Many say they believe former Maryland center Diamond Stone made up his mind to leave college even before his freshman season was over a year ago.
Thomas Bryant had also decided the direction his own career would take before the end of his freshman season at Indiana a year ago. That's why Bryant was at Xfinity Center on Tuesday night when the Hoosiers were scheduled to meet the Terps.
The 6-foot-10, 255-pound sophomore knew he was simply not ready for the NBA, when other big men — such as Stone and Michigan State's Deyonta Davis — thought they were.
While Stone has shuttled between the bench of the Los Angeles Clippers, who picked him in the second round, and the NBA Development League, Bryant has become a steady inside presence for Indiana.
"I feel like I'm maturing each and every day, just keep growing with my teammates," Bryant said in a telephone interview Monday. "I feel like I've improved on each and every aspect of my game, being a versatile player on the offensive and defensive end, just being a vocal leader."
Bryant is coming off a season-high 20-point performance in a 96-80 victory over Illinois on Saturday, which broke a three-game losing streak for the Hoosiers. Bryant is averaging 12.2 points and team-highs of 7.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 26.9 minutes per game.
Speaking of his decision to return to Bloomington, Ind., after his freshman season, Bryant said, "I knew before the season was over that I wanted to come back. I needed to come back to improve different aspects of my game and just keep growing as a person and as a basketball player.
"You just go by what you feel is right for yourself. I can't speak for Diamond and guys that left last year. I can only speak for myself and I knew I wasn't ready at the time. I knew it was best for me to stay put in college and keep learning."
Bryant and Purdue sophomore Caleb Swanigan, who also had flirted with the idea of turning pro after his freshman year, are among the best big men in the league. Swanigan is an early-season candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year as the league's leading rebounder (12.9) and third-leading scorer (18.3) entering Tuesday.
Indiana coach Tom Crean has also seen tremendous growth in Bryant in terms of his leadership and attitude.
"He's one of the greatest teammates, in one year's time, I've ever had the privilege of coaching," Crean wrote in an email. "He's a real leader on this team. He's got all the qualities because he's got a tremendous personality."
Bryant said that while point guard Yogi Ferrell and shooting guard Troy Williams have been missed, "there's always been a collective leadership on this team. We have key vocal [leaders] in me, Rob [Johnson], a lot of guys; even the freshmen as well."
Bryant, who struggled with his emotions early in his freshman year, said, "I always feel like I channel my emotions into a good way for the team. Just bringing that good enthusiasm for all of us on the offensive and defensive end. I just to carry it over in different aspects this year."
Crean said Bryant's performance against the Fighting Illini — the sophomore made all six of his field-goal attempts, including a pair of 3-pointers, along with six of his eight free throws — "was really fundamental."
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, whose team will still likely be without 7-1 junior Michal Cekovsky (ankle) for the Indiana game, said Bryant "is a load" who has improved his presence around the basketball.
"He's really become a beast down on the block, offensive rebounds," Turgeon said. "He's doing a lot of good things for them. He's a tough matchup for us. Both their bigs are big, strong, athletic, fast. It's a huge challenge for our post players."
Junior center Damonte Dodd, coming off a career-high 15-point performance in Saturday's 77-70 win at Michigan, said Bryant will need to get particular attention inside. In an earlier win over Illinois in which both Dodd and Cekovsky sat out, the Terps collapsed a lot when the ball went inside.
"He's a good player. He looks to get his on offense," Dodd said of Bryant, leading up to the game. "He's going to make some tough shots. He might even make some easy shots. He's going to get a lot of points because he's a good player and that's what he does. We just have to make everything tough for him."