Bryant following his own path entering 2nd year at IU #iubb

Thomas Bryant carried the water, then he helped carry his team.

It was the middle of last summer, Bryant’s first on Indiana’s campus, when the Hoosiers’ All-American center first provided hints he was willing to be different, to be his own man.

It started during his new teammates’ individual on-court workouts. Bryant would show up even when he wasn’t expected and watch from the sidelines, hollering and offering encouragement. Then he’d do something that surprised his new coach.

Indiana guard Nick Zeisloft (2) and  center Thomas Bryant (31) joke around before heading into interviews with CBS during the Hoosiers NCAA Tournament appearance on March 18. Chris Howell | Herald-Times
Indiana guard Nick Zeisloft (2) and center Thomas Bryant (31) joke around before heading into interviews with CBS during the Hoosiers NCAA Tournament appearance on March 18. Chris Howell | Herald-Times
At the end of workouts, Bryant would position himself near the water cooler, fill a few cups then hand them to tired teammates as they walked off the floor. Long before cementing his place as one of the Big Ten’s top freshmen, Bryant was, perhaps, the highest-rated water boy in Indiana history.

“It’s one thing when a guy does it once, it’s another thing when he does it twice, it’s another thing when he’s in the gym and he’s filling up the water,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “He’s a McDonald’s All-American. You can’t help but root for a guy like that and know that some good things are coming for him.”

For at least one more year, whatever good things Bryant earns will come at Indiana. In early April, Bryant not only determined he wasn’t NBA-ready, he decided not to declare for the draft merely to receive feedback he could use as a sophomore next season. It would have been a fairly risk-free journey through the pre-draft process, one that likely would have included a trip to last month’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.

But Bryant didn’t feel the need to follow others in college basketball’s latest trend. At an alumni event in Southern Indiana last week, Bryant explained that everything he knew and needed was available to him in Bloomington.

“I just thought I love playing under coach Crean and being here with my guys,” Bryant said. “I knew there were key things I needed to get better at, so I just thought I’d take that time out to get better at the things I need to get better at, go home and return to IU and get ready for the summer.”

Why rush a good thing? That has seemingly been Bryant’s mantra since committing to IU as a five-star prospect in the spring of 2015. After averaging 11.9 points and 5.9 rebounds and earning a place on the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team, Bryant sees more meaningful room to grow at Indiana.

That includes on the court, where he’s once again expected to play a signature role in IU’s Big Ten title defense, and off the floor, where he values his time in the Hoosiers’ close locker room setting.

In the one-and-done era, Bryant is content to be different. It’s his confidence in himself and his willingness to build on his stock in college that defies the norm.

“He’s very smart, because he listens,” Crean said. “He listens and he believes, but he’s not naive. He’s not one of those guys that gets caught up in what he reads. He doesn’t get caught up in what strangers say. He gets caught up in what’s real, and he believes that film, and he believes the people that are closest to him. I think that’s going to serve him really, really well.”

Had he come out of school this spring, Bryant would have had a shot to land somewhere in the middle-to-late first round. Already, DraftExpress.com slots him at No. 7 in its early 2017 NBA mock draft.

By not even venturing into the pre-draft process, Bryant stands on an island. Big Ten classmates like Michigan State’s Deyonta Davis and Maryland’s Diamond Stone each declared and hired agents, while Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan declared, participated in workouts and ultimately decided to return to school.

“With coach Crean believing in me and knowing I had to get better and keeping it totally real with me, I love that in a coach,” Bryant said. “When somebody believes in you like that, you try to stay with them.”

Now, Bryant knows what must come next.

He wants to show more focus on the defensive end, along with improved lateral quickness and more fluid movement while running end-to-end. Bryant also wants to use next season to show he can become a more explosive offensive threat on a team that will surely value his under-the-basket presence.

“He’s got a lot of room to grow,” Crean said. “He’s got a lot of things he’s got to get better at. I think that’s one of the biggest reasons he’s still at Indiana, but I have no doubt in my mind he’s going to achieve every one of those things. When we look back at this one day when it’s all said and done, I think you’re going to really appreciate not only what he did on the court and how he is as a person, but you’re going to say, ‘That’s what a teammate looks like.'”

As important as Bryant will be to Indiana’s direction, he will gladly share the platform on a team that may have the deepest and most balanced collection of talent in Crean’s nine seasons at IU. Bryant said he doesn’t see the need take on a larger leadership role now that seniors like Yogi Ferrell, Nick Zeisloft and Max Bielfeldt are gone.

It’s a shared responsibility, Bryant said, echoing the beliefs he’s held since stepping onto campus a year ago.

“This is a guy that understands about the big picture, understands about where he’s going, understands about what he wants and trusts people to help him get there,” Crean said. “When he got here last summer, he was like a guy that was like the walk-on trying to make the team.”

Sustaining that approach — and being a bit different — seems to be serving Bryant well.

11 comments

  1. Bryant has demonstrated loyalty, sensitivity, and mature decision making in his Hoosier bb progress while still having a good time. So far so good!

  2. From everything I’ve seen and heard Thomas is a special young man on many levels. He seems capable of making his own decisions. Who knows? He may follow the example of Tim Duncan and play a full college career despite being a certain first round pick. Bloomington and IU are a lot more appealing than Winston-Salem and Wake Forest, which could pass for a community college in an ugly city.

    In this day and age it doesn’t seem likely but he already operates outside the envelope. He is certainly an example of the type of young men that we hope to wear the candystripes.

  3. Guessing a big ‘Good Job’ to Mr & Mrs Bryant. Nice to see in this day & age.

    And….Trying to camp in SW Florida. Talk about wet & windy & hot.

  4. Just mainly a moderate rain here in Southeast Alabama. I picked up 1.34 inches of rain in my rain gauge with some claps of thunder. South of me in Panama City got as much as 8 inches in a very short period of time. Same with the Tallahassee area.

  5. For all of the provential Hoosiers who keep chanting “we need more good Hoosier kids” (of course), but IU needs talented kids just like Thomas Bryant! He is fantastic!

  6. Ben….If I remember fight you live in the Dothan area? Could not believe the heavy traffic going through there.

    Chet…This is a great area to ride. Except for the road rage thing in Tampa (?) where some nut drove over a Goldwing trike at a stop sign. And the nut few miles south of here who shot & killed a guy on a bike. Random I guess since he killed another person later and shot two others.

  7. Somebody got smashed from behind at a stop sign here last night. I’d guess the driver was texting. That was in town, though. Don’t have to worry much about texters between here and Durango. There’s not much service.

    While the riding here is quite spectacular there simply aren’t many roads, at least not the paved variety. Putting a road through the Rockies is a major engineering feat. I probably ride more on Forest Service roads on the KLR than on pavement anymore. There’s quite an extensive network across the state.

    I think the best place for riding I’ve ever lived was western North Carolina. Southern Indiana is pretty good, too.

    I think my days of sweltering heat and humidity have passed me by. Different strokes for different folks.

  8. Ron,

    You’re correct. The traffic is a nightmare and not to mention the very long lights. This city is growing rapidly and the current infrastructure is sufficient to handle the traffic. They’ve talked about a bypass since I moved here in 2006 but restaurant owners and the like moan and groan they will lose business. To this day it’s a vicious cycle and doubt I see it.

    Once I get your age Chet, I’d like to move somewhere that has actual seasons. Runs together down here. Truth be told I’d stil, be in Indiana, but this is where Mom wanted to relocate. She loves the ocean. Dad and I can take it or leave it. Oh well.

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