As a little kid, it was always my dream to play in the NBA, and now is my opportunity to fulfill that dream. —Elijah Bryant
PROVO — BYU junior guard Elijah Bryant, who averaged a team-high 18.2 points and earned first team All-West Coast Conference honors last season, announced Wednesday via a YouTube video that he’s pursuing a professional career and forgoing his final year of eligibility.
"As a little kid, it was always my dream to play in the NBA, and now is my opportunity to fulfill that dream,” Bryant said in the video. “I am honored to say that I have graduated from BYU, and look forward to connecting more dots with great people around the world."
Bryant, who is graduating from BYU, is hiring an agent, which ends his college eligibility.
"We want to thank Elijah for all of his hard work, dedication and commitment to this team and our program," BYU coach Dave Rose said in a news release Thursday morning. "Over the last three years, he was not only a great player and leader on the court but represented the university and our program in a way that made us all proud. We wish him the very best as he pursues his childhood dream of becoming a professional basketball player."
Last month, Cougar forward Yoeli Childs entered his name in the NBA draft but is not hiring an agent. As long as players don't hire an agent, they can withdraw their name from the draft by May 30. Childs has two years of eligibility remaining.
A year ago, star forward Eric Mika declared for the draft. He was not drafted but is currently playing professionally in Italy, where he served an LDS Church mission.
Bryant’s early departure is not a big surprise.
Earlier this year, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound native of Gwinnett, Georgia, told the Deseret News that his dream of playing in the NBA fueled him while he went through a grueling rehab on his knee last summer.
“My mom told me every day, ‘What are you doing every day to get yourself ready for the draft? Why aren’t you training like an NBA player every day? I kind of took that mindset in everything I do,” Bryant said. “Why am I up past 12? That’s not what an NBA player would be doing. He’d be getting his rest and getting sleep. It wasn’t like I was going to kill my body every day.
"I’d come in and do ball-handling one day. I’d come in and just get shots. I wanted to get that mindset of, if I were in the NBA right now, what would I be doing? I’d be working out all the time. So why am I not doing that now? That’s the mindset I took. It was great.”
Bryant was not only the Cougars’ top scorer last season but also averaged 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. He shot 49 percent from the floor, 42 percent from 3-point range and 85 percent from the free-throw line.
No doubt, the loss of Bryant leaves a big void for the BYU program. He was set to be one of three seniors on next year’s roster.
Last week at the BYU basketball banquet, coach Dave Rose said guard Nick Emery, who withdrew from school last fall for personal reasons, could be back next season.
“We look forward to Nick’s return,” Rose said. “Hopefully we’ll get him back in the fold and things will work out.”
Later, Rose said “plans are in place” for Emery to return but there isn’t a timetable at this point.
Next year’s roster currently feature guards TJ Haws, McKay Cannon, Jahshire Hardnett, Zac Seljaas and Rylan Bergersen; and forwards Luke Worthington, Dalton Nixon, Payton Dastrup, Kolby Lee, Braiden Shaw and Ryan Andrus.
Two more forwards, freshmen Gavin Baxter and Connor Harding, are expected to join the program this season.
“We want more. We all want more. The players want more. The coaches want more. The fans want more,” Rose said last week about the upcoming season. “I know the challenge. I look forward to it. I know these guys are looking forward to it. The most exciting thing to us when we meet as a staff every day is we talk about the continuity of these guys that will be back on this team that have been through 35 (games) this year. That will really help us in the future — next year.”