Santa Clara’s John Bryant: Q&A With John StevensPosted by jstevrtc on February 20th, 2009
John Stevens is a featured writer for Rush The Court.
You’ll have to excuse John Bryant if he doesn’t exactly dwell on the past, these days. Why should he? When you’ve got as much going on as this guy, the past is something from which you’ve become expert at taking whatever lessons you can, and then letting it fall away.
Wait, what’s that name? John Bryant? Right now you are likely wondering why that name sounds familiar. You are wondering exactly where you’ve heard it before. In a moment, I’ll tell you.
Bryant plays center for Santa Clara University. And he doesn’t just play center — he’s one of the best big men in the nation. He currently has 21 double-doubles (points and rebounds) on the year, a mere one behind likely player-of-the-year Blake Griffin’s 22. Yes, that’s more than some other guys you might hear more about, like Harangody, Thabeet, Blair, and Hansbrough. Bryant is second in the nation in rebounds per game (an unreal 13.8), not to mention tied for 14th nationally with 2.6 blocks per game, and is now the all-time leader at SCU in that category.
But that’s not where you know him from.
In the middle of finishing up his senior season, including leading the Broncos to wins in seven of their last eight games, John was good enough to find time to answer some of my questions:
John Stevens: Well, after dropping six in a row earlier this year, you’ve now torn off seven wins in your last eight games. What changes has the team made to turn things around?
John Bryant: I don’t think we’ve made any really big changes. We are just really focusing on the little things and started to realize if we do those little things and play hard every second of every game, we can win some games. But we need to keep moving forward.
JS: I read in an interview you did with CSTV back in July that your favorite part of the game is dunking, and — I love this quote — “doing it on someone makes it so much better.” That’s just excellent! Any favorite victims? Anyone you’ve dunked on where it means a little more? By the way, I never so much as touched the rim in my high-school basketball career, so this is a foreign subject for me.
JB: (Laughs) My favorite player is Shaquille O’Neal, so that’s what I want to keep working towards. I don’t really remember any specific dunks…I haven’t been dunked on hard in the past, head-to-head. The power dunk is my favorite. Two hands, up to the basket. Hard.
Already, you notice a theme with Bryant, that of forward movement. Something that almost seems like disdain for the past. This isn’t surprising when you see how John came to Santa Clara back in 2005. At that time he had already achieved one goal in terms of emulating Shaquille O’Neal — but it was on the bathroom scale, not the basketball court. At the start of his freshman year, “Big John” was clocking in at 365 pounds.
JS: Impressively, you’ve dropped 90 pounds since coming to SCU as a freshman, and you’ve made mention of your improved cardiovascular fitness. Most people with busy schedules don’t eat very well; with practices, games, road trips, classes, and trying to lead some semblance of a normal college life, how do you maintain this discipline during the season?
JB: Maintaining during the season is not easy. It’s tough to eat right on the road. You do what you can. Changes I’ve made to help me stay fit? Just more dedication. I’m committed to staying in shape and working on things that maybe I haven’t worked on in the past, which includes getting into the gym more often. I also don’t want people to think I’m a big guy who can’t shoot free throws, so I have worked really hard on that.
If you’re doing the math at home, that means from 6’10″ and 365 pounds, John is now listed at 6’11″ and 275. So if you refer to him as “Big John” (a nickname mentioned in the SCU player bios) these days, you’re talking only about his height. Or his game. And, without question, his guts…
JS: Tell me a little about this stabbing incident (in September 2008). You’ve obviously fully recovered, but how has it changed your perspective on things, meaning basketball and life in general?
JB: That was a speed bump that was months ago. It made me hungrier to get on the court. [Head Coach Kerry] Keating always talks to us about doing the right things, putting yourself in the right place…
And with that, the subject is over. Again — forward movement.
But that — unfortunately, my friends — is where you probably know John Bryant’s name. The story in a nutshell: on that night in late September, John and some friends were walking home from a party off-campus. Some bad dudes approached the group. One of them, like a coward, stabbed John in the low back from behind while John was “engaged” with another of the group. John was taken to the hospital, recovered, and was back at practice in two weeks. End of story. I don’t mean to trivialize this issue, but in the spirit of John’s apparent focus on the future and forward movement, you’ve got to realize there’s just too much to the man than that one event. I get the feeling he’d rather be known for what he does on the floor — not to mention his talents in other arenas…
JS: The SCU media guide says that your off-court interests include cooking, fishing, and working on cars. Any dishes you’re cooking up for the team? Any favorite cars you’ve restored? And I know there’s got to be a fish story or two.
JB: I like to barbeque and grill food. I like to grill meat! Ribs, steak, chicken — the basics.
JS: Sounds like we have a future Food Network show…John Bryant: The Basics.
JB: I haven’t thought about the Food network, but I wouldn’t mind!…But my dad and I used to work on his old Camaro which my brother drives now. Basketball keeps me pretty busy. If I had the time I’d like to work on my dad’s favorite car which has always been the 1967 Camaro. I have always wanted to restore a car with my dad. My height doesn’t get in the way…once you lie down to change oil, your size doesn’t matter…
It’s been a while since I went fishing. I like to fish anywhere. Just being on the water and being with people, it’s a great time. Just hanging out, sitting on the water. The biggest fish I ever caught? I can’t remember. Maybe a striper…but I caught and released it. It was up in the Sacramento Delta. We were there all weekend, and I hadn’t caught anything…on the last cast, I caught that fish. We were leaving and didn’t have anything to put him in, so I released it.
JS: You’ll finish your degree at the end of this quarter, which is a quarter early. You must be a wizard at time management. What subject will your degree be in? And when your basketball career is over — hopefully many years down the road — what path do you see yourself taking?
JB: My degree will be in Sociology. When basketball is over, I would like to have me a nice quiet little spot somewhere up in the mountains or hills and just live life, travel…do all the things I couldn’t do when I was playing basketball every day. I haven’t really thought of a career [after that].
It seems ridiculous that the NBA would let a guy like John Bryant just pass on by without giving him a chance. He should be the favorite for Player of the Year in the West Coast Conference; if you think you can question his will and determination, go back and re-read this article; you need an intelligent player? How about a guy who finished his degree a quarter early while simultaneously expanding his skill set on the court by leaps and bounds. And, of course, there’s that old adage about how you can’t teach size.
JS: Not to imply that you’re looking past this year, because hopefully you’ve got a lot of basketball still to play…but what’s next for you, after this season? Do you think you have a professional hoops future? Any particular place you’d like to end up?
JB: Anywhere playing basketball professionally is good. Every young player’s dream is to play basketball, and get paid to play. I want to stay in the United States, but anywhere is fine. I don’t have a particular favorite NBA team. I used to root for the Lakers when Shaq was there, and I just root for whatever team he’s on.
To be sure, at 14-14 (6-5) and sitting fourth in the WCC, the Broncos’ chances for an NCAA birth rest solely on whether or not they can win their conference tournament. That’s not an unrealistic possibility; but even if Santa Clara doesn’t make a March run to get into the Dance, I don’t think we’ve heard the last of John Bryant. A 6’11″ master of rebounding and shot-blocking may have gone largely unnoticed during his college career, but I guarantee the world of professional basketball knows who he is. Bryant’s trimmed-down frame might still loom large and his numbers might be big, but it’s his perspective — his knowledge of the importance of the little things — that makes him exceptional.