“Selfless” Bryant eyes improvement in sophomore season

  • 06/02/2016 10:52 am in

Four McDonald’s All-American big men entered the Big Ten last season – Deyonta Davis, Diamond Stone, Caleb Swanigan and Thomas Bryant.

Three of the four tested the NBA draft waters. Davis and Stone kept their name in the draft while Swanigan opted to return to Purdue on the final date to withdraw while still maintaining his NCAA eligibility.

One of the four, however, surprisingly didn’t test the waters at all: Indiana’s Thomas Bryant.

Even with a risk free opportunity to attend the NBA draft combine and workout for teams to get a better idea of his stock, Bryant quietly announced in April that he was returning to Bloomington for his sophomore season.

No drama, no speculation and no temptation that comes along with being courted by agents. It was a decision that Bryant didn’t need to agonize over or drag out after listening to him speak about it on Wednesday night at Huber’s Winery in Borden, Indiana.

“I talked to my parents, I talked to my coaches, the coaching staff and I talked to a couple of other people that are close to me to help me with this process,” he explained. “The best decision for me was to just return back. It was my decision to not test the waters. I wanted to stay here and be with my teammates, the coaching staff and get better.”

There was little question that Bryant would have been selected had he chosen to enter the draft. He was projected as high as the late teens in several early mock drafts and it’s possible that he could have moved up with strong workouts and interviews with teams.

But there’s a difference between just getting drafted and being prepared for a long NBA career and it’s clear that Bryant, who is still just 18, covets the latter.

“He’s got a lot of self-awareness, and he’s got a lot of desire to improve, and he wants to have a really long career,” Crean said Wednesday. “He buys into all the things he’s gotta get better at. And now it’s our job to make sure that happens.”

Bryant, along with Josh Newkirk and Juwan Morgan, is already back in Bloomington several days ahead of the mandatory deadline of this weekend for players to return to begin workouts next week. Indiana’s freshmen and Freddie McSwain will arrive on campus later in June.

As he prepares for his sophomore season, Bryant already has a list of the key areas where he needs to improve.

“Just being more focused on the defensive end, being there for my teammates, quickness, moving up and down the floor better,” Bryant explained. “On the offensive end, being more of a threat to score.”

As just a sophomore, Bryant wasn’t ready on Wednesday to declare himself one of the leaders of next year’s team just yet. The Hoosiers will have several upperclassmen on the roster, including Collin Hartman, Robert Johnson and James Blackmon Jr.

Crean, however, views it at one of the next steps in his development in what could be his final season of college basketball.

“He’s a very selfless guy. He’s one of the greatest teammates, in one year’s time, I’ve ever had the privilege of coaching,” Crean said. “He’ll be a real leader on this team. He’s got all the qualities to be a real leader on this team, because he’s got a tremendous personality.”

Filed to:

  • I didn’t think we’d see another guy who could be in Bloomington for just two years and become as beloved as Cody Zeller — both for what he produced on the court and for what he represented off it. Thomas still has a long way to go to equal the impact Cody had in two years, but the fact that I’m even drawing the connection in my mind says wonders about his talent, his work ethic, and his attitude. We are so fortunate to have another year with this guy. Let’s enjoy the hell out of it.

  • Miamihoosier

    Thomas has to be a dominant force this year for IU to reach any real success. Without Yogi collapsing defenses, we’ll really need Thomas to be attracting double teams to make the offense as deadly as last year (Robert and Newkirk will need to knock down shots too…Zeisloft and Ferrel were killers). TB’s improved strength should be his biggest advantage. Im expecting a monster down low this season….the B1G’s dominant center.

  • ForeverIU

    CTC has done a tremendous job with Thomas. Now that CTC has to coach guards (no insult to CTC, but it seemed like Yogi pretty much coached himself), I hope we have the guard play to complement the inside game.

  • JetpackJunky

    Thinking about his announcement not to pursue the draft makes it hard not to think of his announcement to commit to Indiana. I love the way he is so high energy and so emotional on the court, but much more low-key and willing to roll with the opportunities life presents off of it. If he makes a decision, he doesn’t wait for the best moment to surround himself with the press, he makes it, tells someone, and moves on.

    This attitude is wicked beneficial to the team as a whole. The more focused everyone is on the game instead of the media, the better they’ll be. I can’t wait to see him back in the candy stripes and being a subtle leader from the inside. Is it basketball season yet?

  • Arch Puddington

    “…no insult to CTC, but it seemed like Yogi pretty much coached himself”

    This comment is so fantastically ignorant that it must be meant purely as provocation. But hey, provocation is fun, so I’ll play along.

    Going back to his days at Marquette, Crean has repeatedly taken guards of little acclaim, little athletic ability, or both and helped them become high caliber players. Travis Diener and Victor Oladipo would be the two most obvious; neither was a McDonald’s All-American or a 5 star recruit, but both had illustrious college careers followed by multi-year professional careers. In 2011-12, he took a team whose starting guards were Jordan Hulls and Verdell Jones and coached them to the #4 offense in the country. Nick Zeisloft was an unranked recruit out of high school who not only became one of the major contributors to the outright champions of the B1G, he markedly improved his game while at IU, particularly on defense.

    But hey, if it suits you to believe (or just to assert for the fun of it) that Yogi spent four years under that same coach but had to teach himself, have a ball.

  • Koko

    Yes TB is a force to be reckoned with….and it is infectious. I like JN’s attitude as a member of the team. Having practiced last season he isn’t an outsider. Can’t wait to see how the guards pan out and how TC uses them.

  • PS IU

    Agree 100%. Thomas has great enthusiasm. I believe he will be one of the leaders this season. Hopefully, Indiana will have as magical a year as last season.

