In a run-of-the-mill London gym, 21-year-old center Thomas Bryant participated in a particularly light shootaround on a multi-purpose sports court with his Washington Wizards teammates, ahead of this year’s NBA London clash against the New York Knicks. Outside, the rain was spitting; Bryant was experiencing basketball in Britain in the most authentic fashion.
Traditionally miserable January weather wasn’t going to stop the New York native playing the role of tourist however. Bryant made it a priority of his to see at least a few of the cultural landmarks that he had only previously seen on T.V. prior to the trip.
“It’s been great,” he enthused. “We’ve been getting acquainted with the area, sightseeing a little bit. I saw the London Bridge, it’s been cool. I hope I can get out again to see more today.”
The city has clearly left a lasting impression on him.
“I’m coming back for sure.”
Sure, the schedule is hectic and ever-changing during his time in London, but Bryant is used to that. After being selected 42nd overall in the 2017 NBA draft by the Utah Jazz, he was swiftly traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. He signed a rookie scale contract but spent much of his time going back and forth to their affiliate G-League outfit – the South Bay Lakers, where he played his way into the All-NBA G League First Team.
As his Twitter handle – @nolimittb31 – would suggest, Bryant believes that the way he earned his spot in the league was through pure grind.
“For sure, it’s been a lot of hard work since I started back in South Bay, going back and forth with the Lakers. Then in the summer working out with (coaches) Rico Hines and Ronald Allen back there in L.A.”
That hustle paid off back in July, when the Wizards claimed him through waivers. Then, in November, he truly cracked his way into Scott Brooks’ rotation, logging regular minutes and carving out a role as an all-hustle center with a physical presence.
“I kept it going when I got to Washington,” Bryant stated. “I knew I had to work hard and that’s just what I do – I work hard.”
Without a doubt, the most notable milestone came in a game against the Phoenix Suns near Christmas, when Bryant dropped 31 points in a perfect shooting performance and commanded the boards with 13 rebounds. Since the beginning of December, he has experienced an uplift in net rating and rebound %.
Wizards forward Markieff Morris will be wearing street clothes in the O2 Arena, as he picked up an injury a fortnight ago. He feels as though some of the unfortunate injury problems befallen the team this season have served as an opportunity for young guys like Bryant to prove themselves, but he is certainly not surprised in the slightest by the big man’s breakthrough.
“Guys have to step up, do what they can to help the team win – it’s next man up,” said Morris. “I know what he’s capable of, he’s just shown you guys a glimpse. He’s really good.”
It’s a long season and the Wizards will be back to business as usual when their transatlantic trip comes to an end. If anything, they can see it as a fresh start as they attempt to push for a playoff spot.
For Bryant – a young man who has recently reached a number of milestones – the season’s biggest personal success is establishing himself as a key component of an NBA team.
“I feel like I’ve gained the respect of my teammates and the coaches at the same time, so I’ve definitely established myself now.”
Featured photo – via NBA Sports Washington / Mike Dickbernd / Kelvin Kuo / USA TODAY Sports / NBAE / Double Clutch illustration