BOZICH | Indiana's Thomas Bryant focused on building a basketball career, not a big splash
Thomas Bryant said that one reason he decided to return to Indiana for his sophomore season is that his goal is to stay in the NBA, not get to the NBA.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – This was not Thomas Bryant’s day to work with the Indiana University coaching staff during the four-player drills that define the NCAA-scripted regimen of college basketball summer work.
No, coach Tom Crean and his staff were encouraging, chasing and driving OG Anunoby, Juwan Morgan, Collin Hartman and Tim Priller through a vigorous session that went nearly 40 minutes.
Bryant was posted outside the men’s gymnasium at Cook Hall, visiting the weight room, locker room and nutrition area. Bryant is a confirmed worker bee, eager to accept any leadership role Crean asks him to consider.
“The biggest change for me is just having more responsibility for me and my teammates,” Bryant said. “Freshmen coming in, having new teammates, having to take them in and really getting them into the system. Having them understand what we are all about here at Indiana.”
Player development is what Crean sells – with guys like Dwyane Wade, Steve Novak, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller his primary finished products.
When Bryant rotated through the hallway he sometimes stopped for a brief look through the glass, nodding his head at the frantic pace of the drills or the way that Morgan and Anunoby shot the ball.
When the scoreboard clock signaled the end of the organized workout and the coaches dispersed, there was Bryant, shirtless, sweat streaming down his shoulders and cheeks.
Bryant wrapped his right arm around Anunoby, his fellow sophomore. Both guys knew what that signaled. Their work was merely beginning, starting with a spirited game of one-on-one.
“Those two guys live in this place,” one member of the IU basketball staff said. “They’re always here. They’ve got the same drive to succeed Victor had.”
Victor, of course, is Oladipo, former No. 2 selection in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic. He will play for Oklahoma City next season.
You don’t need FBI assistance to discover Bryant is on track to become the IU player taken highest in the Draft since Oladipo or Zeller (fourth, also 2013) and that Anunoby is being discussed as a first-round selection in 2017.
DraftExpress ranked Bryant No. 7 for 2017 with Anunoby 22nd. CBSSports.com placed Bryant fifth and Anunoby No. 24.
Bryant has not burned more time looking at the 2017 mock NBA Drafts than he did considering the 2016 editions. He was one of the highest ranked players who not only did not offer his name for consideration, Bryant waved the NBA away without attending the Draft Combine in Chicago in mid-May.
It was an unusually mature move in today’s Get It Now culture. But it was a move that Bryant never second-guessed – even on Draft Night two weeks ago.
“I watched some of (the draft),” he said. “It was interesting. A llllllot of foreign players. A lot. I was happy with my decision about coming back. I don’t regret it.”
Bryant made a simple calculation and figured it out:
Better to be Top 10 (or even five) pick in 2017 than a Top 20 (or 30) pick in 2016. Better to join a team when you are prepared to contribute 15 (or 20) minutes per game than risk a prolonged visit to the Developmental League.
Better to show pro coaches that you’ve learned how to control faster frontcourt players on the pick-and-roll. Better to invest more time with Crean’s proven ability to develop players.
Better to tug on your mask and enjoy another summer in conditioning coach Lyonel Anderson’s legendary sand pit in the shadows of the south end Assembly Hall renovations.
“I was just stuck on getting better, just being here for my team,” Bryant said. “I had schooling to worry about. I had to get back into the books and everything. Just really wanted to get better at my game all around. I didn’t want to go up (to Chicago) tired and maybe embarrass myself or anything.
"It was different for me. The NBA will be there. You only get to do college one time. You want to be ready as soon as you make that step. I feel like I wasn’t ready at all at the time to make that step to the NBA and doing the Draft Combine. So I just said, ‘I’ll stay here and get better.'"
Those sound like the words of a player who grew up in the Sixties or Seventies, not a sophomore who will turn 19 the final day of July.
That also sounds like a guy who understands that when you are 6 feet 10 and can make nearly 70 percent of your shots for a Big Ten program the plan should be creating a career, not one big splash.
“That was a big consideration as well,” he said. “Just coming in and working on your game so that way it can help you for the long-term decisions that you want to make instead of just going into it now and not really being prepared.
“Say if you’re good but not good enough to be on the floor, you’re going to be on the bench or in somebody’s D League. I didn’t want that to happen to me.”
In other words, Bryant understands that he needs to contribute more than 5.8 rebounds per game. He knows that with a wingspan of 7 feet 5, he should be blocking more than 0.9 shots per game. With Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams gone, Bryant figures to average more than 11.9 points, too.
Bryant was kilometers ahead of every other player in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (.683 to Deyonta Davis’s .598). But he is determined to add a reliable 12-to-15 footer as well as a three-point shot opposing defenses must fear.
“More stamina, strength, explosiveness, all three,” Bryant said. “That’s what I really want to work on, stamina and explosiveness. Just being quick off the ground. Getting back on defense and being quick on offense as well.
“Just hopefully an all-around player, all-around on the defensive end and offensive end, being able to switch out on to not just guarding bigs but some guard play as well. Also being more an offensive threat for my teammates. From three-point range occasionally, from 15 feet, also from inside and out.
“I’m happy to do whatever coach needs me to do. That’s the main thing. Whatever coach needs me to do I can do it.”
And do it while trying to build a career, not just one big splash.
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