Freshman Focus: Thomas Bryant

  • 06/15/2015 9:00 am in

“Freshman Focus” is an Inside the Hall series on each of Indiana’s three incoming freshmen. Over the next couple of weeks, we will take an in-depth look at all three newcomers. Today: Thomas Bryant.

When Thomas Bryant takes the floor at Assembly Hall next winter for Indiana, he’ll be the third McDonald’s All-American big man in four seasons to do so for the Hoosiers, joining Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh.

One of the most crucial recruits for Tom Crean in his seven year tenure in Bloomington, Indiana beat out the likes of Syracuse, Kentucky and Missouri to land Bryant, a native of Rochester, New York. The 6-foot-10 big man was a well known commodity nationally by the end of his decorated prep career that started at Bishop Kearney in Rochester and wrapped up over the final seasons at Huntington Prep in West Virginia.

The accolades Bryant finished his high school career with were plentiful. In addition to his selection to the McDonald’s All-American game, he was also a Jordan Brand All-Star. As a sophomore at Bishop Kearney, he helped lead his school to a Class AA state championship.

But the road to becoming the player that Indiana fans will enjoy next season didn’t come without plenty of hard work and dedication to get better.

Matt Jones, the owner of HOOPsSTRENGTH, a Rochester based company that trains basketball players, recalls the first time he worked with Bryant, who had just finished his eighth grade year at Bishop Kearney.

“I started working with him the summer after his eighth grade season at Kearney,” Jones said. “He had been pulled up for sectionals as an eighth grader. When he was in eighth grade, he was already 6-foot-7 probably. Just really gangly, couldn’t really run yet and had trouble picking up his knees. But yet, you could tell he was going to be so skilled for a kid that size at that age.”

Jon Boon, who was the coach of the Bishop Kearney team that won the 2013 Class AA state championship on which Bryant won MVP honors, says his former player started growing the moment he stepped onto Kearney’s campus and it didn’t stop for quite a while.

“He walked into the building (as a seventh grader), started growing and didn’t stop,” Boon told Inside the Hall. “He was hard not to notice and he always played up. He played on the freshman team as a seventh grader, he played on the JV as an eighth grader and I actually brought him up at the end of his eighth grade year to varsity for the playoffs and he ended up making the all tournament team and just went from there.”

As a seventh grader, Bryant was 6-foot-1. By the the time he was a freshman, a growth spurt had taken him all of the way to 6-foot-8 or 6-foot-9.

Boon knew early on that Bryant had the potential to be a special player, but he also realized that it would be important for him to keep adjusting to his ever changing body. That’s where Jones, who Bryant visited late last week before departing for Bloomington to begin his collegiate career, came in.

“Basically, we knew we just had to get him a little bit stronger,” Jones said. “I’ll be honest with you, he’s one of those kids where, after the second or third workout, I was like ‘this kid is going to be a big time Division I player.’ Just because his work ethic was off the charts. A lot of kids that are like him, 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7 kids that are young, they’re intimidated by what we do. They’re not weight lifters, they’re basketball players.

“But Thomas really took a liking to being in the weight room. He wanted to get stronger, he wanted to do the extra speed and explosion work, all the plyometric work. He just really took to it. I think he started to enjoy it because I think he saw how it would affect his game.”

All of the extra work and dedication paid off for Bryant. By the summer of 2012, at the age of 14, Scout.com ranked Bryant the No. 3 player in the class of 2015. Scholarship offers from across the country began to pile up.

But Bryant wasn’t distracted or affected by his newfound celebrity, according to Boon. He credits Bryant’s mother, Linda, with keeping him on track.

“He was very grounded. His mom did a great job with him,” Boon said. “He was at one of three places – home, the Y or school. She did a great job with him and kept him very grounded and he worked hard. If he wasn’t working hard at school on his academics, he was in the gym. And if he wasn’t at home, he was at the Y working on his game. He’s always had a real good work ethic and worked hard.”

After leaving Bishop Kearney following his sophomore season, Bryant finished high school at Huntington Prep. Many of the schools who were recruiting him at Kearney continued to pursue him at Huntington.

