Like lots of basketball players, and most diehard basketball fans, Thomas Bryant has spent time the past week tuned to various NBA Summer League games, where he's watched dozens of guys he's played with or against compete on national television. Many of them are inferior prospects. So Bryant knows he could be out there, too. And he understands he could already have a lucrative contract, which means he could've bought a new house and car by now, if he wanted. And all of this has made him reconsider ... nothing, honestly.
Yes, a different person might be having second thoughts.
Seems natural, I think.
But Thomas Bryant still insists he never seriously considered entering the 2016 NBA Draft after one year of college even though he would've been a first-round pick. And he still insists he's never thought twice about it or questioned his decision to delay millions of guaranteed dollars to return to Indiana.
He's happy doing what he's doing.
He doesn't want to do what those summer league guys are doing.
"I've never had second thoughts about coming back to school," Bryant told me by phone. "I knew coming back after my freshman year would be the best decision for me. I just didn't think I was ready."
To be clear, Bryant knows he was at least ready to be drafted because, again, he would've been a first-round pick -- perhaps even a lottery pick. What he means is that he doesn't think he was ready to be a professional capable of playing meaningful minutes and contributing as a rookie, and that's a pretty honest and mature self-evaluation, for someone who is still just 18 years old, to make.
Bryant's biggest fear was getting picked in the first round but still ending up in the NBA Developmental League, where he'd be playing in front of small crowds and living a life less cool than the life he now lives at a premier Big Ten school. Indiana has better facilities than D-League franchises. Indiana charters flights, stays in the nicest hotels available and regularly plays on national television in games millions of people care about. None of those things are true for D-League franchises. Consequently, Bryant was in no rush to give up his current life for the possibility of that life. So he remained in Bloomington and is currently working daily on the things that'll give him the best chance to never live that D-League life.
Like guarding on the perimeter.
"Thomas mostly works out with the guards," said Indiana coach Tom Crean, and there are two reasons for that.
1) IU doesn't really have any bigs on campus who can handle Bryant.
2) Bryant has to get better at guarding pick-and-rolls.
"I'm working on that a lot," Bryant said. "Coach Crean wants me to be a versatile player on the offensive and defensive end. And just watching how the NBA has changed over the years, you're seeing a lot of bigs guarding guards. You have to be versatile in the NBA. So I'm working on it a lot."
How all of this ends up is still to be determined. But Bryant seems genuinely comfortable with his decision to avoid the draft just like Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart was always comfortable with returning for his sophomore year despite the fact that he would've been a top-five pick after his freshman year. And I respect that because, as I've said many times, I have no issue with elite prospects delaying millions of dollars to remain in college as long as they truly understand what they're delaying and possibly risking, and Bryant clearly does.
When he talks about it, he doesn't sound 18.
He sounds wise and confident.
So here's hoping Thomas Bryant gets everything he wants out of a sophomore year of college, then gets everything he desires from the 2017 NBA Draft. That's his plan, obviously. And I don't think I'd bet against him.
FIVE OTHER THINGS ON GP'S MIND
1. Illinois' John Groce has been among the unluckiest coaches in college basketball the past couple of years thinks to a string of injuries and player dismissals that have made winning consistently in the Big Ten basically impossible. Good news has been rare. Which is why it's worth noting the Illini got great news this week when instate star Jeremiah Tilmon -- whom 247 Sports ranks 24th in the Class of 2017 -- committed to Groce's program. This development, of course, won't help Illinois win any games this season because Tilmon, a 6-foot-10 forward, won't enroll until next summer. But it does give the Illini what 247 Sports now considers the second-best recruiting class in the country, and that's the type of thing that could ensure Groce gets a sixth year no matter how his fifth year unfolds.
2. Tilmon, by the way, is only the fifth top-30 prospect from the Class of 2017 to already commit to a school. The others, if you're wondering, are No. 9 Mitchell Robinson (Western Kentucky), No. 15 Austin Wiley (Auburn), No. 27 Jaylen Hands (UCLA) and No. 29 Jalek Felton (North Carolina).
3. So-called "package deals" are talked about often in college basketball, but they rarely actually happen. That said, I'm told, it appears more likely than not that Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr. really are planning to attend college together. 247 Sports ranks Carter No. 4 in the Class of 2017. Trent is ranked 10th. Duke is considered the probable destination for both.
4. Speaking of Duke, the Blue Devils were widely criticized this week for releasing a non-league schedule that most consider soft. And I get it, if only because there's no denying most of Duke's non-league games -- i.e., the games played in November and December -- will be uninteresting and unchallenging, which is disappointing for a team ranked No. 1 in the preseason Top 25 (and one). But don't get it twisted. This is not a Duke problem. This is a college basketball problem. And until there's a real incentive to schedule more aggressively, high-majors playing more boring non-league games than intriguing non-league games will continue to be the norm.
5. I said it on the latest episode of the Eye on College Basketball podcast, but it's worth repeating here: Man, I hated to hear the news that Austin Peay coach Dave Loos is battling cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. He's a decent man who's been through enough in the past year -- specifically his granddaughter's battle with cancer -- and it just seems unfair that he and his family are also dealing with this now. Austin Peay officials insisted they expect Loos to be on the sideline for the season-opener. I hope like hell they're right.
FINAL THOUGHT: My colleagues Matt Norlander and Chip Patterson posted an interesting project this week where they identified the best football-basketball combo schools over the past 15 years.
Florida was No. 1.
You can see the entire list here. But the project got me asking another question: Which 10 schools will have the best football-basketball combos over the next five years? The following is my educated guess:
1. Michigan State
3. Ohio State
5. Notre Dame
Am I missing anybody?