Like a lot of high school stars who end up at major-college basketball programs, the courtship of Thomas Bryant lasted for years and at times felt like a TV melodrama. It included a change of scenery in 2013 when he left Rochester after his sophomore year for a West Virginia prep school and other twists and turns about which school had gained the lead in being part of future.
But unlike most recruits, the final episode in The Pursuit of Thomas Bryant actually happened on live television.
The former Bishop Kearney High School star ended years of speculation on Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden when he announced during ESPN’s telecast of the DICK’s Sporting Goods National High School Championship that he has chosen Indiana University over his other finalists Kentucky, Syracuse and Missouri.
“I’m very excited,” the 6-foot-10, 220-pound power forward said seconds after revealing his plans. “I’ve been thinking about this long and hard and talking to my mom and my coaches and thought Indiana was the best decision for me.”
Bryant will join another former Section V star in Bloomington. Webster Schroeder graduate Emmitt Holt just completed his freshman season for the Hoosiers (20-14), who earned one of the last at-large bids into the NCAA Tournament after going 9-9 in the Big Ten Conference. The No. 10 seeds were ousted in the first round by No. 7 Wichita State, 81-76.
Holt played in 29 games, averaging 11.4 minutes off the bench. He averaged just over three points and rebounds per game.
Bryant did not answer phone calls to his cellphone Saturday afternoon for comment, but his mother Linda, offered her thoughts as she made her way back to Rochester from New York City.
“He’s relieved it’s done,” Bryant said. “You know, it took awhile because there were things going on (off the court) at every school we visited. The decision is made.”
Linda Bryant said that a factor in her son’s decision was finding a place “where he can get to that next level,” as in the National Basketball Association.
“Every school we visited were places that he could get a good education,” Linda Bryant said. “We weren’t lacking in that.”
Kentucky was considered a frontrunner for Bryant because of its recent success turning high school All-Americans into pros in a year or two, a system for which coach John Calipari is often criticized.
Syracuse was not only a favorite because of its proximity to Rochester, where his mother, Linda, lives, but the Orange were one of the first big-time programs to recruit Bryant. Coach Jim Boeheim and assistant Mike Hopkins had interest in 6-10 center Chinonso Obokoh, who they did get, but also visited practices and games in 2011 to court Bryant.
Obokoh will be a junior next season for SU after backing up All-American Rakeem Christmas this year.
Despite NCAA sanctions that will reduce the number of scholarships Syracuse can offer in the coming seasons, it had one for Bryant. Another became available Thursday when 6-10 freshman Chris McCullough declared for the NBA Draft.
Missouri was in the mix because Bryant’s first coach at Huntington Prep in West Virginia, Rob Fulford, became an assistant there last June.
Bryant revealed this week that he hadn’t spoken to Syracuse or Kentucky in a couple of months. He said Indiana was recruiting him the most. He attended the Hoosiers’ regular-season finale on March 7, a 74-72 loss to Michigan State, and came away impressed with head coach Tom Crean’s squad.
“I loved the Indiana visit,” Bryant told the Louisville Courier-Journal this week in the lead up to Wednesday night’s McDonald’s High School All-American Game. “Seeing all those guys, they all accepted me when I walked in, and it was like a family atmosphere there. Great fans always come out and support. It was really nice.
“They need that one big man in the paint right there with them. If they get that, they could be a real good team down in the long run.”
Bryant is considered by recruiting services to be one of the best incoming forwards in the country and a Top 30 pick overall in the Class of 2015.
His announcement ended a busy week. Bryant scored nine points in Wednesday’s McDonald’s game in Chicago. One night later, he was in New York City for the quarterfinals of the DICK’s event. Bryant exploded for 27 points and 19 rebounds to lead Huntington to a 73-70 win over Wheeler, a school from Georgia.
But Huntington lost 61-51 on Friday to Oak Hill Academy, the Virginia prep school that has produced several stars, including Carmelo Anthony. Bryant was held to 12 points and six rebounds. Oak Hill lost to Montverde (Florida) Academy 70-61 on Saturday, the game during which Bryant made his announcement.
His massive wing span is an asset particularly on defense. He’ll be counted on to be a key rebounder, too, but his mobility and his ability to make jump shots and 3-pointers is unique for a player his size. He first emerged as an eighth-grader. Former Kearney coach Jon Boon kept Bryant on the junior varsity, but called him up for the Section V Tournament.
In the championship game, Bryant had 12 points and seven rebounds in only 16 minutes. Kearney won three straight Section V championships with him and Obokoh and also the 2013 Class AA state crown. Bryant was named MVP of the state tournament.