July 29, 2008
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Tipping the scales at over 350 pounds when he came to Santa Clara his freshman year, John Bryant's goal at the beginning of this summer was to get down to 275 pounds by the start of basketball practice in October - his senior season. He weighed 275 pounds on July 25 so he has set his sights on a new goal: 270 pounds.
"I am working really hard this summer to get my body in shape and lose the weight I don't need," said Bryant, a self-proclaimed late-night snacker in high school. "I am conditioning, conditioning, conditioning - get it? I am trying to eat right and work to cut out fast food. I eat more chicken and veggies; and I am working out all the time. I stay away from the 99 cent cheeseburgers and spend a bit more on healthy food. I am always doing something, always working out. It's pretty simple to do, but it can be tough - the rewards we hope will be worth it."
Already the school record in career blocked shots, the 6'10" center from San Pablo, Calif., enters his senior year looking to go out with a bang on the basketball court. An eight-team league that saw three teams in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, last season Bryant led the West Coast Conference in blocks (2.45 bpg), rebounding (9.6 rpg) and field goal percentage (.583) and was second in scoring (18.0 ppg). A legitimate WCC Player of the Year candidate looking to build on those numbers, Bryant has been working out 2-3 times a day this summer.
Bronco head coach Kerry Keating said Bryant has made an obvious commitment to his body this off-season and it has translated to a much better mindset as well. That has also carried over and become contagious for his teammates.
"We spoke about this a year ago with John and his family," said Keating. "He has natural ability, but for him to reach his fullest potential, he would have to match that with his body and his mental approach. We definitely hit some highs and lows last season, but I think the overall results in his effort last season helped him realize that this was not only necessary for him, but for our team as well."
"John is a leading candidate for Player of the Year in the WCC and that in itself is high praise because of the talent in this league. However, the bigger challenge for John is now stepping up to lead seven newcomers on an already shortened roster - and he and Calvin have done an admirable job of starting that leadership this summer," added Keating. "Just as impressive is the fact that John has only four classes left to graduate, and his commitment in the classroom will aid in his improvement next season by adding more time to his daily routine so that he can get more reps in on the floor or in the weight room with the strength coach.
"John is a leading candidate for Player of the Year in the WCC and that in itself is high praise because of the talent in this league."
-- Santa Clara Head Coach Kerry Keating
"John is putting himself in a position to succeed in basketball beyond Santa Clara, and two things will help that: his personal approach and our team's success. He fully understands that now; the biggest challenge lies ahead, but he has put himself and our team in a more prepared state to take it on full steam ahead," continued Keating.
Bryant is looking to improve on his numbers from last season and he believes there is no question he can do better.
"In some games, I didn't do my best. I have to push that aside and really compete at the highest level in every game regardless of who we are playing," said Bryant. "I want to work to do my best every time. I also want to shoot better at the free throw line (he shot 74 percent in 2008). I have really been working on it. I am training my body to stay in a rhythm shooting free throws after a set of shooting. I treat it like a game situation. After a shooting set, I go to the line - hoping I am tired like in a game. I spend a lot of time shooting free throws."
"I'm really excited for and proud of John, and he deserves this chance at a senior season to remember. He's working hard and will continue to into the fall, and I hope that the results speak for themselves," said Keating. "The team is feeding off our senior leadership and especially off the visible change in John's body - they all have improved significantly in a short amount of time, and that bodes well for our future."
Off the court, Bryant enjoys cooking. He learned his culinary skills from his parents and an uncle who used to work as a chef and is now in catering at Cal.
"I cook a lot," said Bryant. "I like to cook ribs, beans, corn on the grill and artichokes. I took a picture and put in on my phone the last time I made it - it looked so good. I just moved into a new place and once it's all set up, I want to have the guys over for a team BBQ to build team chemistry. I will grill some steaks and chicken - just simple stuff."
Bryant will miss playing with departed seniors Brody Angley - who he calls `one hell-of-a-player' and Mitch Henke - who he says `is smart period'.
"They are good guys. Brody was a great all-around player and great guy - ask anyone on campus," said Bryant. "But, I am looking forward to the new players we have coming in as well. I have played with all of them. They can all shoot. I think Perry Petty is going to be really good because he can handle the ball. Last year we were plagued with turnovers and we need ball handling. When we didn't have Brody in the game, we couldn't handle the pressure. I think Petty will be of great importance. I look forward to working as a leader with Calvin Johnson. We have a lot of young players so we will have to step up into that role even more.
"I hope to go out with a bang my senior year," said Bryant. "The first three years went quickly. I want to finish up my fourth year here on a high note. I expect a lot of our team. We are working harder than we have ever worked, we are in here 2-3 times a day, lifting, conditioning, getting shots up. I think it is going to be a lot more fun because we are going to afford ourselves a chance to play at a more high tempo when we need to."
"The goal is to win the WCC, but that's always the goal. I know we will have fun. You have got to have fun. I am going to make it fun because it's my last year here," said Bryant. "This is my last summer I will spend here so I am making the best of it. It's been a real change of mentality. I didn't work as hard my freshman year and that's on me, but the three years have gone by so quick."
Bryant shattered the school's blocked shots record set by Nick Vanos (159, 1981-85) and enters his senior year with 162 blocked shots. He also has the school record for most blocked shots in a season: Bryant had 78 last season, topping Vanos' 67 in 1983-84. He is No. 23 on the career scoring list with 1,071 points. The school record is 1,736 points set by Kurt Rambis in 1976-80, a feat that is attainable after putting up 558 points in 2007-08.
"The blocked shots record is nice, but it doesn't really matter right now," said Bryant. "When the blocks come, they come. I don't think `I want to get four blocks tonight'. I don't think about the records, the other stuff, the hype - it doesn't matter. If it happens, it happens and if the blocks come, the blocks come."
Bryant is also working on his three-point shot. He laughed and said it's every big man's dream - to shoot the three in games.
"I can shoot it, but I score around the basket and that's where I am most effective. But now it's my senior year and I want to shoot a couple in a game," said Bryant, who was 0-for-1 last season from beyond the arc. "The big guys dream is to shoot the three. Maybe not the dream, but sometimes you get tired of staying under the basket and posting up - it's a dream to be out there dribbling and shooting 3s like the guards."
His favorite part of playing is dunking. "The most exciting aspect of the game is the dunk and especially if it's on somebody. Dunking on somebody just adds another level to it - making it more fun," said Bryant. "A dunk is always a crowd pleaser. With the weight falling off, my athletic ability has been growing and so fans will hopefully be seeing more dunks."
"I want to ask the fans to come to the games this year and support the Broncos," said Bryant. "Come watch us play! It should be a fun time! We play Stanford at home this year and have a number of really good WCC home games as well. And then there is always the fan-favorite Cable Car Classic. I can't wait for us to tip!"
And with Bryant dunking or blocking shots, or even attempting a three here and there, he is sure to see his hard work pay off as he hopes to make his senior year his best.