AL HAMNIK: Gentle giant Wallace Bryant still calls the region home

2013-07-20T16:30:00Z 2013-07-25T17:27:06Z AL HAMNIK: Gentle giant Wallace Bryant still calls the region homeAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
July 20, 2013 4:30 pm  • 

Gosh, it's hard to believe Wallace Bryant is 54.

And his weight. It's barely changed since his NBA days.

The 7-foot-1 Bryant and 6-11 Gary Emerson teammate Frank Smith played during the "Golden Age" of region basketball. We had so many Division I prospects back then, they were bumping into each other on the streets.

Both returned home for Friday's retirement dinner in honor of their high school coach and Gary city athletic director, Earl Smith Jr.

Bryant looks like he could still suit up and play, weighing in at a svelte 255 pounds. It's remarkable to hear, but Coach Smith claims the gentle giant could barely touch the rim when they first met.

"I owe him my career, a career that was shortened in the NBA but was very extended overseas," Bryant said. "I've been on many all-star teams, on many championship teams, and it's all due to the fact he saw a young man on the playground and taught him to play better.

"He taught him how to lose weight, how to run, taught him discipline and everything about the game. I was able to take it to the next level."

Bryant was Pacific Rim-like at the University of San Francisco -- before its NCAA death penalty -- averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds a game.

A second-round draft pick of the Bulls in 1982, his NBA career lasted only three seasons (102 games) with Chicago, Dallas and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Overseas, though, he dominated in Italy, Spain and Argentina -- 11 teams in all -- before retiring in 1997.

I didn't know Wallace Bryant was born in Madrid until I read it on the Internet and the Internet never lies, right?

I did know he also coached the Jackson (Miss.) Wildcats of the USBL and the California Sea Kings of the ABA a few years back.

Last time we spoke was April of 2007 when Bryant was in Gary for a USBL game with the Steelheads at the Genesis Convention Center. Friday night's return visit was a blast from the past as a parade of former coaching and athletic greats attended the Earl Smith sendoff.

The memories flowed like bottled water at a marathon.

"We had thousands of fans following us at all times," Bryant recalled of his Emerson days. "We played at Roosevelt High School for home games, and it would pack out every time we played.

"We had a lot of good games against great players."

Included were Thad Garner (Bishop Noll/Michigan), Drake Morris (E.C. Washington/Purdue) and John Hegwood (Roosevelt/USF).

Joining Bryant on the 1978 Indiana All-Star Team were Bob Knight recruits Landon Turner, Ted Kitchel and Randy Wittman; Mr. Basketball Dave Magley and Jackie Moore.

"From '75 to '78, we had (Emerson) guys like Emmett Lewis and Michael Moore who taught us how to play hard and with no pity," Bryant said.

He has a new challenge now, no less exciting -- becoming a minister and offering some direction to today's troubled kids. At 7-1 and 250, he will get their attention quickly in delivering his message.

"Don't seek the world. Seek the God that created the world," Bryant said. "Don't be a follower. Be a leader. Leaders set the pace."

He continues to, at age 54.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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