PROVO — Elijah Bryant could return to BYU and play 30-something games in an expected starring role for the WCC title-seeking, experienced, chemistry-established squad this coming season, but there is one thing nobody can guarantee him.
It is a crucial element of any athlete, the success code of any player on the court or field — yet it's elusive as anything.
It is health.
Nobody can promise Bryant that at any given moment on the court he will walk away unscathed from a season-ending knee, ankle or foot injury.
Based on that fact, Bryant has decided that when he bounces a ball and shoots for a team again — for as long as he can do so — he should be paid.
Who can blame him for looking after himself, playing the game for pay, in a time frame where his popularity is high?
This past week Bryant announced he would forgo his senior season at BYU, hire an agent, and seek a job as a professional basketball player. The reality of that search remains to be seen. He is not on any NBA mock draft boards that I have seen, yet he has talent and value to keep playing. If he can.
For all intents and purposes, Bryant is finished with his degree at BYU. Returning to play with his friends and for a coaching and support staff he loves would have its rewards. But it wouldn’t involve money for him and his wife. And he could get injured.
Injuries have followed him all of his BYU career. Add it up. It makes sense.
There are theories out there that Bryant’s departure signifies some mysterious disconnect between Bryant and Dave Rose or the program.
Nope, nothing to see there.
He’s just being real about his life and a narrow portal he can jump through right now.
I took a poll amongst my Twitter followers and asked if Bryant was making the right decision. A non-scientific straw poll, 1,126 responded, with 64 percent voting no and 36 percent voting yes. That is a big public sentiment that he’s making the wrong choice.
But, it is his choice.
If I read this right, folks believe he’d have far more fun staying and playing like Jimmer Fredette did his senior year, taking the team, together, toward lofty goals, perhaps breaking some records, further forging once-in-a-lifetime friendships for another year.
That’s a worthy thought.
But what if he gets seriously hurt preparing for the season in September, or in the first week of games next fall, and is lost for the season?
Former BYU center Brandon Davies, who just led Zalgiris Kaunas to an overtime win over Olympiacos with a EuroLeague career-high 21 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, echoes the support of many former Cougar players for Bryant.
Davies tweeted the following exclamation-point-laden missive: “Congrats on your decision to go pro after a hell of a season! Wish you the best and support you! As should everyone else @ElijahBryant!! Can’t put a price on dream chasin! But that being said...go get yo money!!”
Jackson Emery played it both sides in another tweet: “Best of luck to Eli. But makes me grateful to see @jimmerfredette stuck around for his Senior year. We had a special year. Those memories are priceless.”
I’d like to see Bryant return to BYU and help continue building something. There are no seniors on Rose’s team right now and the roles forged this past year would pay dividends if he came back. He’s fun to watch. He’s a gamer, a great first or second option, a prolific scorer who can pop from distance, score off the dribble, and use his Kyle Collinsworth-like strength inside to finish at the rim.
The argument that Bryant can’t make it in the NBA, that he’s not among the 60 projected draftees, is a strong one. But tell that to Collinsworth, who is making headlines for the Dallas Mavericks as an undrafted free agent.
There are plenty of ways to make money playing basketball outside an NBA team. There’s Europe, China, Australia and other circuits. The NBA developmental league (G League) just raised salaries to an average of $7,000 a month for the five-month season and that includes insurance and living expenses. It’s a league that hatched Collinsworth to the NBA.
Bryant has been a dedicated, hardworking, loyal soldier ever since he transferred to BYU from Elon. He’s won awards, had legendary games, and enjoyed special moments. He’s also missed a lot of play due to knee injuries and finished this past season playing with some pain.
If the guy wants to go for some coin for his efforts, more power to him. If he stays, he’ll be announced as a starter at the Marriott Center where a few feet away wealthy corporate patrons will have paid thousands of bucks for a coveted perch with an iPad and meals to enjoy the experience and see him play. None of that money goes to Bryant. Why shouldn’t he go get his?
Good luck, Elijah.
Thanks for the memories.