Transformer: Punahou’s Ryder Hsiung muscles up before heading to Willamette

Ryder Hsiung longed to play as a senior, but opportunity awaits at Willamette University. Photo courtesy of Roger Hsiung.

The extra effort has defined Ryder Hsiung on and off the basketball court.

Not even a global pandemic could change the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Punahou senior. Hsiung signed with Willamette University, which will get the benefit of the sharpshooter’s marksmanship.

As a junior in 2019-20, he had his best scoring output against Saint Louis, splashing six 3-pointers en route to a 24-point performance. Before the game, when Coach Darren Matsuda opened the gym door at 2:30 p.m. for early shooting reps, Hsiung was there waiting.

Matsuda has seen joy and heartbreak through the prep career of Hsiung.

“Ryder has really blossomed as a basketball player and person over the past four years,” he said. “Unfortunately, due to the transfer rules and COVID-19, he only got to play two out of the four years he was with the varsity program.”

Hsiung transferred from Saint Louis to Punahou before freshman year. He was a key player for an intermediate team that won the ILH title, coached by Malcolm Mills. Hsiung’s father, Roger, was an assistant coach. Like his dad and younger brother, Sayler, Hsiung is a southpaw.

“Ryder definitely improved every year,” Roger Hsiung said. “High school is mostly developing physically and mentally, but as a little kid, he was always a good shooter. Just had a nice touch and stroke from when he started playing ball.”

Matsuda has seen a motivated student-athlete — Hsiung has a 3.4 grade-point average — from day one.

“He always came ready to practice every day to work hard on his game and improving as a player to help the team. He’s also a really good student, a great teammate and a great kid, one of the most coachable kids and teammates we’ve had in our program,” Matsuda said.

Matsuda also witnessed the increase in Hsiung’s skills as a person.

“His biggest progress off the court was his leadership and communication skills. He has always been super respectful and has always had great self-discipline,” he said. “Ryder has great parents that have taught him well.”

With no organized leagues or tournaments, Ryder Hsiung spent much of his time in the weight room since the pandemic began. Photo courtesy of Roger Hsiung.

The opportunity at Willamette was a surprise.

“It was kind of out of nowhere. I wasn’t really talking to any schools,” Hsiung said. “Coach Kip (Ioane) contacted me through iMessage. So since then, we’ve been talking constantly on the phone and he met my family through Zoom. He really liked me and my family. The next day, he called and offered me a spot on the team.”

Ioane is in his 12th year as head coach of Willamette, an NCAA Division III program and member of the Northwest Conference. The Bearcats will play a modified five-game schedule in April.

It was a tough go though the cancelled 2020-21 winter sports season. Punahou hoopsters got in a game with their club team, Buff Nation, at Saint Louis, and again a week later when Punahou’s school team met Saint Louis. However, Hsiung could not play because of safety and protocol when a classmate tested positive for COVID-19, sending the entire class into quarantine.

Hsiung completed quarantine in time to play in Punahou’s senior-night intrasquad game.

“I was super excited because we actually had games scheduled, so I was super disappointed,” he said. “I had to quarantine before in January. Same thing, so darn, had to do it again.”

The senior-night game featured Punahou’s graduating trio of Micah Masamitsu, Alaka‘i Troske and Hsiung. The D-I and D-II Buffanblu played each other. Hsiung is now playing volleyball, which is in full swing along with the ILH’s other spring sports. He squeezes in a hoops workout occasionally, but is enjoying the chance to compete for his school this spring as a reserve middle blocker.

“Ryder is actually young for his grade level. Age-wise, he should probably be a junior in high school, so I think his body is still developing,” Coach Matsuda said.

Willamette will have the benefit of Hsiung’s increased strength. In the offseason, the slender junior hit the weight room and packed on 30 pounds. He now carries 185 pounds as senior year nears the close.

“Last year, I weighed 155. I feel like once you get stronger, you get a little faster and more loose,” Hsiung said. “I’d say 200 is a good weight for me. In college, we’ll lift more.”

The increase in strength hasn’t affected his perimeter shooting touch.

