After it was over, after a crucial resume-building win was complete, Thomas Bryant carried the trophy.
The winner of both ends of Friday’s Armed Forces Classic doubleheader received a trophy to commemorate their trip to Hawaii, and following a brief presentation, the one belonging to Indiana quickly found its way into Bryant’s hands.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore held the hardware using his right arm and pointed to it with his left as he strolled through the corridors that led to IU’s makeshift locker room underneath the Stan Sheriff Center.
As he passed through the hallway, Bryant explained the value of the trophy — and the win — to all within earshot.
“This is where it’s supposed to be at, at IU baby,” Bryant said, gesturing toward the trophy. “This is where it’s supposed to be at.”
With Bryant a central focus for Indiana’s team this season, that trophy could soon be joined by a much bigger keepsake come the end of March.
Until he fouled out late in the 103-99 win over the Jayhawks, Bryant was just about everything Indiana needed from its big man. He was a sharpshooter, a low-post presence and an emotional leader, too.
Bryant’s 28 minutes of action Friday offered a peek at all the things he can become during his second season with the Hoosiers. By occupying so many roles and responsibilities, Bryant made Indiana better and demonstrated just how dangerous the Hoosiers can become with a presence like himself imposing his will against one of the nation’s best teams.
“He was doing everything for us,” junior guard James Blackmon Jr. said. “When it came to handling the ball, rebounding, hitting 3’s — I don’t think anybody hit a 3 except him in the first couple minutes. We fed off that energy.”
Bryant supplied a jolt in another way, too, just by being a good teammate.
Moments after the halftime buzzer sounded, with IU trailing 46-42, Bryant began to run off the floor before he stopped and turned around.
There, on the edge of the court, he waited to slap hands with each of his teammates before he, too, turned back around to jog through the locker room tunnel. It was a sign of leadership and investment from a player who, at times last season, struggled to keep his emotions in check.
In a small but meaningful way, it was a sign of maturity.
Already, the tangible aspects of his game reflect that growth entering his sophomore year. He recorded his third career double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and of his scoring output, 16 of those points came during the first half while IU was in need of a steady hand.
Bryant was there to provide it.
“He did a fantastic job,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “He played multiple spots, did multiple things. He’ll get better at finishing. If he makes some of his close shots, he’ll have that many more points. We’ve got to do even more work with him around the basket and get him more comfortable there, but he moved through three or four different positions offensively. When you have that kind of versatility, that’s a real plus. So I’m real proud of him.”
Just as Bryant was proud of his teammates as he watched the final 52 seconds — and all of the overtime period — from the bench after picking up his fifth foul.
Some of the foul calls against both sides were questionable, but Bryant accepted the truth that he had fouled out, sat on the bench and held a quiet confidence that backup De’Ron Davis and the rest of his teammates would finish what he started.
Davis, a freshman, certainly held up his end by hitting a pair of critical free throws that gave IU a four-point advantage with 42 seconds remaining in the extra frame.
“It wasn’t tough at all (to sit on the bench) because I know what my teammates can bring,” Bryant said. “I know what they’re capable of. I go against these guys each and every day in practice. They bring the best out of me and I bring the best out of them. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t mad, or anything. I was happy for my teammates to go out there and get the win. I was mad I fouled out. A couple calls (were iffy), but I was happy for my teammates.”
He was happy, too, to carry a trophy for a few small moments before a long, but enjoyable flight home.