BYU basketball guard Elijah Bryant has seen his fair share of obstacles.
His path to success in Provo was filled with stumbling blocks, mainly in the form of NCAA transfer regulations and injuries.
Yet the 6-foot-5-inch sophomore from Gwinnett, Georgia, has been undaunted in his quest to don BYU blue. And now he’s making a big impact for Dave Rose’s Cougars.
The West Coast Conference Player of the Week for the final week of the regular season, Bryant scored a career-high 39 points at Portland and 14 points in BYU’s upset of No. 1 Gonzaga in Spokane on Feb. 25.
Bryant scored 14 in BYU’s 89-81 win against Loyola Marymount in the quarterfinals of the West Coast Conference Tournament.
But something wasn’t always clicking.
Bryant’s collegiate journey began in 2014 at Elon University, a private liberal arts school in North Carolina with a student body of approximately 5,000 to 7,000.
“I just loved the coaches. I was close to home, and it was a great fit for me,” Bryant said. “After going to prep school, I wanted to go somewhere where I could contribute early and be close to home.”
During his freshman year at Elon, Bryant averaged over 14 points, four rebounds and three assists per game. He was named the Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year and was honored as part of the CAA All-Rookie Team that season.
Flashes of his potential showed with a career-high 32 points against Drexel on Jan. 3, 2015, and six 3-pointers in a game against William and Mary on Jan. 8, 2015.
Things were looking bright for Bryant at Elon, but he felt something was missing. He decided to transfer after his freshman season.
After announcing his decision, Bryant received offers from established basketball programs Butler, Texas A&M, Dayton and Miami in addition to an offer from BYU.
He visited Butler and Miami before BYU, but once he was in Provo, he knew something bigger than basketball had drawn his attention out west.
“BYU offers everything that every other school doesn’t,” Bryant said. “It was where I could grow — not only in basketball, but mentally with academics and spiritually with the church. I think it was a great fit for me to be able to grow in every aspect of my life.”
Transfer to BYU
Coach Dave Rose announced Bryant’s transfer on Aug. 6, 2015, and the buzz around Bryant began to swirl. He would be the first player from Georgia to come to BYU since Craig Wilcox played in 1995, and the first-ever transfer from Elon University.
However, NCAA transfer rules required Bryant to sit out the entire 2015-16 season.
Bryant enrolled in classes and declared a major in sociology during that time. He also had a medical procedure performed on his knee during the offseason.
The news of Bryant’s transfer cooled during that time, but news from practice revealed his game looked good.
Bryant’s moment finally came during the season-opener against Princeton in November.
Coming off the bench, he scored five points in 15 minutes, helping the Cougars roll to an 82-73 win over Princeton in their first regular season game.
Bryant averaged six points and four rebounds over the first five games of the season. Just as it seemed Bryant would become a regular contributor, injury struck.
Knee pain sidelined Bryant for a pair of games before surgery was required on his meniscus.
“It’s definitely tough, but you’re going to have setbacks in life, and it tests your character,” Bryant said. “If you can get through those trials and overcome them, you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel one day.”
Bryant missed 10 games while recovering then returned to the court during BYU’s road loss to No. 19 Saint Mary’s on Jan. 5. He scored 11 points in 19 minutes and added a pair of rebounds on the night. Two days later, he scored a season-high 17 points against Pacific.
“Elijah’s impressive,” said teammate Nick Emery. “To come back from an injury, that’s hard, especially a meniscus. Elijah’s been positive. To see him play well lately has been a joy to us. He’ll continue to get better from here.”
Injuries struck the team again, this time with seniors Kyle Davis and L.J. Rose suffering knee injuries. Bryant was moved into the starting lineup.
He stepped up in a big way.
Since returning from surgery, Bryant has averaged double-digit scoring, while shooting 45 percent from the field. He’s contributed over two assists and nearly four rebounds while averaging 26 minutes per game.
As a starter, Bryant is averaging 12 points, four rebounds, three assists and 31 minutes per game.
“It’s been tough,” Rose said. “You have guys that had issues early in the season and there’s not a lot of them that have come back and been really successful late. Elijah’s one that’s trending up. The fact that’s he’s come back and continued to improve is a really good sign for him.”
Bryant put in the work to get to this point, logging dozens of hours in the new practice facility.
Emery and fellow teammate Yoeli Childs said Bryant spends the most time practicing in the annex.
On game day, Bryant tries to be at the Marriott Center as early as possible, going through a pregame routine that includes shooting, contrasting, pregame eating and napping.
Once he takes the court, Bryant loves the support from the Marriott Center crowd.
“When you stand on the court and the students start chanting, that’s the best part for me,” Bryant said.
He added that he’ll stay after a game and shoot if he feels his performance could have been better.
Getting to this point has been tough for Bryant, but his future at BYU is bright. Despite sitting out a year, he will have two more years of eligibility at BYU following the conclusion of this season.