CASPER, Wyo. -- Ryan Sullivan is ready to create his own legacy.
The Sidney native grew up under the Sullivan-Selvig umbrella of eastern Montana, but he’s set to make his own mark in Wyoming. Sullivan was recently named the head girls basketball coach at Sheridan High School.
“I wanted to get to Sheridan and Wyoming … because I kind of wanted to build something off of my own merit,” Sullivan said. “That’s not to say I’m not thrilled with the support I get from my family, but off the court, now I have to invest. … I kind of wanted to prove to myself that it was something that I could do.”
Sullivan’s dad is Rollie Sullivan, who has coached in eastern Montana — except for one state championship season at Frenchtown — since the 1970s. His uncle is Robin Selvig, the legendary who coach who led the Montana Lady Griz basketball program for 38 years before retiring in 2016. His sister is Jordan Sullivan, who has worked her way up to assistant coach with the Lady Griz the past few years.
All those names — and countless others in the Selvig and Sullivan family trees — carry a lot of weight in Montana basketball circles, even if basketball is no longer at the forefront of family gatherings.
“Things have kind of wound down with the aunts and uncles a little bit,” Ryan Sullivan said. “We don’t spend a ton of time talking about hoops with the extended cousins and stuff like that. A lot of times when we get together with them, it’s over Fourth of July or whatever in the summer. The (Selvig) uncles — you know, Rob and Dave and Doug and Randy — are more interested in doing push-ups and pull-up competitions than talking hoops right now.”
While the Selvigs and Sullivans are synonymous with basketball in Montana, they’re not as well-known in Wyoming, where Ryan Sullivan, the youngest of four siblings, will look to build up his own name in the coming years.
It’s been a rapid ascension for the 2012 graduate of Sidney High School. After starting his college basketball career at Dickinson (N.D.) State, Sullivan transferred to Montana Western, where he played under then-coach Steve Keller. Sullivan graduated in 2018 and jumped into the coaching ranks that fall, starting his career as an assistant boys basketball coach at Cut Bank.
He spent one year on the Hi-Line before moving to Casper, Wyo., where he became an assistant boys coach for Natrona County. After one year there, he landed the head job at Sheridan.
“Those last two years, even though that’s not a lot of time, I really feel like I learned a ton,” said Sullivan, who also teaches social studies. “Obviously I’ve got some resources that help me out, just immediate family, people I can rely on there, but just being able to sit back and learn (was beneficial).”
Sullivan will meet with his new team soon to outline offseason plans when he’ll learn his personnel and team strengths and weaknesses. From there, he’ll be able to devise an offensive system, but he already knows what he wants to see on the defensive end.
“I know, for sure, we’re going to guard the length of the court, we’re going to guard hard, we’re going to end possessions with rebounds. Those are kind of going to be our non-negotiables, is being really sound defensively and playing hard and ending possessions,” he said.
Those are all coaching traits Sullivan inherited from the family lineage. Rollie Sullivan’s teams were up-tempo, in-your-face defensive squads who claimed a couple state championships. The younger Sullivan recalled a conversation from two winters ago where the family debated the different aspects of an effective run-and-jump man press defense.
He also learned a thing or two about defense at Montana Western. Keller, who has now been the head men’s coach at the University of Providence since 2018, is known for his situational coaching, preparing his teams for different moments and schemes that will arise during the course of a game.
“That was one thing that I always felt (Keller) did a good job of was putting you in a position, especially defensively, to not be surprised by things. That’s going to be a big thing for us, too,” Sullivan said. “In Montana and Wyoming, until they get that shot clock figured out, you can muck some games up and make them really, really competitive just by playing sound defense and being really good situationally. … If you’re sound situationally, you’re going to be in good shape down the stretch, I think.”
The Sheridan girls struggled last season at Wyoming’s 4A classification, which is similar to Montana’s Class AA level, but the school has a strong athletic tradition. The girls basketball team has won six state championships, the latest coming in 2007, while Sheridan’s powerhouse football program has won 27 state titles, including four of the past five.
Playing in Montana’s Eastern A conference from 2008-12 while at Sidney, Sullivan has seen firsthand some of the great high school traditions and atmospheres in Montana. The Eagles competed against the likes of Glendive, Miles City, Hardin, Billings Central and Laurel.
“Montana, the culture around athletics and high school sports is unique. There’s support and there’s student sections and parent support, that’s what Montana is. High school football, high school basketball, every single sport in high school is prioritized and it’s important,” Sullivan said. “Sheridan, from what I can tell … that’s the closest thing that I’ve seen in Wyoming to a Montana-like feel and culture to athletics. That makes it really enticing for me.”