Former BYU basketball player wins league title and becomes a father in 72-hour span

When former BYU basketball star Elijah Bryant returned to Israel following the COVID sports shut down, he didn’t expect to win the league championship and become a father all within three days, but that’s how it went down.

The 2019-2020 season started normally for Bryant’s club, Maccabi Tel Aviv, before the Coronavirus pandemic led to a league shut down for 105 days. Bryant returned home to the United States during that time and continued to train both in his home state of Georgia and in Utah.

Leaving a seven-month pregnant wife in Utah, Bryant traveled back to Israel when the season resumed in late June, and Maccabi Tel Aviv capped off its season with an 86-81 victory over Maccabi Rishon in the Israeli Basketball Premier League championship game on July 28.

Elijah Bryant/Twitter
Bryant with Maccabi’s championship trophy following the title game on July 28. (Elijah Bryant/Twitter)

After everything Bryant and the team experienced prior to winning the title, he described “gratitude and relief” as his feelings.

“I was stressed during that trial of mine, but with faith, it all worked out how I wanted it to,” Bryant said. “It was another testament of how having faith during trials always works out instead of murmuring.”

Bryant celebrated the championship with his Maccabi club before catching a flight back to the U.S. He returned in time to be with his wife, Jenelle, just hours before the birth of their son, Blu.

“It was stressful for sure,” Bryant said. “I ended up landing like 12 hours before (the birth). So I landed, we got some food, I took a nap for literally three hours, woke up and went to the hospital. It was wild.”

Bryant upon returning to Salt Lake City after winning the Israeli Basketball Premier League title. (Elijah Bryant/Twitter)

“Being a father, you definitely feel some fulfillment, you grow a lot of respect for your parents, and you grow a lot of respect for your wife, for sure,” Bryant said. “The family is getting pushed to the side more and more, so with me starting my own family, I’ve grown to value that and put a big premium on spending family time.”

The Bryant family in September, with Blu, who is now over three months old. (Elijah Bryant/Instagram)

Jenelle spoke to Elijah’s importance in their young family. “Elijah means the world to me and Blu,” she said. “I’ve seen him grow from when we first started dating to when we got married and now as a father. He’s just amazing. He’s a hard worker both on and off the court.”

BYU

Redshirting his first year as a Cougar, Bryant was a member of the BYU men’s basketball team from 2015 to 2018. He averaged 15.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game, with a career-high 39 points at Portland in 2017. 

Lee Cummard, one of Bryant’s BYU assistant coaches, said his maturity is what set Bryant apart. 

“He’s always been very mature,” Cummard said. “He’s very professional, in his diligence as far as workouts and recovery, in taking care of himself and being on time, getting through the work, and doing all the things necessary to continue to improve. He was that way as a player here. He was diligent in his recovery and his workouts and always the one putting in extra work as well as spending enough time with the trainer to get his body right.”

Bryant drives to the hoop in a game against St. Mary’s on March 5, 2018 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

Bryant’s favorite part about being at BYU was the opportunity “to be the idol for someone, you know, that they look up to, to give someone some hope.”

He recently met someone who was influenced by his participation at one of former head coach Dave Rose’s Christmas for Cancer events. 

“I never really knew how big of an impact it had until one of the anesthesiologists gave my wife her epidural for the pregnancy,” Bryant said. “His daughter actually passed away and was at one of those events, so that hit me. It showed me how that type of stuff is way bigger than basketball, and I’ve come to appreciate that way more now.”

Playing in Israel

Bryant made the decision to go pro following his 2017-2018 season at BYU. He played for the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Summer League and then signed with the club Hapoel Eilat, a team in southern Israel near the Red Sea. In his first professional season, Bryant averaged 17.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 0.4 blocks per game.

Dov Halickman
Bryant played his first year professionally in Eilat, Israel. He played his future club, Maccabi Tel Aviv, twice during that season. (Dov Halickman Photography)

After an NBA Summer League stint with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2019, Bryant joined Maccabi Tel Aviv on a two-year contract. In his first season with the club and second season playing professionally, he averaged 8.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, two assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.1 blocks per game.

Bryant has been playing overseas in Israel since September 2018 and enjoys learning a new culture there.

“I’ve come to respect the Jews a lot because they’re very similar to Mormons,” he said. “They value family.”

Typically, playing overseas means that you’re away from family for months at a time, but fortunately for Bryant, he has had his wife, and now his son, with him for the majority of that time.

Bryant drives at two defenders in a EuroLeague game against Olympiacos B.C. (EuroLeague Basketball)

Since he’s been able to have his family with him, Bryant said it’s the little things that he misses more, like Chipotle, Whole Foods and movie theaters.

Having gone back to America just a few times in between seasons, Bryant has gotten accustomed to life in Israel over the past few years.

“Everything is a little bit harder here to navigate or get around,” Bryant said. “But I’ve been here for three years so that’s kind of my new normal right now.”

YouTube channel

Bryant and his then-fiancé, Jenelle, started their EB&J YouTube channel in April 2017 with a proposal video, and have since vlogged offseasons, their wedding and honeymoon, Bryant’s senior season at BYU and their numerous adventures in Israel.

“The first motivation for YouTube was these memories,” Bryant said. “Also, my son would never be able to see me play at BYU or to see what we’ve experienced, so now we have these catalogs of videos that I guess people sort of like to watch, but we do it more so for our journal.”

Bryant also recently started a personal YouTube channel, documenting life as a professional basketball player in Israel and the memories surrounding that.

“I just want to remember the guys I play with and all the things we went through,” he said. “And, yes, it’s some work, but it’s so nice to go back and be able to just click a video and understand what you were going through during that time.”

Goals for the future

Beginning his second year with Maccabi and third year professionally, Bryant said he is “getting more comfortable” in knowing who he is as a player, understanding what he does well and what he hopes to improve on.

“I think for me it’s just finding my role, and trying to be a star at my role, whatever that is, and understanding that when the team has success, I had success,” he said.

Bryant celebrates with teammates following a EuroLeague matchup against Fenerbahçe. (Elijah Bryant/Instagram)

Cummard spoke highly of the success Bryant has had playing overseas.

“He probably had two of the best years you could have for your first two years as a pro,” Cummard said. “He had great numbers the first year and helped that team over in Eilat exceed expectations. Then Maccabi had a good year and he had a good year.”

Bryant looks to “continue to progress in every statistic,” but sets goals surrounding his work ethic.

“I can’t control if the ball is going in the hoop. I can’t control if the coach doesn’t put me in, but I can control if I get my shots up,” Bryant said. “I can control my attitude. I control how good of a teammate I am and I think if I’m able to master those things and continue to master my mind, then hopefully I’ll be back in America (in the NBA) soon.”

Keeping priorities straight

Becoming a father has added a new facet of life for Bryant, but solidifying routines has been key in his success.

“It’s always the gospel first in every aspect I do,” he said. “I try to put that foot forward in everything. I just fulfill my duties for my job and try to be as professional as possible, and I know as long as I’m trying to live the commandments and trying to be the best person that I can be, then everything will work out.”

A few summers ago, Bryant started approaching each day with what he calls the “pennies” mindset.

“I try to focus on that in every aspect of my life, whether it’s reading scriptures, whether it’s shooting extra shots or whether it’s spending a little bit of time with family,” Bryant said. “Every little penny is going to add up to something one day. I would say that’s my motto with trying to balance everything, just put a little bit in every single day.”

Now with an Israeli Basketball Premier League title and almost three months of fatherhood under his belt, Bryant is primed to continue his progression, both on and off the court.

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