back with a 26-2 record and second undefeated season in the NJIC at 16-0 while winning the league tournament championship where Cyran was named the Hero of the Game and named to the NJIC First-Team.

Cyran points to importance of the team ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc, practices and adding new players for the success the past couple of years. “The three-point shot has really developed over the last four years. Freshman year we only had big men who could work down inside so they would not go out and shoot three’s. I feel at the end of sophomore year you saw the difference because there were four kids who could shoot the ball and once we got Ryan Cassels and Dylan Besserer as well as Gabe Diaz and Sebastian Giannotti. Shooting lights out from the white line, we did shooting drills in practice, half court shots and with real competitiveness.”

“Practices were 1 on 1, full court, zig zag dribbling, shooting drills and emphasis on defense. I will always remember we had to take a charge and dive on the floor for loose ball and it worked because we started taking charges.”

Looking to make a bigger impact in his senior year, Cyran went back to what worked for him in the past and that is training. “Before the season me and one or two other seniors did a little training with the athletic director to get us in shape for the season,” said Connor. “That got us really excited for practices and tryouts. We were there just to help out the younger guys and even some of the older guys that felt they were not doing good as they should have been.”

Off to another superb start scoring in double figures in the first two games, Cyran achieved two milestones against Westwood registering a career high 34 points while tallying his 1,000th career point. “Scoring my 1,000th career point was a great experience and something I never imagined in my career,” Connor said. “As I started looking mat my stats I got an idea of where I was. I had a bunch of family and friends and my college coach for next year at the game.”

It’s not all about sports for Cyran at Saddle River Day, balancing out time of being a student-athlete and maintaining a solid GPA.

“You are committed to a sport and at the same time you are going to school 6 to 8 hours a day so you have to really determine how to balance your school work and practice,” said Connor. “I just feel getting the 1 on 1 experience with the teachers’ at Saddle River Day really helps. If you have questions, you can go to them right away but a big thing s the time before you have practice and at the end of the practice is the most important time of the day. I like to finish up a lot of work in class especially if there are other students’ around me who are willing to work in a group because we can help each other if we have any questions. There was one guy Matt DaGaetano who was in honors and on the team and asked if I needed any help.”

“I graduated my class as salutatorian and worked to keep this up. I enjoy having good grades, keeping my parents’ off my back and get to keep playing the sport with no worries. They have an academic rule that if you have a certain grade you can’t play. We actually make it a point every season and in a pre-season team meeting about our team goals. Undefeated at home, a certain winning percentage and get a team GPA goal. We not only want to be one of the best teams’ on the court but want to show we’re a great team in the classroom but outside of the classroom.”

Reaching the double plateau figures 20 times in his final year, Cyran scored a game high 23 points in the Rebels win over Paterson Charter on February 27 that secured a second consecutive NJIC Tournament Championship. Overall Saddle River Day went 22-4 including a first-round state playoff victory over Morristown-Beard. Cyran received numerous honors, First-Team All-Bergen County Basketball and First-Team All-League from the Bergen County Coaches Association, MVP of the NJIC Championship Game and Player to Watch Coming Into 2019-20.

“I have enjoyed my entire high school career in school and sports and enjoyed everything about it,” Connor said. “I just wanted to help my team be successful one last time. I feel playing AAU Basketball for Ring City and John Blackgrove Basketball helped me work on my ball handling and being a guard and small forward. I feel the three other seniors could not have done honestly any better, they came ready to practice every day and help the kids get better. If they were not playing as much they were happy and had that team chemistry going. We’re always ready to accept the challenge when we go up against a big team. Playing in our state bracket is amazing because we have a measuring stick and some of the best talent in New Jersey in the Non-Public B including Naz Reid who plays on the Minnesota Timberwolves. We’re going in as a small school and know it’s going to be hard to win against these bigger private schools. Going up against Division I athletes at some school like Roselle Catholic”

“I want to say thank you to Anthony Gallo because he honestly helped me develop as a player in high school and navigate the waters. He has developed the Saddle River Day program, the last two years going 16-0 (NJIC) and 39-game winning streak against NJIC opponents and go to the quarterfinals of the county tournament that Saddle River Day never did before and setting a Bergen County Jamboree record for most made three’s is great stuff for our school and promotes the program.”

“He has won Coach of the Year two or three times in the last four years. We have butted heads if something wasn’t going well or I wasn’t playing well and get mad at each other but in the end I’m trying to give input on what I’m seeing on the court and he is giving input on how to make the team the best in can be and win as many games. It’s something that helped me grow as a player, talking to my coach and explaining what I’m seeing and helping me get to the next level. It helped me become the leader of the team, helping out younger guys, fellow seniors and teammates get better.”

“There is amazing support throughout the school after games. We come in the next day and having teachers’ come up to me and say great game last night and your team did really well and played amazing. It’s just a confidence booster and helps boost your mood in the morning. The head of the school will come out for a half of a game. Even the teachers’ who retired in the last couple of years still come out to our games and enjoy watching us play and used to coach. The girls team support us and within the tri-state area everyone knows who Saddle River Day is.”

“Before we won the first league championship and went 16-0 not a lot of fans came out and thinking Saddle River Day is just mediocre. We wanted people to come out and support, have fun in an exciting environment. We kept winning, the fans kept coming out and we wanted more success for the school.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cyran is taking classes via online and unsure when he and the rest of the students will return to Saddle River Day. Furthermore, Cyran is looking forward to attending college in the fall. Contacted by a host of schools, Cyran narrowed the field down to five and ultimately chose Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York.

“I can’t wait to get up to Mount Saint Mary College and start hanging out and playing with my team in pick-up games before the season starts,” Connor said. “I enjoy the area and like the team. An amazing staff and program and feel I’m going to be able to grow as a player but a young man and going to be studying Exercise Science.”

“High school goes buy really fast and college will do the same. Coming into high school I said wow, I have four years in front of me and now I have six weeks before I’m done. We have to do online classes now and who knows if we are going back to school. It’s kind of a weird ending but going to be a great beginning of college.”

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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