Frank Martin's pick to start a team: Michael Jordan or LeBron James?
Keyshawn Bryant was a sixth-grader the first time he dunked a basketball. As a junior in high school, he completed his favorite dunk – a between-the-legs, in-game slam. In July 2016, during a dunk contest, he jumped over three people and threw down with his left hand.
South Carolina is soon getting the player with a reputation stemming from the above facts. Bryant is a 6-foot-7 wing, sure, but that’s because “dunker” and “raw athlete” aren’t traditional positions listed on a roster.
Then again, Bryant is out to prove he’s more than a YouTube clip.
“I like to prove people wrong,” Bryant said. “I always hear people say, ‘Oh, he’s just a dunker or he’s just that,’ and I don’t want people to see me and say I’m just one thing. That kind of motivates me and pushes me to get better at other things.”
Bryant committed to USC on Saturday. He’s expected to start classes June 25. The 2018-19 season begins five months later.
What will the Florida native be bringing to Frank Martin’s Gamecocks?
No. 1, there’s the athleticism. Bryant is seeking to add more to his game, but the root of it – and a main reason behind Kansas and North Carolina sending him recruiting letters when he was a sophomore at Winter Haven High – is in his hops.
Bryant averaged 22.5 points and 8.2 rebounds a game last season.
“Keyshawn, when you see him, there’s really Jordan-esque things that he does,” said Winter Haven coach Tyrone Woodside. “He’s 6-7, quick as a cat, quick leaper, runs like the wind. He could probably be on the track team running the 100 or the 200 (meters), he’s that fast.
“But you’ll see things where you’re really wowed by the things he does. That’s the kind of style that he has.”
Bryant, while on the prep level, said he went by a simple phrase: “Don’t fix what’s not broken.” In other words, why pull up for a short jumper when you know you can bend a rim?
“If they can’t stop me from getting to the cup,” he said, “I’m not going to stop to shoot.”
Woodside, though, is a Long Island native and product of the 1980s St. John’s heyday. He’s a longtime studier of college ball and has detailed to Bryant what it’s going to take when competition stiffens.
A first step? Becoming a threat in the mid-range.
“He’s a kid who’s so athletic, when he gets near the basket, he’s just jumping over people,” Woodside said. “Most kids will stop and take the five to seven-foot jump shot, Keyshawn’s going to jump over the people and dunk it. So you’ll see a lot of his videos, there’s no mid-range shots, if he gets near (the basket). He wasn’t playing against 6-9, 6-10, 6-11 guys, so he’s just jumping over people.
“So he used it to his advantage. And then when we trained and had player development, we worked on other skills because I also told him, when you get to a high level, you’re going to have to need those things. So he’s always worked on it and knows that there’s still work to be done there.”
Bryant, who spent his junior year at national power Huntington Prep (W.Va.), shot 60 percent from the floor as a senior – but only attempted 21 three-pointers, making five of them. He said he’s “money” from 15 feet, but admits he’s in a “development stage” when it comes to threes.
Bryant figures to be a small forward for the Gamecocks. Justin Minaya, from that position, made 39 of 107 threes last season. Bryant made 293 of his 473 two-point attempts last season.
“He’s got nice mechanics,” Woodside said.
Bryant also totaled 76 steals and 117 blocks in his three years at Winter Haven.
“We’re a very primary defensive team,” Woodside said. “So he understands help defense and rotations and secondary rotations. So there’s a good foundation in play for a coach like Coach Martin because he won’t be raw or clueless with where you’re supposed to be defensively.”
Raw is a label Bryant is eager to shed as he inches closer to Columbia.
“I feel like I got a good chance to start,” he said. “I’m going to come up there and play my hardest and play my best.”