“Once you work out, you go and shoot. Your muscles are getting used to the weight you lift. As long as you stretch and warm up, I feel like you can shoot from anywhere,” he said.

Ryder Hsiung gets plenty of support from dad, Roger, and mom, Stacy. Photo courtesy of Ryder Hsiung.

The process of increasing muscle mass and strength has involved a lot of extra eating and planning.

“I’ve just been eating more. It’s really that simple. Eating more meals,” he said.

> Breakfast: “Usually I wake up late. I sometimes skip breakfast. If I’m hungry, I’ll have Spam, eggs and rice. I usually ask my mom (Stacy) to make it.”

> Lunch: “I like pasta, so maybe some spaghetti. I like hamburger in it. Or leftovers.”

> Smoothie: “Before I work out in the afternoon, I’ll have one with strawberries, blueberries, banana and a little bit of protein. I think it’s called Isopure.”

> Dinner: “For me, I’m super hungry after I work out, so I have two or three servings. I like rice, probably two scoops.”

On top of the constant consumption, he has taken his classes virtually, which means a lot less walking on Punahou’s expansive campus. Coupled with a cancelled basketball season, and that’s a lot of calories that did not get burned.

“Conditioning-wise, I’m not there. I’m trying to get it back,” he said.

Matsuda forecasts a bright future for Hsiung.

“The added strength has helped his ability to finish with contact, and his explosion. I think he has another level to go as he continues to grow into his body. This will help him next year when he plays college ball at Willamette,” he said.

The possibilities were exceptional until the cancellation.

“Ryder would’ve had a really nice senior year,” Matsuda added. “He likely would’ve been in the mix for both ILH and/or state player of the year along with a lot of really great seniors who unfortunately missed out on their last season. Even without playing official games and with practices very limited, Ryder held down the fort and led our team during these unique circumstances.”

Matsuda compares Hsiung’s long-range stroke to some hefty names of the past two decades.

“Ryder is one of the best pure 3-point shooters we’ve had along with Miah (Ostrowski), Nick Velasquez, J.B. Kam and Chris Kobayashi. He has a very soft shot with a great, high release. A little reminiscent of Dirk Nowitzki,” Matsuda said. “He played the stretch-4 at the high school level, but will move on to play more of a 3-and-D role at the college level. This year, he worked hard on expanding his game to score well at all three levels.”

Derrick Low, his skills coach, has some advice.

“Continue to stay in love with the process,” the former ‘Iolani and Washington State standout said. “Don’t be content on finding a school. Now is where the real work begins!”

Hsiung plans to major in Business. Dad will miss him.

“He’s my first born and I’ll miss everything about him. The nonstop basketball lifestyle of practice, games, training. Watching basketball, talking basketball,” Roger Hsiung said. “Basketball is the bond between us, the best father-and-son time. A super special type of love. Lately, we got to lift weights together and play ball together. Those are the moments I’ll miss.”

Top 3 movies/shows

1. “Cobra Kai” (Netflix)

2. “Last Chance U.” (Netflix)

“It’s really good. It’s so good.”

3. “Rush Hour”

“I’ve watched ‘Rush Hour’ probably five times.”

Top 3 food/snack/drink

1. Sour cream and onion potato chips, Lays

2. Reece’s peanut butter cups

3. Spaghetti

Top 3 music artists

1. Lil Baby (and 42 Dugg)- “Grace”

2. Rod Wave – “The Greatest”

3. Blxst – “Forever Humble”

New life skill: driving

“I got my license. It was pretty stressful at first. I just don’t want to crash. Now, I’m pretty good. My mom taught me more since I’m with her more.”

Shout outs

“Shout out to my family, of course. Shout out all my coaches. Coach Darren (Matsuda). Coach Derrick Low (skills coach). Coach Kellen (Kashiwa, strength coach). Coach Roy (Nafarrete, Honolulu Sharks).

3:40 p.m. Adds Derrick Low quote.


  1. Jane Togiai March 24, 2021 10:19 am

    So proud of you Ryder!!!! Congratulations!!

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