These former BYU, Utah State stars will feature for Bucks in NBA Finals

Former BYU wing Elijah Bryant, left, and Utah State standout guard Sam Merrill will open the NBA finals with the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, July 6, 2021.

Former BYU wing Elijah Bryant, left, and Utah State standout guard Sam Merrill will open the NBA finals with the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. (Composite image: Deseret News/Associated Press)

AROUND THE LEAGUE — The Milwaukee Bucks are Eastern Conference champions for the first time since 1974 with Saturday's 118-107 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

And they're carrying two former Utah college standouts in tow to the NBA finals: BYU's Elijah Bryant and Utah State's Sam Merrill.

The Bucks advanced to face the Phoenix Suns in the best-of-seven championship series. Tipoff for Game 1 is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. MT on ABC.

Both teams were founded in 1968 and have had low levels of success compared to much of the league. The Bucks haven't won a championship since 1971, while the Suns haven't won the Western Conference since 1993.

Sam Merrill, G, Utah State (Bountiful HS)

The final pick in the 2020 NBA draft, Merrill has come off the bench in seven games as a rookie. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound guard from Bountiful averaged 0.7 points, 0.7 rebounds and 0.6 steals in 4.0 minutes per game during the playoffs. He also helped the Bucks set an NBA record for most 3-pointers in a game during a 144-97 rout of the Miami Heat.

Merrill had a postseason-high 3 points, one rebound and one assists in seven minutes during his playoff debut against Miami on May 24, but did not play in four of the Bucks' six games with Atlanta in the Eastern Conference finals.

The 25-year-old sharpshooter averaged 3.0 points, 1.0 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game as a rookie with the Bucks. He also spent time in the G League bubble with the Memphis Hustle, where he averaged 11.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.8 steals in 28.9 minutes per game.

"I was really excited with the opportunity to play," Merrill told of his time in the G League. "It was a little unfortunate that it was on the road trip where we were going back to Utah, which would've been nice. But other than that, I was really excited and really itching to have the opportunity to play significant minutes. It was a really good experience."

Elijah Bryant, G, BYU

A late-season addition after spending parts of four standout seasons in Israel, Bryant was an influx of offense off the bench after signing with the Bucks on May 13. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound shooting guard scored 16 points with six rebounds and three assists in his NBA debut during a loss to Chicago with most of both starters out late in the season.

Bryant then came off the bench in three of four games of Milwaukee's playoff opener against Miami, dishing out three assists in one game and scoring 4 points in the next. He also played in four of seven against Brooklyn, and three of six against the Hawks, but did not feature in the Bucks' series-clinching Game 6 victory.

In 10 playoff appearances, Bryant is averaging 1.4 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.4 assists in 4.9 minutes for Milwaukee.

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