The third time proved to be a charm for combination guard Elijah Bryant, who has committed to the BYU basketball program after a freshman season spent playing for Elon University.
Bryant's first exposure to the Cougar program came after his junior season of high school in Gwinnett, Ga.; he attended BYU camp in Provo hoping to impress the coaching staff, but says "I wasn't fully matured…I wasn't close to my full potential, and nothing happened out of that camp."
Following the camp experience, Bryant returned home for his senior season of high school, followed by a year of prep-school basketball in New Hampshire.
It was after the championship game capping his prep-school season that Cougar coaches contacted Bryant. They were now more intrigued by the 6-foot-4, 225-pound backcourt playmaker, but were dealing with a scholarship crunch that prevented them from making an iron-clad guarantee of a grant-in-aid.
Possessing a full scholarship offer from Elon, and with the BYU situation uncertain, Bryant said "it was getting stressful."
"I'm not the type of guy to tell you one thing and do another; I'm going to keep it clean," said Bryant. "So, I called my coach at Elon and committed to them...and immediately after, (BYU guard) Matt Carlino transferred."
Knowing that Carlino's departure had potentially made available a BYU scholarship for Bryant, he says "I was a little devastated there."
"Eventually, it worked out for a reason, but it was that close (to happening last year)."
Fast forward to the summer of 2015, and, having decided to transfer from Elon after a season in which he was named Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year, Bryant was for a third time getting close with the Cougars.
Having already visited Miami and Butler, and holding additional offers from Texas A&M and Dayton, Bryant made BYU his final recruiting trip, last weekend. It was after returning home to Georgia that he realized BYU was at long last the place for him.
"You get home," said Bryant, "and you get to lay all the pieces out. I had a good feeling about BYU. I came home and just looked at everything; I looked at all the schools and I knew where I wanted to go."
On Tuesday, Bryant committed to head coach Dave Rose and BYU, inking a financial aid agreement. He will arrive on campus in late August and be enrolled for the fall semester.
"I liked it a lot," Bryant said of his recent official visit to BYU, on which he was accompanied by family members. "I feel like (BYU) has the means, academically, and they have a lot of values that I value. They have a lot of things that will give me the resources to pursue the NBA, which is my ultimate dream."
Bryant says his decision to leave Elon after a single season was not made lightly, nor does he want it to reflect poorly on the school for whom he earned Third Team All-CAA honors while averaging a team-leading 14.2 points per game.
"I planned on staying at Elon for four years," Bryant told me on Tuesday night, "and the only reason I left was that my academics are really important to me. It had nothing to do with the coaching staff or basketball...I'm not a shady type of guy to leave just because you're not playing me."
"I just wanted to pursue more academic interests (at BYU); I would've been a four-year guy (at Elon) if I felt I would succeed academically. I'm not bashing Elon or anything; I just felt that in my position--not anyone else's--in my position, (transferring to BYU) was best for me."
Bryant says that at Elon, "I was able to play my game, but the academics weren't there. If I am able to play my game, and have the academics, that's all I need."
A Latter-Day Saint who was born and raised in suburban Atlanta, Bryant said the decision to attend BYU wasn't made simply so he could join the Mormon crowd in Utah.
"I've always been very up front about my religion," says Bryant. "Everyone knew I didn't drink. Everyone knew my morals and respected them. If I was to attend a party, they would never let me touch a cup, they would never even let me be pictured with a cup."
"Spiritually, I was up to par, but it will obviously be a lot easier (at BYU), because there aren't as many distractions. It was more about 'what's best for you, Elijah?' That's how I look at it."
Bryant has no particular family ties to BYU, but his mother was born in Idaho, and he does have some relatives living in Utah. He says he snowboarded in his youth and has no worries about the winter weather in the Beehive State. "I was in New Hampshire for a year, and that's a lot of snow."
Bryant does have one notable association with BYU: his middle name is Brigham, after the school's namesake.
As an underclassman Division I transfer, Bryant will be required to sit out the 2015-16 season before joining the active roster for 2016-17, with three years of eligibility remaining. He says he plans to use his redshirt season to "become a better leader, be more explosive and come into the next season ready to have a big impact on the team."
"I want to use it to my full potential and be the best player I can be."
Elijah Bryant as a Freshman at Elon University
As a rookie at Elon, Bryant ranked third nationally in possession-usage rate, and was in the national top 20 in fouls drawn-per 40 minutes, so he was a go-to guy on a team that depended on Bryant to do much of the play-making when he was on the floor. He says his 38 percent field-goal accuracy rate was a reflection of that necessity.
"I definitely took a lot of shots because I had to," Bryant says. "I found myself in situations where I had the ball in my hands in the last ten seconds of the shot clock, which causes those (shooting) numbers to be where they are."
"Having teammates like Nick Emery and TJ Haws…will allow me to give it up to where I don't have to take those tough shots."
Bryant says he prefers playing point guard over shooting guard, and appreciates the style of play demonstrated by BYU senior point guard Kyle Collinsworth.
"I like Kyle's game a lot," said Bryant. "It's similar to mine...but I probably shoot a little bit more than he does."
Bryant says he is attracted to BYU's on-court philosophy; he says "it's fast and allows a lot of shots to be taken."
"I like the coaching staff," Bryant says. "I feel like there was no pressure involved in the recruiting process. No matter which school you pick, they're still going to support you."
Head coach Dave Rose has won 20-plus games in all ten seasons of his BYU tenure, and the Cougars have played in eight of the last nine NCAA tournaments. Bryant says he's excited about helping Rose and the program maintain their current levels of success, and adds "I'm planning on going to the Final Four."
Bryant also anticipates being among the first players to utilize new basketball practice facilities under construction adjacent to the Marriott Center.
"It will be exciting to be able to get in the gym whenever you want," said Bryant, "except Sunday."
Elijah Bryant can be followed on social media at: @Elijah_Bryant3 on Twitter and @mcballin3 on Instagram
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