Indiana ultimately won his commitment in early April of this year, beating out Syracuse, a school that had long been considered the favorite to land him.

In a news conference shortly after his signing in April, Crean raved about Bryant’s engaging personality, calling him the “pied piper” of Huntington and also comparing his personality to Victor Oladipo. In interviews with Inside the Hall at the McDonald’s All-American and Derby Festival Classic games, Bryant showed an uncommon maturity when answering questions for a kid who will not turn 18 until the end of July.

None of this was a surprise to either Boon or Jones.

“He’s just a good kid,” Boon said. “People enjoy being around him because he’s very likable. He got along with pretty much everybody, his teachers liked him, he worked hard in the classroom. He’s a very engaging kid.”

“I know that they say this about a lot of kids, but he really is the total package of what you would want,” Jones added. “Listen, I have two young daughters. He’s the type of kid that I would want to take my daughter out on a date. The beautiful thing about Thomas is, when you get him off the court, he is the most polite … He’s an extremely bright and intelligent kid, but you get him on the court, he has that motor and he’s that killer on the court. He’s the most polite kid, he really is, I think, a total package of what you would want coming to your school.”

Now that he’s on campus at Indiana, Bryant will begin the next chapter of his basketball career.

A Twitter photo of his arrival in Bloomington showed him with a huge smile on his face as he met with new strength and conditioning coach Lyonel Anderson. Expectations for the Hoosiers are high for next season and much of that is centered around the return of several key players coupled with the addition of Bryant.

After seeing him last week, Jones said he believes that while there may be a bit of a learning curve for Bryant, he will be as physically ready for college basketball as he can be. And when his work with Anderson begins, Jones said he won’t be surprised if another transformation begins.

“He loves it (the strength and conditioning work) because he knows how important it is,” Jones said. “For a kid with long arms and long legs, he’s already a lot stronger than he looks. And what’s going to happen is, your strength trainer is going to get a hold of him and just turn him into an animal. I really think that’s what is going to happen.”

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  • Hoosier Hall

    I agree with the mandatory 2 years 100% Tom. There should always be stipulations though. Let the players deemed “ready” go ahead and enter the draft but if they go undrafted then let them go to college. If a player gets drafted and doesn’t make it after a year or 2? Too bad, they evidently didn’t work hard enough and at that point they should have enough money to pay their own way through college.

  • Hoosier Hall

    He’s got a shot at freshman of the year but I don’t think there is much chance of him making first team all conference. That should be a pretty elite group: Yogi, Melo Trimble, Denzel Valentine, AJ Hammons and Jarrod Uthoff would be my extremely early picks for 1st team.

  • OhioHoosier

    I like Hayes over Uthoff

  • marcusgresham

    While I agree, and there are numerous idiotic NCAA rules in place, this isn’t the NCAA’s fault. This decision lies in the hands of the NBA and the Players’ Association. The NCAA could in no way force a kid to stay a second season of college if he had already completed one. MLB came up with this concept years ago and it has worked well for them; the NBA would be wise to adopt it as well (of course, if the NBA were to ever create a full minor league system it would seriously weaken the talent pool in college.)

  • marcusgresham

    I agree. Nigel Hayes’ nickname should be “Russell” because he looks like Nipsy and plays like Bill.

  • I like the idea that is being tossed around, where the NBA scouts would invite a hundred kids which are the top talent as they see it (after the first year in college}.. to a combine or workout. Then only the very top ten or so would be selected as being ready for the draft. Those could enter the draft and the rest would have to return to school. Of course anything always has to be agreed upon by the NBA Player’s Association…So even if the owners like such a plan, it has to be agreed upon by the entirety of the league.

  • Most say that won’t happen, because it’d be prohibitively expensive for the owners. They would have to foot the bill for all of those contracts and all of the other costs of having such a league. The way it is now, the colleges have that expense.. and they can offset a lot of it by saying the player’s pay is their scholarship…

  • Uhhhh, correct me if I’m wrong, but Max left, then Hanner got the boot.. So how could’ve Max left because Hanner was no longer there???