  • BL4IU

    Agree. His body and athleticism were noticeably improved by the time last year’s tourney run began. One year older and an additional year of strength and conditioning? Kid will be a beast.

  • FKIM01

    Absolutely. The knock on Crean used to be that he could only develop guards. I think this staff has proven that player development is a strength. It’s not perfect…Troy Williams is testament to that, but overall, I think Creans record in that regard is way better than Calipari’s for example.

  • BL4IU

    It’s not always on the Coach. Troy had every opportunity to improve and he did; just not quite to fans’ expectations.

  • IUBizmark

    I thought from the beginning that Bryant would bring a strong “bully” mentality to IU and he hasn’t disappointed. He was overly emotional last year, but this year, he’ll achieve zen and be the tough leader we need without much of the unchecked baggage. Add to that his dominant size/strength and there won’t be a single big in the country who will impose their will on Bryant for 40 minutes. Can’t wait.

  • ForeverIU

    I didn’t say he didn’t coach guards in the past, or that he can’t coach guards. I was talking about Yogi. The other guards around Yogi had very specific roles that were pretty easy to coach. As great as Yogi was, his game was pretty linear, but he was fantastic at it. I think he made us a bit lazy, and now we have to start coaching a guard game again.

  • Fivelefts

    I Love TB’s attitude on the court! All about winning! I would Love to see him lead a team one day in the NBA.. Much like a Patrick Ewing! That would be my wish for him, at the next level. Here’s to him coming back, to try and win it All on the college level! Let’s Go Thomas!

  • ArghSonOfOhCrap

    We will have one of the best front courts in the country! That is if Deron Davis lives up to the Hype

  • KelvinSampson87

    There was also that one guy Dwayne Wade who was outside of the Top 100 rankings as a HS recruit that went on to be sort of ok.

  • SCHoosier

    This coming season I look for TC to call TB’s play numbers often. If Newkirk( or any of the guards) can deliver the ball in the paint..Bryant will take care of the rest. Also hope he gets to show is mid-court three pt games. We need the TB who played the second half of the UK game.

  • RDD#76

    Yes you knocked that comment out of the park nice job!!

  • RDD#76

    D Wade also came to CTC a couple years ago when he was having trouble with his game must have came to B-Town to coach himself up.

  • I am Baby Cakes

    uh huh… Zeller was supposed to touch the ball every time down the court… saw how that went.

  • I think one of the most brilliant things CTC did with Yogi last season and that impacted both Yogi’s and the team’s development and performance was allowing Yogi to run timeouts on occasion. Yogi would literally take the coach’s chair. Not only did that firmly seat (no pun intended) Yogi as the team’s undisputed leader, but it also meant that every break in action became an opportunity for a mini-timeout.

    I agree that it’s ridiculous to assert that CTC didn’t coach Yogi. Yogi’s leadership skills could end up being one of the most attractive things about him to an NBA team, and CTC played a tremendous part in turning Yogi into the leader that he became at IU. And that’s picking just one small aspect of Yogi’s development that was impact by CTC’s coaching of him.

  • It’s been awhile since I’ve looked forward to a season as much as I’m looking forward to this one. And TB is a huge part of that. Just a great kid with great skills, and I’m certain he’ll end up as an IU fan favorite.

  • Vernon Aldrich

    I am. 🙂

  • TomJameson

    I think we’re going to see one of the most balanced teams that Crean has had in Indiana to date. It might take a few games to unfold, but that’s what the pre-season is for, right? I think that it has to go inside out on most possessions, but that is what CTC has emphasized every time he has a quality big guy. It hasn’t always been effectively implemented to his (and our) satisfaction, but I think it will this year. A well balanced team with quality front AND back courts. A team that is made up of gym rats trying to get better every day. Sounds good to me.

    Yes, I am optimistic. I’m also realistic and know that **it happens, but I would rather focus on the good. I most definitely don’t want to spend my time always focusing my comments on negatives, dragging the team through the mud, insinuating bad things about the coach or former players, and generally just be an a$$ about IU basketball. I’ll leave that type of prose for those that forever seem to be doing just that.

    But for now, it’s just GO IU!!

  • ForeverIU

    But that’s exactly my point, Mark. CTC coached Yogi to get him to coach us and himself. I’m saying that I don’t believe the same approach will work with the new guards (I may be wrong). I’m saying that the new guards will not be running timeouts like Yogi did. I also said it’s not an insult to CTC that Yogi coached himself.

  • I think our disconnect is that there was a ton of coaching over the three previous seasons that got Yogi to that point this past season. Certainly, Yogi was a different player as a senior in this regard.

    I’m certain that CTC understands that the guards coming back and incoming aren’t at Yogi’s level, and so he’ll simply coach them accordingly. That’s not to say we won’t miss Yogi’s leadership and uncanny court awareness. We will. And surely CTC is well aware of that fact.

    Ultimately, though, I’m hopeful that we’ll have a strong enough back court to play the proper role relative to what should be a very strong front court. And I think CTC has demonstrated that he’s perfectly capable of developing guards into whatever role they’re capable of playing.

  • Put another way, now that I’m thinking about it: one of the things that CTC demonstrated last season beyond a doubt, IMO, is his ability to develop individual players. He’d demonstrated that in the past, of course, but I look at OG’s and JM’s development, and then NZ and TB over the course of the season, and it was a masterful job. I’m confident in his ability to develop next year’s players as well.

  • Arch Puddington

    We sure did. He led the team in scoring two years in a row, anchored back-to-back top 10 offenses, was the best player on a team that won 56 games and an outright B1G championship, and became a lottery pick.

    What a disappointment! If only CTC knew how to use a guy like him…..

  • Ryan Pride

    His one deep run was with another guard of little acclaim and little athletic ability. Wade was his name I believe.