Twice MVP, with 5000 points behind Rickey Paulding, the best still active scorer in the league: “Big John” Bryant is a BBL legend. In an interview with SPOX, the 34-year-old talks about a knife attack in college and his time in Bayern Munich, which was marked by harsh criticism from coach Svetislav Pesic.
Bryant reveals why Ulm’s basketball idol, Per Günther, who is only 1.84 meters tall, has something in common with the 2.16 meter long colossus Shaquille O’Neal. In addition, the center from central German BC tells how he once almost ended up with the Dallas Mavericks.
Sir. Bryant, whether it’s Tom Brady, Rafael Nadal or LeBron James – the careers of athletes can last a long time these days. How much longer do you have to play?
John Bryant: I want to play for as long as I can. I do not want to stop and think, “Hey, you could have played a year or two more.” On the other hand, I will also decide for myself when it is over and not be slowed down by an injury or something.
Her career began at Santa Clara College. A trainer must have forced you to cut your hair. Is the story true?
Bryant: Yes, the story is true. (laughs) We lost an unimportant friendly match against a team from a lower league at the time by two points. Our coach was very angry. The next day he called me into his office and showed me a video where I brushed my hair back from my face as I walked back. “You cut them off for the next training session, otherwise you will not play anymore,” he scolded. So for the rest of my study years, I tended to have a short hairstyle.
Big players have sprung from Santa Clara College, such as the two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash. Who was your role model when you went to college?
Bryant: Definitely Shaquille O’Neal. I had just started playing basketball when he switched to the Los Angeles Lakers. His dominance on the field was incredible. But for me, it was not just about the player on the field, but also about the people. I have always admired this fun, entertaining way. Exactly my type. Maybe Shaq looks a bit like myself that way.
However, they do not only have fun memories from college. One day you fell victim to a knife attack. How did it happen?
Bryant: The memory of it is a bit faded, but I was actually stabbed in the back with a knife. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Here’s the thing: I went house to house with friends on the small campus looking for a party. At one point, we were bullied by a couple of guys on the street. We did not really react to it, waved it and moved on. Suddenly I felt something on my back that was a little scrambling. A car drove by and the guys took off. When everyone calmed down, one of my friends said to me, “Hey, you’re bleeding.” I felt my back with my hand – it was covered in blood.
Then what happened?
Bryant: Thankfully, it was not that dramatic. No organs were injured and the wound required only three stitches. After two weeks, I was back on the field. The attack did not change my life much. The world is just a crazy place.
John Bryant: “Günther ran around like a chicken”
After a brief stint in the D-League, you moved to Ulm in 2010. Former Ulm coach Mike Taylor reportedly should have played a major role.
Bryant: I was a kind of classic American freshman. I wanted to stay in the United States and played in the Summer League for the Sacramento Kings. Then I had a meeting with Mike. His enthusiasm and enthusiasm for the city of Ulm and for my game was contagious, which eventually changed my mind. Today I know: It was the right decision.
Because it succeeded immediately in Ulm – in your three years on the Danube you became BBL MVP twice.
Bryant: I agree. That it went so well right away in Ulm was mainly due to my teammates. The then center Coleman Collins helped me a lot in adapting to life in Germany. And of course, Per Günther was and is a fantastic guy. He did everything on and off the field to support me. At the same time, my fun and authentic way was well received. All this combined has made Ulm the perfect environment for me. I could be popular with the fans and play basketball successfully.
You spoke with Per Gütnher, with whom you are still friends today. How would you describe him as a person?
Bryant: We are very similar to each other. He also likes to joke and fool around – a really cheerful person. There’s a lot of Shaquille O’Neal in Per. He’s even more like Shaq than I am. His confidence is limitless and people would pay money for his jokes. He once imitated a player’s dialect before a game and said, “Your upper body is strong, but everything below looks like a chicken.” When he warmed up, he ran around like a chicken with his arms akimbo – funny. I still laugh to this day when I think about it. I also do not remember a single quarrel or quarrel with him. If Per is angry, then something must have really gone wrong. We still meet today. It fits very well. We both have sons who like to play together.
And how would you describe Günther as a basketball player?
Bryant: When I played with him, he was fast and agile. He has steadily improved his throw and thus his game. Despite all his jokes, he is also a competitor and desperate to win.
Bryant: “It used to be: ‘Get under the basket'”
Günther has been one of the league’s faces for many years and he will retire after the season ends. A bitter loss?
Bryant: It’s really a big turning point for BBL when he’s gone. He has been playing consistently for so long, is very authentic and says what he thinks straight. He’s just himself and people like him for it. He is certainly a face of German basketball. It is also because he always stayed in Ulm. He did a lot for the city and was always close to the fans. That’s what makes him special.
Has Thorsten Leibenath, who was a coach at the time and is now sports director at Ulm, also played a big role in your career?
Bryant: Yes of course. Much of my success also has to do with Thorsten. He is a trainer who is good with his players. If Per, I or anyone else had a good day, then he just let us do it. Creating confidence in players is not easy for a coach. Of course, there were also guidelines and moves, but Thorsten knew, “Hey, the boys want to win just like me.”
You also developed under Leibenath into a good pitcher from the outside.
Bryant: It is correct. When I went to college, it was always, “Get under the basket.” I rarely threw in a half-distance throw, and that was the case in Ulm in the beginning. But Thorsten saw in the training that I could beat the three and knew how to apply it to our game. A big center that rolls to the line of three after a set block and can also hit it is hard to defend.