JOLIET — When traveling on Highway 212 from Rockvale toward Joliet, it’s not uncommon for passersby to see Ry Olson.
“He lives on the highway, so when you’re driving toward Billings you can see his house. Ever since he was a little kid, you see him outside shooting,” said Joliet boys basketball coach John Nelson.
“Basketball, I like to say is my first love,” said Olson, who is also a state champion jumper on Joliet’s track team. “It’s just something I started early. I started in first grade. Since then, it’s just stuck with me.”
For Olson, that’s meant hours spent perfecting his craft on the hardwood. The hard work has paid off, as Olson has developed into one of the best Class B boys basketball players in the entire state. He scored his 1,000th career point on Friday, helping Joliet to a crucial 53-50 win over Roundup. With that win, the J-Hawks enter this weekend’s District 4B tournament as the No. 2 seed, meaning they won’t play their first game of the district tournament until Friday. The J-Hawks will meet the winner of Thursday’s first-round game between Roundup and Red Lodge.
More than his scoring, though, Olson has become the leader on a young Joliet team trying to find its footing to replicate last season’s late run. The J-Hawks got hot at the right time last year, advancing to the Class B state tournament as the No. 4 seed out of the Southern B division. Joliet finished the season with a 14-12 overall record.
“It was pretty surprising for a lot of people, but we kind of came together as a team right before districts and played good through districts and then divisionals, kind of got overlooked there, came through and got some big wins and just took it to state,” Olson recalled before turning his attention back to this season. “It’s kind of been up and down. But hopefully by districts we’ll get hot again, like how we did last year. Hopefully we can do something with it.”
Just like last year, Joliet is hovering around .500 at 10-8 overall. That record includes five combined losses to Colstrip, Lodge Grass and Big Timber, three of the best teams in the state. The J-Hawks finished their District 4B schedule 8-2.
“We’re bringing some kids along,” Nelson said. “I feel we have the best player in the district, one of the best players in the state. You can do some dangerous things with that and things can happen.”
After a slow three-game start to the season that saw Olson make just nine of his first 43 field goal attempts, the uber-talented senior hit a rhythm, scoring at least 20 points in nine consecutive games. He poured in a career-high 42 points in Joliet’s 70-58 loss to Big Timber on Feb. 1.
“I kind of let the game to me, but at the same time I want to be that kid that can be aggressive but yet still be a team player,” Olson said. “I just feel like it’s my job — it’s either I got to help my teammates get points or help them be better.”
“He’s smart and he’s understanding that he’s got to get his teammates involved to help him be successful,” Nelson said. “That’s the one thing about the kid, he’s intelligent, he understands the game of basketball. He understands if he’s getting double-teamed that somebody’s open.”
Olson understands life outside the lines, too. He’s a role model in the community, mentoring young kids and spending time with them getting up shots in the gym.
He likes to get shots up in the sky, too, dumping ducks or geese on a nearby pond.
“A lot of times we’ll go jump them in the morning, see what we can get. Then later at night before the sun goes down, we’ll go sit for a little bit and let them come in,” Olson said.
Now that hunting season has concluded and Olson is done shooting birds out of the sky, he’ll look to shoot the J-Hawks on another deep postseason run.