Thomas Bryant couldn’t help but yawn.
With three-a-day workouts and travel crisscrossing the country, Bryant is in the midst of one of the highest stakes job interview imaginable. The former IU center is getting ready for Thursday’s NBA Draft, working out for different NBA teams who hold the fate of his future in their hands.
Going from coast-to-coast, at one point Bryant had been on the move for 13 straight days. Even though the travel and workouts are draining, Bryant is loving every minute of the process.
“It’s really cool,” Bryant said. “It’s like you’re living the dream right now.”
Bryant said he has savored the opportunity to work out for some of the NBA greats and liked being able to show off his game in front of GM’s and coaches.
In preparation for the process, he has been working out at the Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California, with trainer Rico Hines.
Hines played at UCLA from 1997 to 2002 and has been an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, St. John’s and the Reno Bighorns of the D-League. The connection to Bryant began while Hines was at St. John’s where he saw Bryant play in high school and loved what he saw.
That’s why he relished the opportunity to train Bryant leading up to the NBA Draft.
“To see him at 15, and seeing him now, to see his progress — how he’s matured from a kid at Rochester to now getting a chance to accomplish his goals and dreams — I’m really happy for him because he’s such a good kid,” Hines said.
With Hines, Bryant has been working on playing with his back to the basket, further developing his skills around the rim along with his balance. They have also worked on teaching him when to roll, when to pop and getting him to play around the basket more.
One thing that Bryant hasn’t needed to work on with Hines is his shooting.
His sophomore season at IU, he shot 38.3-percent from three-point range, attempting 1.8 threes per game.
“That’s the best part about him, he already can shoot,” Hines said. “It’s hard to teach people how to shoot. Most young players can’t shoot nowadays and most people can’t shoot period.”
In the current NBA where three-point shooting is a must, Hines says that with Bryant’s size and length, his ability to shoot makes him that much more valuable to teams.
“With the game changing so much throughout the years, a big man has to be able to knock down that jump shot consistently,” Bryant said. “I feel like that’s a big part of the game today.”
His shooting has been on display in his workouts with NBA teams, which Bryant says have been going well.
“The feedback that I’ve been getting is just keep enjoying this process,” he said. “They’re telling me I’m getting better each and every day. I’ve been having pretty good workouts so I just want to keep continuing to build good workouts on top of each other.”
He’s appreciated visiting each of the different cities and says the travel hasn’t been too daunting. Preparing him for the interviews, Hines said he has just told Bryant to be himself in the interviews.
“I think it’s been hard, but I think it’s been fun for him,” Hines said. “I think it’s been eye opening for him as well. He’s getting a taste of how it’s really going to be. You’re in and out of cites every night. He’s getting a taste of it already.”
The yawning is a far cry from the on-court demeanor of the past two seasons where Bryant was the emotional pulse of IU, roaring like a lion after huge moments.
This passion is a blessing and a curse.
It’s what Hines says makes him unique and that in asset for him in the minds of NBA talent evaluators. Bryant’s energy and passion for the game stand out to him.
“I’ve worked with a lot of guys and he’s one of my favorites because he cares, he really cares,” Hines said. “He wants to be good, he loves the game, he’s passionate about it.”
However, Bryant needs to be able to harness that energy in a positive direction. One of the biggest areas Hines says Bryant has improved in since they’ve been working together is in maximizing his passion.
At times, Hines said Bryant can get down on himself for a bad play and Hines doesn’t want this to spiral into a series of bad plays.
“We’ve been really big on that because he really cares about doing well,” Hines said. “Just being able to bottle all that good energy that he has up and not allow one bad play to turn into five bad plays and just keep playing.”
His passion is what he wants to be remembered for in Bloomington.
“The guy that always gave it his all at IU,” Bryant said. “They asked us to play hard and I always gave my heart out there on the court.”
Bryant’s time at IU came to an end after two strong seasons.
This wasn’t the first time that Bryant had a NBA Draft decision to make. Following his freshman season, he pondered leaving IU, but decided to return to improve his game.
In his second season as a Hoosier, he started all 34 games, averaged 12.8 points per game and received Third Team All-Big Ten honors.
As a sophomore, he played 28.1 minutes per game and shot 55.6-percent from two-point range. Under Coach Tom Crean, Bryant said he learned how to work hard and to pay attention to detail.
Following his sophomore season, he decided it was the right time to enter the draft.
“I felt for myself that I was mentally ready, mentally and physically,” Bryant said. “I felt it would be the right decision for me 100-percent. It took me awhile to think about it. I know going forward that I felt like this was the best decision for me.”
Hines sees a lot of positive traits in Bryant that will allow him to be successful in the NBA. Hines said that Bryant is extremely long and is in great shape. Bryant can play pick-and-roll basketball, rebound, defend the basket and make threes as he is an extremely versatile big man.
“He’s nineteen years old,” Hines said. “Nowadays he’s like a college freshman because a lot of kids are held back. He’s legit 19 years old. He’s a baby. I say if there’s five better big men in the country at 19, I want to see them.”
As the draft approaches, Bryant said he is taking it day-by-day, just working to get better.
Growing up, he watched Lebron James, Tim Duncan and Lamarcus Aldridge play. Driven to be successful, he said he wants to prove he belongs. In the NBA, he gets an opportunity to play against and alongside those players he watched as a kid.
“It’s going to be great,” Bryant said. “Just being able to be out there on the same court as them, playing defense against them, they’re playing defense against me. It’s like a dream come true.”
He doesn’t have definitive plans on what he’s going to do on draft night, but he has the potential to be one of three Hoosiers selected.
DraftExpress currently projects him to be drafted with the 35th pick, early in the second round. Hines said he thinks whoever selects Bryant is getting a steal of a player who has the ability to make it in the league for a long time and surprise people.
“I think he’s going to have a long career, god willing he stays healthy,” Hines said. “I think you’re talking about a 14 or a 15-year pro.”
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