Monday, March 15, 2010

A five-foot guard with a 10-foot heart

In my opinion

I doubt if Tarleton head men's basketball coach Lonn Reisman remembers the conversation, but I sure do.

I was calling color commentary on the radio for a Tarleton State basketball team that was on its way to Beaumont to beat Division I Lamar in an exhibition game.

For some reason, even though it was still very early in the 2005-06 season, a conversation between Reisman and I turned to recruiting.

It's been four years, so I'm sure this isn't word-for-word what Reisman said, but it went something like this:

"We've found a real player in Houston (he is actually from suburban Humble). He's only five-feet tall (he's really 5-6, but you get the point), but he plays hard and he can really shoot from the outside. He has so much heart, everyone is going to love him."

Has a coach's evaluation of a player ever been more accurate?

The 5-6 guard came to Tarleton and everyone thought he had redshirt written all over him.


He made the team as a true freshman and contributed immediately. Then as a sophomore, he helped the Texans to the No. 1 ranking in the South Central Region and the right to host the regional tournament.

That weekend, he and another true freshman, Warren Webb, stole fans' hearts with their emotion, fire and tenacity.

Tarleton made the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in seven years, but saw a 15-point lead evaporate down the stretch and lost to Central Oklahoma on a 3-point field goal with four seconds left.

The little guard came back and started as a junior, the year in which he posted a career-high 24 points in a game. He played a key role in Tarleton recovering from a dismal start in the South Division of the Lone Star Conference to advance to the LSC Championship in Bartlesville, Okla.

As a senior, he averaged double figures, and all 5-6 of him was seen repeatedly picking himself up off the floor after taking a charge or diving for a loose ball. He was never one to shy away from the dirty work, or anything for that matter, that may help his team win a game.

He led the Texans to a second-place finish in the South and the championship game of the conference tournament - where he hit a game-tying 3-ball to force overtime in a quarterfinal win and added 22 points in the semifinals to earn a spot on the all-tournament team.

He scored 13 points and made the play that sealed victory for the Texans in the opening round of the NCAA Division II tournament in Wichita Falls Saturday - stealing the ball away from Nebraska-Omaha sharpshooter Jeff Martin with six seconds remaining then knocking down a free throw to make it a safe two-possession Tarleton lead.

After the Texans were eliminated in the regional semifinals Sunday night, he summed up his career at Tarleton in a brief statement:

"My career at Tarleton has meant so much words can't even explain it," he said. "Coming up under Coach Reisman and his staff has changed my life completely."

A first-class statement by a first-class player who lived every young athlete's dream - earning the opportunity to play college ball, advancing to two national tournaments including one Sweet 16 and averaging more than 20 wins per season.

Two people recently showed just how special the "little big man" really is.

Tarleton President Dr. Dominic F. Dottavio was a guest speaker on Reisman's radio show that aired live from Bartlesville during the conference tournament. The little guard's parents were there - just as they have been pretty much everywhere their beloved son has played through the years - and Dottavio recognized them for being in the audience, saying how proud he was to have their son represent Tarleton in such a first-class manner.

The other showing of appreciation for the four-year letterman came from the least likely of sources - an opposing coach.

Texas A&M-Kingsville coach Pete Peterson had just seen his team get annihilated at Wisdom Gym. He had every right to be frustrated and search for the first exit from the court.

He didn't.

Instead, as Peterson went through the traditional post-game handshakes with the opposing team, he stopped, realizing it would be the last time he would cross paths with the all-heart, pure-shooting guard in a purple and white uniform.

He grabbed the senior - at the end of senior night at Tarleton no less - and hugged him, showing the utmost respect a veteran coach could ever give an opposing player.

Even from the opposing bench, Peterson could tell the player was special.

Fans could tell it, too, and media, and Reisman and his staff.

He made memories not only for his family and himself, but for the many who had the good fortune of coaching him, playing with him, coaching or playing against him or just cheering him along his storied journey.

He's Effran Bryant, and he will forever be remembered as the five-foot guard with the 10-foot heart.

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