As Ryan Conger, aka Dayfri, prepared to play his first game as a member of Mavs Gaming in early May, he had a chance to reflect on just how far he’d come.
Almost a year to the day prior he had been laid up in a hospital bed recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL. An injury suffered on the baseball diamond. An injury that became the gateway to a new path as a professional NBA 2K League player.
He calls the anniversary of the surgery a “pretty weird” coincidence, going from the lowest of lows as his baseball career was in jeopardy to the highest of highs as a member of the Mavericks organization, a team he grew up rooting for 30 miles away in Palmer, Texas.
“Video games weren’t a thing where I was from,” he said. “It was either baseball or football. My dad was real big into sports — typical southern dad, you either work or you play sports.”
As Dayfri tells it, the lifelong athlete was in the midst of his sophomore season playing baseball on a scholarship at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas. It was a routine game for the catcher until a fluke play changed his future.
After roping a double into the right-center field gap, Dayfri attempted to advance when the next batter put the ball in play. He rounded third base and tried to stop, but his foot caught an uneven portion of the field where the grass met the dirt. He heard a pop in his knee and instantly knew he’d torn his ACL.
Season over. Baseball career over.
“And that’s basically how I started playing video games,” he said.
Dayfri had come into possession of his first video game system the previous year, a Playstation 4 he bought on Black Friday. And yes, that is also the origin of his gamertag, a nod to the day of the week of his PS4 purchase.
The injury suddenly gave him ample amounts of free time. He had been drawn to NBA 2K due to the fact that Pro-Am featured 5-on-5 competition with real players and no A.I, and was already active in the competitive 2K scene. The full-time transition then from the diamond to the virtual courts was practically a no-brainer.
“Once I tore the ACL, I was going to rehab, I was doing a lot of exercises, but I was playing the game a lot more because I couldn’t really do much else,” he said. “The (NBA 2K League) came out and was announced, and I told my parents that if I can’t go out and play baseball I’m going to try and go for this, and they were down for it.”
By the time the NBA 2K League Draft rolled around in April, Dayfri had proven himself on the court, establishing himself as one of the premier power forwards in the game. But he sat and watched as 33 players heard their name called before Mavs Gaming grabbed with with the final pick of the second round.
“I used to be able to name every person picked ahead of me,” he said. “I took it kinda personal because I definitely thought I should have been a first-round pick. … I took it personal because every team could have picked me, twice.”
He ended going to his ideal team, the one right down the road from his hometown, but more importantly the one featuring Dimez, the elite point guard and No. 1 overall pick. The results have thus far justified the pairing.
Through Week 4, Dayfri is averaging 21.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals, ranking among the league leaders in all three categories. More impressive considering he’s doing it as a center, having successfully made the transition from the other frontcourt position for the betterment of the team.
“There is no question that Ryan is a top player at center,” said Mavs Gaming Head Coach Jonah Edwards. “He is an elite defender and a top-5 inside scorer in the entire league at any position.”
Dayfri prides himself on being unique from other “one-dimensional” centers, as he puts it. One that is a threat as a dominant scorer, lockdown defender and, not to be overlooked, a willing passer, particularly on a Mavs Gaming squad that is among the league’s best at 3-point shooting.
“Dimez can’t make all the passes, he needs to have help, too,” he said.
Dayfri’s play on the court has received attention, but his intense vocalness during games has turned into his calling card. At any given moment, he will spring from his chair like a rocket to talk trash to opposing players or simply issue a menacing stare.
It harkens back to his days of baseball, bringing constant chatter and gamesmanship in hopes of rattling opponents.
“Sometimes when I do it, I don’t even think about it,” he said. “When you talk to me you can just tell I’m a crazy person when it comes to competitive sports. It’s like a switch, once I turn on that switch it’s like all I think about is winning. I don’t care what we have to do to win, we’re going to win. If I have to go yell at the other point guard, where he’s not comfortable, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Edwards loves the intensity his big man brings to Mavs Gaming. He calls Dayfri the team’s vocal leader, saying “his intensity in games is a constant energy boost for our guys and he has consistently gotten into the heads of our opponents.”
Naturally, Dayfri has aspirations of one day transitioning into coaching, which has been the focus of his studies during college — most likely in baseball, football or basketball.
He relishes the current opportunity the league has presented in exposing him to new personalities and different cultures, something he believes will benefit him greatly wherever his career may take him.
You can bet, though, whatever he chooses, there will be some sort of stakes involved.
“If it’s competitive, I want in it, no matter what it is,” he said.