Coach Jermaine Sellers pulled Bryant from the game in its waning minutes and heard from his coaching staff that the 6-foot-6 forward had a chance to break the Longhorns’ scoring record of 36, but he opted not to put Bryant back in the game.
“I figured he was a junior and he would have another chance,” Sellers said. “The game was already out of hand. We joked about it a bit after the game.”
What Sellers couldn’t have known was that Bryant’s chance would come in the very next game.
In a Region 7AAAAA (B) game Tuesday at Osborne, Bryant easily surpassed the previous record — held by teammate Jonathan Twine — by putting up 50 points. He also set a new team record with 35 rebounds in Kell’s 94-93 overtime victory.
“A lot of people hear 50 points and they think 3-pointers and pull-up jumpers, but all of (Bryant’s) work was inside around the basket,” Sellers said. “He was pulling down rebounds and putting them back up for two. He had guys hanging on him all night and pushing. He got frustrated, but he kept working and playing hard.”
Bryant said he is more proud of his 35 rebounds than he is of the 50 points. After all, points typically come two at a time. Rebounds are earned one by one.
“I never heard of someone getting 35 rebounds,” Bryant said.
By halftime of Tuesday’s game, Bryant already had a double-double 12 points and 14 rebounds, but he then exploded in the third quarter with an additional 21 points and 14 rebounds.
Sellers said the Longhorns, who were trailing by 12, changed their strategy at the half. By slowing the game down and taking advantage of size mismatches, Kell got back in the game.
Sellers said one of the goals was to get the ball in to Bryant.
“It meant a lot that I was the one leading and controlling my team and the game,” Bryant said. “I care much less about my stats and how many points and whatever. I just care about the ‘W’ at the end.”
Bryant has emerged as a leader through the season, which is something that Sellers said will help him as he prepares to play in college. The junior is already being recruited by numerous programs including Jacksonville, Tennessee, Miami, Georgia Tech and Stanford.
“At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t very talkative or vocal with the team, but as the season is progressing, I’ve become more of a true leader on the floor and off the floor,” Bryant said. “All the college coaches that I’ve talked to, and my high school coach, all want me to be a leader. I thought that, (Tuesday) night, I really proved that. I think that I have that ability inside myself.”
Sellers said he has encouraged Bryant to be more aggressive.
“He’s been asked to be a leader and step his game up,” Sellers said. “Just trying to get him to feel like he is capable of taking over the game and being that guy on the court.”
The coach said Bryant is the type of person who thinks of others first, and it has been a challenge to get him to break that habit on the court.
“On the court, we need him to be aggressive and be the boss, because he can,” Sellers said. “He is starting to get that mentality, and it will help his recruitment out in the long run.”
It isn’t the first time Bryant has posted big numbers. He has pulled down more than 10 rebounds in nine games this season, with his previous high being 18. He has scored more than 30 points twice before and averages 21.1 points and 13.1 rebounds per game.
On Tuesday, Osborne and Kell combined to take more than 150 shots, giving Bryant plenty of opportunities to hit the boards. Of his 35 rebounds, 26 of them came on defense.
“I knew he could put up big numbers, but, even during the game, I didn’t expect him to get 50 (points),” Sellers said. “I didn’t know what he had. In the second half, he was scoring at a pretty good rate, and I thought maybe he had close to 40. And the way he was rebounding, I thought he might have had 20 rebounds toward the end of the game.
“But I was amazed when they said he had 35 rebounds and I saw his point total after the game.”