With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’re taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster this month. Today, we continue our look at Indiana’s roster with Thomas Bryant.
When Indiana’s 2015-2016 season ended in Philadelphia with a 101-86 loss to North Carolina in the NCAA tournament Sweet Sixteen, Thomas Bryant and Tom Crean shared a moment in the locker room that was viewed thousands of times on social media.
As the locker room was about to close to the media, the 6-foot-10 Bryant sat with his head on Crean’s shoulder as his coach embraced him. It was a totally unscripted moment that revealed a behind the scenes look at the relationship between Crean and Bryant.
That relationship, Bryant’s hunger to improve and his love for the IU program led him to return for a second season in Bloomington. Even with a new NCAA rule that would have allowed him to test the NBA draft waters with no risk, there was no drama with Bryant.
No press conference. No social media announcement. No waiting until the last minute to make his intentions known to the coaching staff or fans. Bryant was all in on returning to school.
In an era where plenty of five-star recruits are looking for the fastest path to professional stardom, Bryant instead wants to be a guy who can not just make it to the next level, but stay there.
“Just seeing myself as a long term prospect in the game of basketball, I knew I needed to return for my sophomore year before I even finished the season,” Bryant told Inside the Hall at Big Ten media day in Washington D.C. “I thought it would be better for me for the long term.”
Now at 255 pounds and as a centerpiece on Indiana’s 2016-2017 roster, Bryant appears ready to completely break out.
As a freshman, he finished a ridiculous 71 percent of his 2-point attempts, which ranked fourth in the nation. He ran the floor hard and finished plays demonstratively at the rim. He’s not a great shot blocker, but by the end of the season, Bryant was comfortable guarding ball screens after being able to do so in Maui.
In his second season as a Hoosier, look for Bryant to show off an even more well rounded game.
He’s worked tirelessly in the offseason on footwork and explosiveness. He won the 3-point shooting contest at Hoosier Hysteria, a potential new wrinkle to his game that could help this Indiana team have even better floor spacing.
And he’s continued to develop as a leader, which is something Indiana will need with the injury to Collin Hartman and departures of Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, Max Bielfeldt, Nick Zeisloft and Ryan Burton.
Bottom Line: It’s rare for a player to pass up the opportunity to enter the draft with a good shot at guaranteed money, but that’s exactly what Bryant did by returning to Indiana. He’ll be one of the faces of not only the Hoosiers this season, but Big Ten and college basketball. Having just turned 19 in August, Bryant should continue to take major steps forward this season as one of the game’s elite big men.
Quotable: “I feel like I’m growing into more of a leader. Vocally on the court and off of it. Just trying to help my teammates each and every day.” – Bryant last Wednesday at Indiana’s preseason media availability.
Indiana’s season opening event, Hoosier Hysteria, took place Saturday night in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall and included player introductions, a 3-point shootout, dunk contest and a 12-minute scrimmage.
Here’s a look at five takeaways from Hysteria:
· Devonte Green steals the show in the scrimmage: If there was a question as to whether freshman Devonte Green would challenge for a spot in this season’s rotation, we may have received our answer on Saturday night.
While it’s just a scrimmage with very little defense being played at times, the freshman guard from Long Island put on a show. Green hit five 3s in the scrimmage and led the Cream team to a 41-29 win. Some of the shots (as you can see here in the highlights) were very difficult, but Green showed that he can make shots off both the catch and the dribble.
Sophomore Thomas Bryant, who has known Green since their days as teammates on the Nike EYBL circuit with the PSA Cardinals, wasn’t surprised.
“He’s gotten better at everything,” Bryant said. “Shooting, ball handling, passing, defense. He’s improved each and every day.”
· Ring ceremony a great way to honor returning players: It was a moment that wasn’t on the script for Hoosier Hysteria, but handing out the Big Ten championship rings to the returning players was one of the highlights of the night.
Tom Crean spoke a bit about each player who received a ring and even got choked up a few times. Indiana also put together a video titled “This is how you’re a champion,” that featured Crean’s speech from the postgame in Iowa City last season:
“It meant a lot because we worked really hard and the coaching staff worked really hard,” OG Anunoby said following Hysteria. “We were stunned because we didn’t know we were going to get the rings, but we’re glad we did.”
· Bryant looks fine physically: There was a bit of a boot scare last week with Bryant that prompted him to issue a few tweets regarding the status of his foot, but Indiana’s star big man looked ready to go in terms of his health.
Bryant won the men’s portion of the 3-point shootout and was running the floor perfectly fine throughout the 12-minute scrimmage. Bryant has added significant mass to his upper body in the offseason and is up to 255 pounds according to the official roster.
After not even testing the NBA waters following his freshman year despite having the option, Bryant appears to be all-in on having a monster sophomore year in Bloomington.
· Newkirk, Blackmon Jr. and Johnson all appear to be healthy: Josh Newkirk, James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson are all coming off of injuries, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at them.
Newkirk has been cleared the longest of the three guys and he had an impressive sequence when he stole the ball and went the other way and finished it with a dunk. Newkirk is only about 6-foot-1, but he’s quick and very strong in the upper body.
