As Bakersfield Jam Assistant Coach John Bryant walked off to the side to speak with RidiculousUpside.com at Suwanee Sports Academy this past weekend, he joked that he was beginning to lose his voice.
Such an assertion shouldn't have come as a surprise, however. His team had just concluded its two-day open tryout period in the Atlanta area. As expected, Coach Bryant played an integral role in the session as he coached the aspiring D-Leaguers, mentoring them all through drills as he helped his staff assess the talent level available.
This time of year is a special one for Coach Bryant, as he can reflect and even relate to what some of the more promising young guns are going through when it comes to the tryout circuit.
Of course, usually being able to relate is easier said than done. But as fate would have it, it actually comes easy for Coach Bryant, because he has actually already done it.
Despite being a member of the team's coaching staff now, Bryant got his start with Bakersfield by, at one time, strutting his stuff at open tryouts. He received his D-League contract through the Jam, and they selected him in the 2010 NBADL Draft just a short time later. Thus, he's a testament that such a process works, both for players hoping to get noticed, and the minor league staffs hoping to uncover potential diamonds in the rough.
After playing in twelve games and emerging as a key member of a successful Jam team in 2010-11, Bryant was forced to submit to a career-ending injury. That said, his past perseverance up to that point (paired with some international experience and three seasons playing for Bakersfield head coach Will Voigt in the ABA) made it clear to the organization that he deserved to stay aboard in the role he still has today.
Going into his third season as an assistant coach, Coach Bryant is clearly a role model for those trying to catch on with the Jam this fall. Assistant General Manager Brian Levy asserted, "It should motivate them all greatly. He got into the D-League because he got his contract through an open tryout. He played and started for the Jam, a playoff team, after going through that tryout. Now, here he is going into his third year coaching this team. It's all different paths, but it's right there in front of you."
Coach Bryant added that the tryouts were part of a component of the NBA D-League that is certainly near and dear to his heart. He said, "I think my journey is motivation for all these guys. Whenever I start the camp off, I tell them I've been where they are all sitting. I've been to almost every tryout there is, trying to get my shot. It's not about me though, it's more about all of their respective journeys, because you never know where this takes you."
"I genuinely believe that in my heart," Coach Bryant continued. "That's why I sweat when I give that speech at the start of camp. It's because I truly believe this opportunity...I don't want to be cliché and say this is where dreams come true, but it's certainly a place where opportunities can present themselves. It led me to be a part of something special in Bakersfield as a player, and because I proved myself, Coach Voigt then gave me another opportunity to be a coach. This is very valuable for all these guys."
The Jam alumni also believes that his past experience in the D-League helps him relate to players even more so than most coaches can or ever will. He pointed out, "It's easy, because you wouldn't know what they're going through unless you've actually been through it yourself. There's a lot of coaches who either didn't play, or were (only) in the NBA. There aren't too many in between guys, like myself. Since I've been through this process, it's closer to my heart."
As for what's next for Coach Bryant, it goes without saying that he's focused on potentially leading Bakersfield to a second straight top seed finish in the D-League. That said, as he reflects upon where he's come from and what may lie ahead, the coach takes pride in watching all of the other success stories from the NBADL come about.
He concluded by saying, "I love the D-League, you know? Seriously. I went to the Atlanta Hawks' training camp, and I saw three D-League alumni on their coaching staff! I'm happy I'm in the right place to be successful. I see guys like Quin Snyder, Darvin Ham, and Taylor Jenkins. They're all opening doors for me, just as I'm opening doors for these tryout players."