My NCAA Sophomore Crush: Thomas Bryant

Jan 23, 2016; Bloomington, IN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers center Thomas Bryant (31) dunks against Northwestern Wildcats center Joey van Zegeren (1) at Assembly Hall. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 23, 2016; Bloomington, IN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers center Thomas Bryant (31) dunks against Northwestern Wildcats center Joey van Zegeren (1) at Assembly Hall. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

With the offseason in full swing Upside & Motor is slated to bring you our NCAA Sophomore Crushes all throughout the month of August. Our partners in crime Hardwood Paroxysm are doing the same, but for the NBA. Make sure to check them out and let us know what ya think!

I am a sucker for large, athletic bigs. Every year, there are a couple that I fall in love with early on because of their combination of size and ability to do one or two things at an elite level. I rode for Clint Capela in 2014, was and still am a Jahlil Okafor believer, and last year, I fawned over Ivica Zubac.

So, when tasked with picking a sophomore NCAA player to convince people to pull for, the choice was easy. Thomas Bryant of Indiana is quite massive and rebounds the basketball at an insane level.

At 6’10” and 245 pounds, Bryant isn’t the most lumbering center prospect that you will see. But he makes up for that with an insane 7’5″ wingspan that gives him the edge to tower over opponents at the college level. He uses that length primarily to gather and finish inside. Bryant hit a ridiculous 68.3 percent from the field last year, most of which came on looks like this:

Bryant also uses that length to gather offensive boards, where he can grab rebounds over and around opponents, and then use his athleticism to finish over the top of them. Bryant’s offensive rebound rate of 11.2 percent was solid for a freshman, and should only get better as he continues to grow into his frame.

But Bryant isn’t just a rim runner. His post game showed promise last year, and with another year of seasoning, he should be able to grow in that area even more. His spin move is adequate, and he doesn’t shy away from contact, ever. If you need convincing, here he is destroying Minnesota last year, mostly from the low block:

Bryant’s offensive game is well-tailored to succeed on low usage at the next level, and there are certainly ways for him to continue to get better there. His polish should improve in the post, and he’s flashed the ability to work from the perimeter, with a solid handle (for a center, at least) and a three-point shot that he appears to be working on. Expect Bryant to spend more time away from the basket this year, perhaps in the pick-and-pop or with face-up looks that will help him take advantage of his athleticism in scoring opportunities. He’s also a willing passer, with 34 assists in 35 games, and that could be another area where he builds his game up.

Defensively is where Bryant needs to improve most, as he was somewhat disappointing as a shot blocker, posting just a 4.1 percent block rate. With his wingspan, you’d expect him to be a bit more disruptive. However, his instincts don’t appear to be fully honed yet, and he still needs some tutelage on defending in space and timing his rotations. However, that’s not to say he’s not good for the occasional soul-crushing block — he will do this; and he has the habit of making it appear that the ball is being rejected in slow-motion, like a butterfly fluttering away from the goal on a summer day:

Bryant’s game should improve significantly as he moves from freshman to sophomore, and he should get a heavier load of the offense as he continues to mature. He’ll also be helped out by the likely instant impact of freshman power forward DeRon Davis, and those two will combine with another promising sophomore, O.G. Anunoby, to give Indiana one of the country’s most imposing front lines. But make no mistake — Bryant should still be the star of the show, and he should get a better chance to showcase why he’s a probable future lottery pick. If you like your centers to have big wingspans and potentially put the ball on the deck in transition, Thomas Bryant is your man to watch this season.

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