Johnson appears to have tweaked his jump shot a little bit, but had it working and knocked down several attempts from beyond the 3-point line. The Richmond (Va.) native has also bulked up even more in the upper body.
And Blackmon Jr. also knocked in several 3s and appeared to be moving very well both laterally and downhill.
· Recruits take in Hysteria: Hysteria is always a major recruiting weekend and the headliner was five-star class of 2017 Oak Hill Academy (Va.) forward Billy Preston.
The 6-foot-10 forward sat behind the Indiana bench for most of the night and appeared to be enjoying himself throughout the evening.
In addition to Preston, Indiana had some notable underclassmen in attendance including 2018 McCutcheon guard Robert Phinisee and 2018 Bloomington North wing Musa Jallow. There were also many younger prospects from the 2019 and 2020 classes in attendance.
Indiana ranked No. 16 in initial KenPom.com ratings
The new KenPom.com ratings are out for the 2016-2017 season and Indiana will begin the season in the top 20.
IU will begin the season at No. 16 in Pomeroy’s ratings, which is just the fifth highest ranking for a Big Ten team. Last season, Indiana was No. 13 to start the season in KenPom and finished the season at No. 11.
The rest of the Big Ten is ranked as follows: Wisconsin (8), Ohio State (13), Michigan State (14), Purdue (15), Michigan (31), Maryland (48), Iowa (55), Northwestern (61), Illinois (70), Minnesota (71), Nebraska (87), Penn State (98) and Rutgers (191).
The Hoosiers sit at No. 7 nationally in offensive efficiency in the preseason, according to Pomeroy and at No. 50 in defensive efficiency. Indiana finished last season ranked 59th nationally in defensive efficiency.
Pomeroy projects IU to finish 11-7 in the Big Ten alongside Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue. The overall record projected for the Hoosiers by Pomeroy is 22-9. Last season, Pomeroy projected Indiana to finish 12-6 in the Big Ten and the Hoosiers went 15-3.
The highest rated non-conference opponents on IU’s schedule according to Pomeroy’s ratings are Kansas (3), North Carolina (5), Louisville (9), Butler (19) and Fort Wayne (126).
Indiana also plays four opponents ranked 300 or worse in Pomeroy’s ratings: SIU Edwardsville (300), Southeast Missouri State (313), Delaware State (335) and Mississippi Valley State (336).
Once the 3-point and dunk contests came to an end at Hoosier Hysteria, the fans who stayed were treated to a 12-minute scrimmage featuring all but three players (Collin Hartman, Juwan Morgan, and Freddie McSwain all were out with injuries).
Although there wasn’t much in the way of defense or set plays, those in the newly renovated Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall were given a small glimpse at what the Hoosiers will look like this season, as the Cream defeated Crimson, 41-29, in an intrasquad scrimmage.
Freshman Devonte Green led the way for the Cream, scoring 15 points on five made three-pointers.
“He’s willing to work,” Thomas Bryant said after the scrimmage. “He’s listened. He goes out there and plays his heart out. I respect that a lot about him. Playing with him in AAU, just growing up with him, little by little, I see him grow each and every day.”
Sharing the backcourt with Newkirk and Blackmon, Green showcased an all-around game to match, posting several deflections on defense and making smart passes on offense. Green also nearly threw down a putback dunk after rebounding a missed three.
“He’s gotten better at everything,” Bryant said. “When it comes to shooting, ball-handling, passing, defense; he’s improved each and every day.”
The other two guards that led the way for the Cream were Newkirk and Blackmon. Fresh off an impressive performance in the three-point contest, Newkirk scored five points in the scrimmage and displayed the passing skills that may earn him a starting spot in the backcourt.
“Whether it’s before or after practice, [Newkirk] is getting more shots in,” Bryant said. “We’re getting better at passing as well. One thing that coach stresses as being a great passing team in order to get shots up.”
OG Anunoby was the leading scorer for the Crimson with 11.
The most shots Anunoby took in a single game last season was 10, but he spent plenty of time handling the ball and forcing the issue during the scrimmage, driving through the defense. He even threw down a reverse dunk in the waning seconds.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Hoosiers is what their starting lineup will look like. But Seth Greenberg, who spent 22 seasons as an NCAA head coach and the emcee of Hoosier Hysteria, says that it’s too early to make any predictions.
“[Indiana’s] got a lot of pieces,” Greenberg said after the scrimmage. “Figuring out how to get those pieces together: rotations, substitution patterns, things like that. This time of year I get a kick when guys go in and say ‘Well, I see these guys as the starting five.’ I don’t know. It’s all a work in progress”
When the energy of Hoosier Hysteria dissipates, Greenberg says it will key for the Hoosiers to continue bringing intensity and passion throughout the season.
“This was great,” Greenberg said. “But tomorrow’s a whole lot more important than today. Are you going to have the same enthusiasm in January that you had today?”
