Growing up in the shadow of the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Ian Boylan seemed like the last person who would end up making a name for himself at Cal State Northridge.
Now, four years after he left his home in the Midwest for California, he has done exactly that. Heading into his final conference home game Wednesday night against Cal Poly, he has built a legacy that will be tough for future players to top.
Boylan, a six-foot six-inch senior, leads the 13-10 Matadors in scoring, as he did his sophomore and junior years, averaging 15.2 points per game. For the second straight year, he’s led the team in assists as well, averaging 3.6 per game this season. Boylan is also at the top of the Big West Conference in steals, with 2.7 per game.
The story of how Boylan ended up playing college basketball 1200 miles from his home can be considered fate at work, or as a string of coincidences.
It started when CSUN head coach Bobby Braswell and then assistant Eric Brown (now at USC) were at a tournament in Las Vegas to scout a player from Los Angeles, whose team was facing Boylan’s. Braswell had never heard of Boylan before then.
“Ian must have scored about 38, 39 points in that game we were watching, and I was really impressed with him,” Braswell said. “I turned to my assistant coach at the time and said, ‘Boy, he’s a pretty good player.'”
Unknown to Braswell at the time, Boylan had already seen Northridge in action the year before, when he was on a recruiting trip to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa.
He liked the style of play the Matadors used, and when no offer came from his hometown Sooners, Boylan signed with Northridge in the fall of 2000.
Other than Braswell, the person at CSUN that may know Boylan best is current CSUN color analyst and former Matador guard Michael Scott. Scott is Boylan’s friend and was his teammate from 2001 to 2004.
He says he and Boylan developed a special chemistry and bond when they joined the program at the same time.
Scott adds that Boylan’s mind makes up for the disadvantages he may have against more athletic players.
“He’s not extremely quick and doesn’t jump that well,” he said. “He’s just one of the most intelligent basketball players. He has what they call basketball IQ. He has [the] basketball IQ of someone I’ve never seen before.”
Braswell, in his ninth season at Northridge, says his job has been made easier by having a player of Boylan’s caliber around.
“If you had a team of 15 guys like Ian Boylan, you’d have no worries at all as a coach,” Braswell said. “He’s just been a phenomenal young man for us, both on the floor and off.”
While both Braswell and Scott praise Boylan for his heart and his intelligence that have helped him and his teammates excel on the court, the ever-modest Boylan instead credits Braswell’s system and his fellow Matadors for his success.
“Nothing really gives me an edge over my opponents,” Boylan said. “I think it’s just playing in this system and playing with this team gives me help. Because, my teammates look for me, they set screens for me, and they’re the ones that have helped me become a good player.”
This entire season, Boylan has been climbing up the Matador record charts to cement his legacy here. In a win at Long Beach State on Jan. 8, he made the 150th three-point shot of his career, becoming Northridge’s all-time leading three-point shooter. In that same game, he moved into second place on CSUN’s all-time scoring list.
With a minimum of seven games remaining in his career, Boylan is 162 points behind Brian Heinle for the CSUN career scoring record. It’s a high mountain to climb, but nothing should be considered impossible for Boylan, who has scored 20 or more points in a game, 22 times in his career.
This past week, Boylan recorded his 252nd career steal, tying Markus Carr for the CSUN record.
Boylan gives high praise to Carr, calling him the player he enjoyed playing with most.
Boylan’s steals have created many uncontested fast breaks for him, but with just two career dunks, he’s shown a tendency to go for the lay-up, to the disappointment of many Northridge fans.
“I used to dunk in high school,” Boylan said. “It was cool in high school to dunk. Now in college everybody can dunk, so it’s not that big of a deal. I try to save my energy for defense.”
Boylan and company opened the season back in Norman, facing Oklahoma in a tight game before eventually losing, 80-70.
Boylan liked playing the game in front of the people he grew up with, but also says he has enjoyed living in California the past four years.
“I’ve met a lot of good people here; my best friend lives here,” Boylan said. “It’s just L.A. I love L.A., I love the beach, and it’s just been a great experience for me overall.”
While Scott remembers Boylan as a quiet, focused player who wasn’t vocal with his teammates and led by example, Braswell has noticed a clear change in Boylan this season.
“I think he’s even more focused than he’s been in the past,” Braswell said, “And I think that’s why he has stepped up and started to become more vocal with his teammates and stuff, because he realizes this is his last shot at it.”
In his career, Boylan has been Big West Freshman of the Year, Big West Tournament MVP, and has been named 2nd-Team All-Conference twice.
Despite all he has accomplished as a Matador, Boylan feels his career here will be incomplete if Northridge doesn’t win the Big West Conference Tournament this March.
“I came here to win a tournament,” he said. “When they recruited me, they had just lost the (Big Sky) Tournament, and after I signed, they won the tournament. And so, I came here to win a championship, that’s what I’m here to do. Anything less won’t feel as good.”
As for his legacy at Northridge, Boylan doesn’t want to be thought of as one of the all-time greats.
“I think, [for] the people who came to watch, I’d like them to remember me as someone who played hard, who was a team player, and did whatever it took to win and did it the right way.”