SHERIDAN — Dontae Bryant brought a wealth of knowledge upon taking the job as the Sheridan College men’s basketball assistant coach. He carried experience as a player at the junior college and four-year levels and a background as a JUCO assistant coach.
Bryant also arrived in Sheridan equipped with what it takes to advance in the National Junior College Athletic Association national tournament. The Generals will lean on that Monday in their opening-round game against Kaskaskia.
“My main thing was letting them know that the lights are on, but the teams that can dim the lights the fastest, are the teams that win games,” Bryant said.
Bryant competed in the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas, 11 years ago as a member of Eastern Arizona College.
He and the Gila Monsters placed fifth in what was a double-elimination tournament back then.
Bryant performed well, logging a couple double-doubles (points and assists) and that turned the heads of four-year coaches.
The Portland, Oregon, native, who was primarily being recruited by a few small mid-major programs, had garnered the attention of about 10 more schools with his strong play in Hutchinson.
Bryant is the exemplary of how impactful this week is for each General. A good game or a couple solid games can broaden each player’s recruiting and increase their chances of finding the best four-year fit.
To do that, the formula is simple — advance.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about winning,” Bryant said. “Coaches want to see you win. They want to see winning plays. They don’t want to see selfish plays. They want to see great basketball that can translate over to their university.
“Coaches are looking to ‘X’ kids off their list, and narrow it down. So if you playing the right way, now you get that circle instead of that ‘X’ on you. That’s a big difference.”
The University of San Fransisco circled Bryant back in 2008. After weighing his multiple offers, he ended up signing with the Dons.
Bryant averaged 4.1 points and a team-high 3.1 assists per game as a junior for USF. As a senior, Bryant scored 4.1 points, corralled 4.1 rebounds and, once again, led the team with 3.9 assists per contest.
Following his playing days, Bryant gained JUCO coaching experience at Arizona Western College as the second assistant. After former SC assistant coach Matt Glover chose to pursue a graduate assistant position at Regis State last spring, head coach Matt Hammer reached out to an old friend, Steve Smiley, to see if he knew of anyone who would fit in Sheridan.
Smiley — a current assistant for head coach Jeff Linder at the University of Northern Colorado — asked Linder if he had any ideas, and Bryant’s name was brought up.
Linder coached Bryant at USF and put him and Hammer in contact with one another, and ever since, the transition has been seamless. Bryant has made an impression on the players, taken on more responsibilities than he had at Arizona Western and filled in for Hammer when he left the team temporarily for the birth of his child.
“Anytime, as an assistant coach, you have to walk that fine line of being a friend and being a role model and being a coach,” Hammer said. “Dontae does a great job. The guys know what he’s here for, and what they can approach him about. (Dontae’s) got a great feel for the game. He has got a great feel for the pulse of the team — whether we should ramp things up that weekend or dial it back a little bit.”
Bryant’s main responsibilities entail handling half of the scouts during the season, staying in touch with a select few players to make sure they’re fulfilling their academic responsibilities and making sure the team is fed before and after games.
When it comes to ‘Xs’ and ‘Os’ on the court, Bryant speaks his mind on what he thinks the team needs at that moment.
“As a head coach, you are never looking for that ‘yes’ man — that guy that agrees with everything you say,” Hammer said. “You want a guy that challenges you and brings new ideas to the table. You want a guy that gives you their honest opinion, and he’ll do that.”
Bryant’s opinions will perhaps hold a little more weight this week, as Sheridan looks to advance at the national tournament. Players will know what to expect and how to approach the biggest stage of junior college basketball because their assistant thrived on the very same stage a little more than a decade ago.
NJCAA tournament opening round
No. 13 Sheridan College vs. No. 20 Kaskaskia
Hutchinson Sports Arena, Hutchinson, KS