As a rising freshman on the 15-under circuit in 2011, Thomas Bryant was an awkward 6-6 athlete growing into his body and developing his own style. One year later, in the spring of 2012, he had sprouted to 6-9 and clearly would belong in the frontcourt. To this day he continues to fill out his frame — and he's now 6-10 — but during the preceding years he has made his mark at major events coast to coast.
He continued through his sophomore season and drew increasing attention last spring and summer. Syracuse stepped forward with an offer last June, and Bryant received an invitation to the LeBron James Skills Academy the following month. He competed on even terms against most of the big men attending the camp, including players one class ahead of him and some of America's best centers.
Bryant's 2013 fall led him to the USA Basketball Development Camp. Once again, he impressed on the same court that also featured elite seniors. His junior season hasn't resulted in any falloff, as he performed well at this past weekend's Hoop Hall Classic.
In the eyes of scouts, his game has become rote. You know that Bryant will bring a high workrate and a very aggressive style to the court, resulting in production that largely occurs outside the confines of structure. He scraps hard on the backboards and gets putbacks and fouls on the offensive glass, and he's a pretty good finisher with either hand inside.
He uses his height and reach to swat away shots defensively, and his engine simply burns hotter than that of most big men. He tracks down loose balls and long rebounds, recovers on defense to erase his teammates' mistakes, sets physical screens and runs the court diligently.
On the downside, Bryant's offense requires significant enhancement. He doesn't yet possess a scoring identity with his back to the basket, yet he isn't completely comfortable facing the rim, either. He gets his best work done as a garbage man and transition finisher, rather than in halfcourt sets.
He's a good, not elite athlete, and thus he'll need some skill in order to flourish at the college level. He certainly holds the natural gifts required to succeed for a major program, but in order to become an all-conference player he must improve his offense markedly.
Still, Bryant's positives far outweigh his negatives. And speaking only for myself, I'll cut a young big man greater slack when it comes to lagging skills. A tough 6-10 center can be effective even without polish, and he has plenty of time to add the finesse he'll need to prosper in college and beyond.