Thomas Bryant enjoyed his experience this week at the 2015 Kentucky Derby Festival Classic.
He got to play again against top level talent and got to know his two future incoming freshmen teammates – OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan.
“I got to know them real good,’’ said Bryant, the 6-10, 230-pound McDonald’s All-American who plays at Huntington (W.V.) Prep. “It was good just finally meeting them and introducing ourselves to each other. We became close and we became friends and everything. I can tell when we get to Bloomington we’re going to have some real good chemistry.’’
Bryant said it was fun just getting to know those guys and hanging out. He said any time they had down time they would always find a way to eat together.
“I love their games,’’ Bryant said. “I think they fit IU perfectly.’’
Bryant said having them on his team the last few days also did something else. It put a little pressure on him to perform well.
“That puts a little bit more of an edge out there when you’re playing against all of these guys and you also want to show off for (my new teammates),’’ Bryant said. “I wanted to show them that I’m not a scrub.’’
He accomplished that goal. Bryant scored a game-high 19 points and pulled down six rebounds as he was named the most valuable player of the Purple team in the Derby Classic event. He hit 8-of-13 shots from the field including 3-of-6 from 3-point range.
Morgan said he was definitely impressed.
“I did not know that he could shoot like that,’’ Morgan said. “I had seen him shoot in shoot around and things like that but I didn’t think he could shoot like that in the games. I just can’t wait to be on the court with him.’’
Bryant addressed a variety of topics in an on-the-court interview Saturday night at Freedom Hall after he led the Purple team to a 127-119 victory in the Derby Festival Classic.
Bryant said he plans to sign with the Hoosiers “real soon.” The first date he can sign is Wednesday. He also said that when school is over he would be contacting the coaches to find out when would be the best time for him to head to Bloomington.
Bryant said the two IU players that have kept the closest contact with him have been Troy Williams and Robert Johnson. Those two, along with Devin Davis, drove down from Bloomington Saturday night to watch the new IU players in action.
Bryant said it felt good having them there and also having them stay in contact.
“When you go to a college you want your teammates to want you to come play with them,’’ Bryant said. “With Rob and Troy contacting me all the time I felt real good. I felt like they really wanted me and they wanted to play with me. That had a big effect on my decision.’’
Bryant said one of the most important things he wanted to know from Williams and Johnson was whether IU coach Tom Crean had been completely honest with them in the recruiting process as to how they would ultimately be utilized at the college level.
“They were both 100 percent honest with me,’’ Bryant said. “They told me that Crean was as honest as could be. Everything he had said in recruiting they were doing right there in the games. With them being real honest with me and telling me that I could come in and be a big part of the team, that really helped me.’’
Bryant said one of the things that made him choose Indiana was that he could tell from everyone he spoke to that his position was one of need.
“What put (Indiana) over the top was just the need and want for me,’’ Bryant said. “What they did for Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh, you can’t look past that. Those guys are in the NBA and are still playing. That’s a big help right there. And the coaching staff always wanting to get better with me and the guys all keeping in contact.
“I sensed it a lot with the coaching staff and the players and even with the fans, too. I sensed that real urge and that real need.’’
Bryant left IU impressed after he made an unofficial visit for the Michigan State game on Saturday March 7.
“The atmosphere was awesome,’’ Bryant said. “The fans there are great. They’re loyal . That team right there at Indiana, even though they didn’t have the best season, they played with heart. You have to respect that. They still had missing pieces and they made the tournament, too, that’s real heart, hard work and determination. I respect that with them.’’
He was asked if he believed he could be that missing piece.
“I feel like I could be that missing piece,’’ Bryant said. “But I’m not saying that I am or I’m not. I’m just trying to make a difference for them. I’m just trying to help them out.’’
Bryant said he believes he can bring things to the table for IU that are really needed.
“With me it’s the same as always,’’ Bryant said. “I am someone who is going to bring intensity and passion. I’m somebody who can score with their back to the basket and also can be popping that three, too. But not being too selfish. That’s just mostly who I am.’’
Bryant said he knew within two days of his March 7 visit that he wanted to attend Indiana.
“Of course there were times when I felt like another college would suit me or this and that but as I was thinking about it in my head, and taking some down time over the last few months, I really believed that Indiana was the best fit for me,’’ Bryant said.
Bryant was asked again Saturday night how long he thought he would stay at IU. He gave the same answer he had given in an interview earlier in the week and one that should please Indiana fans.
“I’ll say at least two years,’’ Bryant said. “There’s a lot of work I need to do and a lot of development. I want to enjoy college, too. You only get to do this once so why waste it?’’