  • Hoosier Hall

    I think the first four guys I listed are almost locks. The 5th spot could go to Hayes, Uthoff, Troy Williams or even Caris LeVert.

  • That’s just not a true statement.
    I don’t think anyone, except for a few misguided few on here, at least not of the coaching staff, expects the kid to do it all. Crean has made it abundantly clear, he wants marked improvement from Yogi on Defense. In fact said, he wants Yogi to make the ALL Defensive B1G team this year. They are also counting heavily on improved D from everyone else on the team.
    Soy ou’re the one that is putting it all on Bryant not the Staff.

  • WhatsUpKnight2.0

    dude, that was a good one! nicely done

  • MK

    He said Max joined IU because Hanner left. Not Max left Michigan because Hanner left. Max was leaving Michigan no matter the circumstance at IU

  • At the Quarries

    Some on here think the team overachieved the first half of last season, and ended the season slightly exceeding expectations. I wasn’t one of those. I think the team underachieved overall. Who would have predicted such horrible defense? So I agree with you that we have to wait and see.

  • IUMIKE1

    Excellent point. I think several people are expecting more from TB than they did YF when it comes to how much better a single player is going to make us. Many think, “well all we needed was a true center and we would have been damn near unbeatable last year”, and it is soooo much more than that.

  • IUMIKE1

    ” Already a really good team ? ” you must have been watching a different IU bball team than I was last year, especially the last 15 or so games. A defensive ranking of over 200 and a team that allowed opponents to shoot a record high percentage from 2 point range isn’t what I would call a really good team. Did they “look” really good at times when the 3 was going down in a big way, yea, but, IMHO, a really good team doesn’t have to depend solely on shooting the 3 at a blistering rate to be a good team.

  • Hoosier89

    A tall, athletic hustle-player. What is there not to like?

  • Hoosier89

    Love that picture of him and Coach Anderson.

  • Sarasota Hoosier

    I appreciate your comments. Hanner was considered a very good practice player, like many who could never make the playing well in practice transition to game day. TB will be able to shoot over Max and not have it put back in his face. TB will face players who will be bigger and as athletic as he is, hence the comment. Given talking about Hanner is something that obviously cannot happen, I truly hope you are right that Max will help TB out more than Hanner.

  • TomJameson

    The main reason I think that is that Max is a better defensive playera and a big body. Drops an inch or two from Hanner, but Max has better defensive positioning and can move his feet well … without fouling. I think a better defensive player would be better to practice against because most of the players TB will be playing against will be at least decent defensively. Granted Max is not as athletic as Hanner, but I think the defensive mind-set here is going to be pretty important.

    You are right though, the point is moot because Max is who we have and Hanner will be playing somewhere else.

  • marcusgresham

    As much as I want Bryant to stick around a while, remember that Noah packed on about 25 pounds from the time he arrived in Bloomington to the beginning of the season.

  • marcusgresham

    It would be good for colleges and kids both. I hate to see a kid declare for the draft and then not make it. Of course, there’s always Europe (or China, or Israel, or Australia, or…) but still, you hate to see a kid ruin himself over a pipe dream.

  • marcusgresham

    Maybe, maybe not, but then again, maybe Bryant would have taught Hanner something. Either way it would have been to Indiana’s benefit.

  • Seth Lampton

    You mean next Fall?

  • marcusgresham

    Don’t count out Tre Demps, either. If he got to play against Indiana five times a season he’d definitely make all B1G.

  • MK, I apologize.. I thought when he spoke of Max, he was talking Hoetzel… Stupid me. I was in a time warp I guess.. Wow, I was not thinking we now have a new Max…lol..

  • HannerTime Hoosier

    Funny, the talent changes, but the ONLY path to success is for the COACH CTC, to evolve. He imparts his way in such a linear fashion to the degree he neglects to facilitate the skills and extract the deficiencies of his entire team. The success of the Hoosiers hinges on his ability to elevate his ability, not so much with the players.