Ring ceremony, skills contests highlight Hysteria
Hoosier Hysteria is the fan-focused event marking off the kickoff for the men’s and women’s basketball season. But no one appreciated the day as much as coach Tom Crean. Crean spoke at length on Saturday night, thanking his players and his staff.
But Crean had something up his sleeve. He surprised almost everyone in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall when he presented returning players with their Big Ten Champions rings from the 2016-2017 season.
“It caught me off guard to get the rings today,” Thomas Bryant said. “ It felt good to get those rings just to see what we’ve been through last year and continue to go for; its all coming together. It’s helping us. It feels good.”
It was a special moment for Crean, the staff and his players. Hoosier Hysteria and ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg said he could feel the emotion and connection between the group.
“You could feel the tradition, you could feel the passion,” Greenberg said. “That’s what makes this place special. That’s what makes Indiana, Indiana.”
After the presentation of the rings, the night continued with the 3-point contest.
It started off with freshman Grant Gelon against James Blackmon Jr. and the two tied making 18 apiece. In sudden death, Gelon and Blackmon hit one shot each from the top of the key. Gelon missed his next attempt, and Blackmon Jr. advanced to the next round.
Josh Newkirk, Blackmon Jr., Thomas Bryant and Collin Hartman advanced onto the second round. Hartman participated with a knee brace and shot stationary. Bryant bested Hartman in the second round and Newkirk topped Blackmon Jr.
Did anyone expect Bryant to come out on top? Probably not, but it’s not too far fetched. The big man hit a few 3s last season and hit 19 on Saturday night to take down Newkirk and become this year’s Hoosier Hysteria 3-point champion.
“It was good I got bragging rights in the locker room now, it feels good,” Bryant said. “I didn’t want to be in anything but coach made me.”
Bryant then went on to face women’s 3-point champion Tyra Buss. IU’s star sophomore fell short hitting nine shots against 14 for Buss.
Next up, it was Curtis Jones’ time to shine.
It was a risky move for a freshman, but Jones didn’t look intimidated. In the dunk contest, the guard positioned his coach below the basket and had a sly smile on his face. The first attempt could have ended poorly, but the second one was smooth. Jones successfully dunked over coach Crean, bringing Assembly Hall to its feet. It was good, but not good enough. OG Anunoby came in with a between the legs dunk to win the contest over Jones.
Hoosier Hysteria has been used as a recruiting tool and five-star forward Billy Preston was in attendance sitting courtside. Attendance was estimated at close to 16,000.
After watching the team at practice, where they are now isn’t where they will end up in the end, according to Greenberg, who served as the on-court host for the evening.
With the freshmen adjusting and players coming back from injury, it’s a process of light bulbs going off at different times. But nonetheless, Crean and Greenberg both praised the team on its work ethic and will to win.
“We don’t have the same group that we had last year but we have a bunch of people who want to represent you the right way,” Crean said. “As long as we have you all out here, there is really nothing we can’t accomplish. Don’t ever bet against the Hoosiers, don’t ever.”
Video: Indiana players, Seth Greenberg react to Hoosier Hysteria
Indiana’s Devonte Green, Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby as well as ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg met with the media following Hoosier Hysteria on Saturday night at Assembly Hall.
Watch both press conferences below:
Troy Williams makes opening night roster for Memphis
Former Indiana forward Troy Williams, who left after his junior season and was undrafted in June’s NBA draft, has found a home in the league.
After a terrific preseason for the Memphis Grizzlies, Williams has earned a spot on the team’s 15-man opening night roster.
The news was reported Saturday afternoon by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical.
Sources: Undrafted Indiana U. forward Troy Williams will make the Memphis Grizzlies opening night roster.
In six preseason games for the Grizzlies, Williams averaged 13.2 points, four rebounds and 1.7 steals in 25.4 minutes per game. He shot 52.1 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from behind the 3-point line.
After playing with Phoenix in the NBA Summer League, Williams signed a guaranteed deal for $150,000 with Memphis to come to training camp. Entering camp, Williams was expected to end up with the D-League affiliate for Memphis, the Iowa Energy.
In 99 carer games for the Hoosiers, Williams averaged 11.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.
Bryant named to preseason watch list for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced the preseason watch list for the 2017 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, which honors the nation’s top center, on Friday.
Indiana sophomore Thomas Bryant was one of three Big Ten players named to the 20-player list along with Purdue’s Isaac Haas and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ.
The complete watch list, per a release, is available below:
Moses Kingsley, Arkansas
Eric Mika, Brigham Young University
Justin Patton, Creighton
Marques Bolden, Duke
Zena Edosomwan, Harvard
Thomas Bryant, Indiana
Bam Adebayo, Kentucky
Tim Kempton, Lehigh
Omer Yurtseven, North Carolina St.
Chris Boucher, Oregon
Isaac Haas, Purdue
Paschal Chukwu, Syracuse
Jarrett Allen, Texas
Tyler Davis, Texas A&M
Thomas Welsh, University of California, Los Angeles
Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina
Luke Kornet, Vanderbilt
Mo Alie-Cox, Virginia Commonwealth University
Josh Hawkinson, Washington St.
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin