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Exclusive: Elijah Bryant ready for next step in process of becoming a pro

BYU men's basketball vs. Weber State 27

Brigham Young Cougars guard Elijah Bryant (3) directs a play as he handles the ball during a game between Brigham Young University and Weber State University on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

Elijah Bryant is in a good place.

Disappointed BYU basketball fans might disagree with his decision to pursue a professional career instead of coming back for his senior year in a Cougar uniform, but Bryant is at peace with his choices and excited for whatever comes next.

“I think it was a good decision for me,” Bryant said from his family’s home in Atlanta. “Coach (Dave) Rose supported me. It was my decision and when I made it, there was no bad blood, just support.

“The biggest thing is that at the end of the day, it’s that guy’s decision, right? As far as what fans think, that’s their opinion and they’re entitled to it. But we’ve been playing basketball since we were eight years old and our dream was to play professional basketball. Once you get the opportunity you’re like, ‘I’m here. This is what I want to do.’”

Bryant has been busy since declaring his intentions to turn pro back in April. He worked out in Las Vegas for a month with Impact Training. He had workouts with seven NBA teams — the Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz, LA Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies — and then came back to Utah to take advantage of some high altitude training.

Now, he’ll watch the NBA Draft on Thursday in Atlanta with his family. He’s not expected to be one of the 60 players who will have their name called, but at the conclusion of the two rounds the wheels will begin to turn on what his next stop will be. If he's undrafted, Bryant could catch on with an NBA Summer League team, or he may sign a contract to play in Europe.

“The biggest thing is to take it one step at a time, right?” Bryant said. “Some things you can’t control that are in front of you, but whether I get drafted or go undrafted, it’s exciting. For the last two months everything has been kind of up in the air. Knowing where you’re going will make it a lot easier.”

As of this week, Bryant’s YouTube channel — “EB&J” stands for Elijah Bryant and his wife, Jen — has more than 30,000 subscribers and 650,000 views. It’s a travelogue of Bryant’s life, from his time at BYU to his journey to professional basketball. Bryant edits the video himself.

“It was hard to do it when I was going to school,” Bryant said. “I’m not a big TV or Netflix guy, so now all I do is pretty much play basketball and edit video.”

The YouTube channel is just one part of what Bryant calls his “mission in life.”

“This whole process is about being able to give back to kids and everybody who has helped put me in this position,” Bryant said. “You see some guys who get drafted and go Hollywood with people. Wherever I end up — and I know this might be later down the road — I want to make enough money where I can give back. I want to do basketball camps, sponsor kids, have a gym where they can work out, stuff like that.

“I think about kids who don’t have parents who push them. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my mom pushing me. To be able to help kids get pushed like that, it can make a tremendous difference in their lives.”

Bryant learned a lot about himself and what NBA teams are looking for during the process of his team workouts.

“I learned that the teams are not really looking as much at tangible things like shooting and stuff,” he said. “They know what you can do. It’s more about competing, who’s in shape, who’s talking the most on defense. Obviously, it’s a bonus if you’re hitting shots but the GMs and front office people I talked to were about who I was as a person.”

Bryant took a 200-question written test at one of his team workouts and had as many as three personal interviews with GMs and front office personnel with others.

“Workouts are just one quarter of the process,” Bryant said. “The other parts are interviews, physical testing and mental testing. On the written tests, it wasn’t about right or wrong answers. They do those tests to see if you’re coachable. They want to see if you like to be coached one-on-one, or some guys may not do well being embarrassed by a coach. They want to see how you fit in and what kind of person you are outside of basketball. They want to know what kind of work ethic you have.”

Bryant raised his scoring average from his sophomore to his junior year (11.7 to 18.2 points per game) and increased his 3-point shooting percentage as well (.278 to .415). He credits much of that growth to the Marriott Center Annex, which opened in February of 2017.

Current and future BYU basketball players would do well to emulate Bryant’s dedication to his craft in the practice gym.

“They need to put more food in there,” Bryant joked. “I think the practice gym is a key component to my success. There were times I’d be in there at 2 or 3 in the morning. We’d come back from a road trip and if I felt like I didn’t play well, I’d head to the gym. Or maybe I didn’t play as well as I thought I could in a home game, I’d head over to the gym.

“If you come to BYU and you have a goal to play pro basketball, you have all the resources to do that. Alumni can come back and we can use it, so BYU is a great program for letting us do that.”

Bryant said the difficult preseason schedule will test the Cougars next season but feels like his alma mater will have a great team.

“You know Yoeli (Childs) can deal, he scored 18 points a game last year,” Bryant said. “And I think Jahshire (Hardnett) will have a big year. Last year was his first season at BYU and he was a little bit tentative, but I think he’ll really have a breakout year and he’ll be a leader.”

Bryant played high school basketball against Donovan Mitchell, who helped lead the Utah Jazz to the second round of the NBA playoffs and is a candidate for the Rookie of the Year award. Bryant said he can dream about making such an impact at some point in his career.

“I definitely think I’m an NBA-caliber player,” Bryant said. “I love this process and the grind. We ran late one night (during an NBA workout) and that’s just like the NBA. You have to be ready to play the next day.”

One of the most common questions from GMs and front office personnel was “What can you bring to the team?”

This was Bryant’s answer: “I think the biggest thing I bring to the table is I’m not going to back down from anyone, you know? I bring that dog mentality to the team, like Jae Crowder does with the Jazz. I’m a defensive stopper, I can hit threes and then I can develop from there.

“I think I have a lot of potential to develop a lot more. A lot of people don’t know I was only 5-foot-7 in ninth grade. I was a late bloomer, so everything is still coming together.”

Follow Darnell Dickson on Twitter @darnellwrites or e-mail him at ddickson@heraldextra.com.

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