From water boy to 3-point shooter, Grafton's Ryan Hanson is ready for on-court state tournament experience

Hanson is one of Grafton's three talented sophomore guards leading the Spoilers back to state faster than expected.

Mike Hanson and his son Ryan Hanson pose after Grafton's 2008 North Dakota state Class B boys basketball tournament championship in Fargo. Mike was head coach of the Spoilers in 2008 and is now an assistant for Grafton, which is headed back to state behind the play of his son Ryan.
Submitted photo.
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GRAFTON, N.D. — Who says Grafton's sophomore guards don't have state tournament experience?

When Grafton's Ryan Hanson was 3 years old he was in Fargo to witness the Spoilers' 2008 North Dakota state Class B boys basketball championship with his dad Mike Hanson, who was then head coach and is now an assistant.

Eight years later, Hanson and fellow 2022 starter Braylon Baldwin were water boys for the Spoilers at the 2016 state tournament.

A season ago, Hanson played junior varsity as a freshman and didn't dress for Grafton's state tournament appearance but was in attendance.

So it has been a long time coming, but on Thursday, it's Hanson's turn on the court. His No. 5 seed Spoilers face No. 4 LaMoure-Litchville/Marion at 8:15 p.m. in the quarterfinals of the state tournament in Minot.


Brody Lillemoen, Ryan Hanson and Braylon Baldwin (left to right) stand together before serving as Grafton water boys prior to the 2016 North Dakota state Class B boys basketball tournament.
Submitted photo.

"I think it's cool how I was the water boy for this team not too long ago," said Hanson, who was water boy from second to sixth grade. "I've been waiting for my moment. I couldn't be more excited to play."

Hanson is one of Grafton's three standout sophomore guards who have come of age this season to complement senior post Will Jiskra to lead the Spoilers through a difficult Region 2.

The Spoilers showed their balance at the regional, with Baldwin and Jiskra dominating the scoring in the quarterfinals, Hanson leading the team in the semifinals and sophomore guard Tony Villarreal scoring big in the championship game.

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Ryan Hanson, Grafton.
Submitted photo.

"You really never know who's going to score the most points in any game," Hanson said. "It could be any of us. If shots aren't falling, it's nice to know your teammates are there to carry the weight."

The Spoilers made the state tournament last year with an older, more physical team, led by 6-foot-3 Stevan Garza and 6-4 Brandon Albrecht. Both Garza and Albrecht played at Mayville State this winter.

Grafton's starting backcourt this year of Baldwin, Hanson and Villarreal played junior varsity last year and didn't dress for Grafton's state run.

"We've been super happy with what they're able to do," Grafton coach Riley Lillemoen said. "I wouldn't say I'm surprised by them because we could kind of see the talent they had."

Lillemoen said practicing against Garza, Albrecht and the state tournament third-place finishing Spoilers last season helped the maturation of his young trio this year.


The Spoilers aren't deep, as they typically play six in their rotation.

Baldwin, who's 5-10, runs the point and is the team's leading scorer at 13.9 points per game to go with 4.7 assists per game.

The 5-11 Villarreal, who scored 26 points in the region championship game, averages 12.0 points per game and pulls down 6.4 rebounds.

Hanson, a 6-1 deep threat, averages 9.6 points per game.

Jiskra, a scrappy 6-4, averages 12.7 points and 12.3 rebounds per game.

Grafton at a glance

Coach: Riley Lillemoen.
Record: 18-6, No. 5 seed.
Quarterfinal opponent: LaMoure-Litchville-Marion. Game is set for 8:15 p.m. Thursday at the Minot State Dome in Minot.
Regular rotation: Soph. Braylon Baldwin (13.9 points, 4.7 assists, 3.0 rebounds); sr. Will Jiskra 12.7 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 2.2 apg; soph. Tony Villarreal 12.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.0 apg; soph. Ryan Hanson 9.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.6 apg; jr. Maxwell Dumas 7.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 0.9 apg; sr. Ethan Suda 5.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.8 apg.
State tournament history: Grafton has won Class B state titles in 2008, 1937 and 1934. The Spoilers won Class A state titles in 1935 and 1964.
Coach Lillemoen says: “I think once you get there, you can knock off anybody. We're going in as an underdog right away, but if we shoot and defend, we have just as good of a chance as anyone to win.”

Related Topics: GRAFTON
Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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