Everything. The 4-Star 6'10" Center from Huntington Prep may be the most important commitment to Indiana University since local hero Cody Zeller. While not ranked as high as Zeller or Noah Vonleh (both now playing for the Charlotte Hornets), Thomas Bryant is likely to shoot up the rankings to 5-Star status when the next updates come out from the major recruiting services. He also just participated in the McDonald's All American game which means the Hoosiers have had a player in the game for 5 straight classes. Jerry Meyer, of 247Sports.com, had this projection on Twitter earlier today:
If Bryant does end up ranked in the Top 15 - he would be approaching the level on Zeller and Vonleh as far as high school rankings are concerned. Why might he shoot that high? Well - his recent play has been astounding. After throwing up 9 points on 4-5 shooting in the McDonalds All American game earlier this week, Bryant followed with 39 points on 17-24 shooting and 25 rebounds in two games in the Dick's Sporting Goods Tournament against elite competition. Those types of numbers have Hoosier fans salivating this evening as they hope and pray both Kevin Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams return to play alongside the star big man.
The most important impact of Bryant's commitment could be luring back both Ferrell and Williams for another year. Both are heavily considering making the jump to the next level even though they are almost certainly going to go in the 2nd round or not be drafted at all according to about any NBA scout out there. Indiana has tremendous talent on the wing when you consider both of these players along with James Blackmon Jr and Robert Johnson who also played key roles this past season. When you add in a talented big man on both the offensive and defensive end - these guards/wings could be that much better as the defense will have to pay attention inside the arc now. This could lead to even bigger seasons and a raised NBA Draft stock after this upcoming season. Bryant also runs the floor very well which will fit in with Coach Crean's offensive philosophy. Remember how many fast break dunks the fleet footed Cody Zeller ended up with in Bloomington?
Bryant's commitment will also allow Indiana to finally balance their lineup. For the majority of the year - the Hoosiers started 6'7" Troy Williams at the power forward spot to go along with three guards and an undersized center in Hanner Mosquera-Perea. Bryant will immediately fill the starting center role at 6'10" and allow Collin Hartman or Emmitt Holt to fill the power forward spot which they are much better suited for. Williams would slide to the #3 spot which his game is also much better suited for and the lineup would be rounded out with Ferrell and Blackmon at the two guard positions. The bench should also be significantly strengthened with the likes of Robert Johnson, Nick Zeisloft, Perea, and possibly Devin Davis - not to mention new comers 6'8" 4 Star Juwan Morgan and 6'8" 3 Star O.G. Anunoby.
Finally, Bryant's commitment means Tom Crean is officially going to return for his 8th season at the helm in Bloomington. Rumors and speculation have swirled for over a month now about his future with the team and one has to wonder if that future was directly tied to this commitment. Bryant has been leaning Indiana for a while now and that had to weigh heavily on AD Fred Glass's decision to support Coach Crean despite much fan negativity towards the program in recent weeks. While this commitment helps ease the short term pressure - I believe the pressure on both the team and Crean will significantly ramp up as we approach next season. Another disappointing finish with this kind of talent will almost certainly end Crean's tenure in Bloomington. And it may take at least an Elite 8 run to avoid that kind of disappointment.
Indiana is now over signed by one player again for next season which means one player currently on the roster won't be in Bloomington in a few weeks. Stanford Robinson and Max Hoetzel have already decided to transfer which made room for Morgan and Anunoby. Who will make room for Bryant? Only time will tell. As long as that person doesn't have the last name Ferrell, Blackmon, or Williams - Indiana should be set up very well to compete for a B1G Title in 2015-16 and have a chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament given the tremendous inside out game strategy the Hoosiers will now be able to employ.
If all key players return, I believe Indiana will be ranked in at least the Top 15 to start the season which should make for a very intriguing Maui Invitational over Thanksgiving week as this year's tournament is loaded with a number of top collegiate programs including Kansas and UCLA. As I wrote a couple weeks ago - Indiana's relevance as a national program is hanging in the balance. This commitment could go a long way in entering the national spot light again - and that is exactly where Indiana University basketball belongs.