The Zions Bank Basketball Campus is just 40 miles north of the Marriott Center. But already, Elijah Bryant has come face to face with his latest challenge.
This ain’t BYU.
He was matched up with five other prospects Saturday morning, including three in ESPN’s top 100 2018 draft picks — a list on which Bryant does not appear. He’s used to being one of the best players on the court after spending the last three seasons with the Cougars. His second NBA workout, this one for the Utah Jazz, required him to puff out his chest a little more.
“So you come into a situation like that and you’re used to being the main guy on the team, but now everyone’s playing well, right?” he said afterward. “So I think being assertive and being able to communicate on this level is a different thing than being at BYU. Being able to show you’re in shape and show you can hit shots when you’re tired. Those are things that I’ve been able to show throughout this process.”
The process is perhaps a little surprising for Bryant, who led BYU with 18.2 points a game and finished on the All-WCC first team last season. He’s not particularly high on any media draft boards at the moment, and he wasn’t one of the 69 players invited to the NBA draft combine later this month, although late additions are known to happen.
Yet Bryant declared his intention last month to skip his senior season at BYU, hire an agent and go pro — the second Cougar in as many years do make that decision, following in the steps of Eric Mika. And he’s far from alone nationwide. Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin says he’s seen more underclassmen this season put their name in the draft to test the market.
Some of those decisions come down to factors outside of demand. For Bryant, it’s his age. He turned 23 last month, and the clock was ticking since he attended prep school and spent a year sitting out after transferring to BYU. He thought it was time to make the jump since he was graduating as well.
After making an announcement via a YouTube video, Bryant was second-guessed by some BYU fans, he acknowledged. But more have been supportive of him taking the next step in his career.
“It was hard,” he said. “BYU will always be my home, and I love those guys. They’ve done so much for me.”
There’s other factors that are pushing players like Bryant to the pros, such as the increased salaries of the G League, which has teams that also increasingly are connected to and owned by an NBA franchise. The Jazz workouts mostly are staffed by Salt Lake City Stars coaches, which enhances workout continuity, Perrin said.
Mika didn’t crack into the NBA, going to Italy to play professionally. But even that path has a route back to the NBA on occasion. Royce O’Neale, who made the Jazz rotation this past season, played two seasons overseas after graduating from Baylor.
“They can always go to the G League if they don’t make it to the NBA or go overseas like Royce did,” Perrin said. “A lot of places guys can go to get better besides the NBA.”
This offseason will be on a more truncated timeline for the Jazz. The playoff run into the second round held off some earlier workouts, which was something of a bonus. The Jazz brought in top-50 prospects Donte DiVincenzo (Villanova) and Devon Hall (Virginia) for the first workout of the offseason, which Perrin noted was unusual. Four of the prospects — Brian Bowen (South Carolina), Wenyen Gabriel (Kentucky), Jalen McDaniels (San Diego State) and DiVincenzo — still could go back to school, which limited what Jazz officials could say about their workout Saturday.
Perrin lives in Chicago, so he never had a chance to see Bryant live. He said he came away with some good impressions of the 6-foot-5 wing.
“Got a nice body,” Perrin said. “He shot the ball very well, probably one of the better shooters that we had in terms of the Jazz 100 in terms of numbers. Of course he’s got some things that he really needs to work on, but I thought he had a very good workout.”
For now, that’s enough feedback for Bryant, who will return to Las Vegas, where he’s training for future workouts. He has one with the Boston Celtics at the end of the month, and he hopes there’s more to come.
“I’m just trying to take every day and make it count, you know?” he said. “It’s a process where it’s only gonna happen once, right? So I think you gotta enjoy every single day about it and enjoy that grind. If you don’t like the grind, then this probably isn’t for you because it’s a grind.”