Center Making A Big Name

Jan. 21, 2006

By Jonathan Okanes
Contra Costa Times

When you first see Santa Clara's John Bryant, you immediately make the comparison to "Big Country" Bryant Reeves, the former Oklahoma State and Vancouver Grizzlies giant of a center.

But that's not really fair to Bryant. A better nickname would be -- well -- what's another word for "bigger than Big Country"?

Reeves was only 7-foot, 275 pounds. Bryant, a freshman from Pinole Valley High School, checks in at 6-11, 324 pounds. And like Reeves did during an All-America career at OSU, Bryant already is making an impact on the collegiate level.

Bryant enters tonight's game at Loyola Marymount ranked third in the West Coast Conference in rebounding (7.8 rpg), field goal percentage (58 percent) and blocks (1.73 bpg). After starting the season on the bench, he's started each of the Broncos' past 10 games and is averaging 18.9 minutes per game. In games he's started, he's averaging 8.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in 21.5 minutes per game, although he's been limited to just 3.5 points in 15 minutes over the past two games because of foul trouble and a sprained ankle.

"Everybody has been calling me 'Big Country' since my freshman year (of high school)," Bryant said. "But I have my own nickname. It's 'Big John.'" Appropriate, but not catchy. Reeves was called Big Country because he hailed from Gans, Okla. Perhaps Bryant could go by "Big Suburb."

Bryant may be a bigger version of Reeves, but the other similarities are striking -- the crewcut hairdo, the plodding style. But perhaps the most important attribute they have in common is the ability to do more than one might think a player carrying around that much weight can do.

"People just don't think I can do the things I do," Bryant said. "They think I'm just super slow. But I can have my moments where I can do things that usually 6-11, 324-pounders can't do. I think I have a pretty good feel for the game. It's just my mobility right now is not that good that I can make up for it with basketball smarts."

Indeed, Bryant's biggest challenge so far is simply getting from one side of the court to the other. Once in the half-court flow, he moves fairly well around the basket and has good hands. Defensively, he has the ability to alter or block shots.

"I'm tremendously optimistic about John's future and his ability to play the game," Santa Clara coach Dick Davey said. "He's very bright, understands basketball, has great hands, is a good passer and has a nice shooting touch. He's well aware of the fact that conditioning will be a major factor in his development."

Bryant said Santa Clara was the only school to seriously recruit him out of high school, and figured he'd make more of an impact down the road. But while on the surface Bryant appears to be the stereotypical project, Davey was more convinced that he could make some impact immediately.

Bryant averaged just 12.6 minutes through Santa Clara's first five games. But starting center Sean Denison went down with a stress reaction in his right foot and Bryant assumed his role.

"Maybe redshirting him or playing him less could be the thing to do, but that might have been a mistake on our part, too," Davey said. "I think he's capable of contributing significant numbers. I was a little higher on his potential to help right away than maybe some others were. I think John realizes he's a bit better than a lot of people think."