For the second year in a row, James Bryson is starting a new job. While it may seem like he's starting from scratch this summer, Bryson is confident in his foundation as he prepares to guide the newly consolidated men's basketball program at Montgomery College.
Previously there were teams at Montgomery College's Germantown, Rockville and Takoma Park/Silver Spring campuses. The school will field just one team starting this year in order to comply with a new National Junior College Athletic Association rule that requires multi-campus schools to field only one team in each sport. Bryson, a graduate of Largo High School and Villanova University, was the coach at Montgomery-Rockville last season, but since then he's been in limbo — and persevering through four rounds of interviews for the job. He accepted the position about three weeks ago, and the start of the season is looming in a little more than three months.
“It's a super late start,” Bryson said with a laugh. “It's going into a gun fight with a water gun. Typically I'd get out on the high school circuit and all-star circuit and work with high school coaches. But we had no open gyms and no recruiting. I couldn't go out and represent the school.”
Although there are challenging months ahead, Bryson has a few things working in his favor. He has coached in the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference for five years, spending three as an assistant at Montgomery-Germantown and one as an assistant at Prince George's Community College before taking over at Rockville last year. Though many of the roster spots on the 2012-13 team are yet to be determined, Bryson said he expects to have as many as five players from last season's MC-Rockville team.
“We're still recruiting,” Bryson said. “There are a lot of unsigned kids looking for homes. I'm fielding a lot of phone calls. The foundation is pretty much set. We'll have a few guys returning, and I believe it'll be a lot easier in terms of trying to teach the way we play because it'll be an extension of last year.
“Last year nobody knew anything. I was a new coach, but this year the guys returning will be able to help out the other guys, and I think it'll be an easier transition than last year even though I got an earlier start last year.”
Richard Montgomery High School graduate Alex Chike averaged 6.1 points and 4.5 assists per game for MC-Rockville last season. Garrett Witts, a 6-foot-5 forward, also is expected to return. Bryson said Frank Hodo, a 6-4 forward who graduated from Bullis School, will return to action this coming season after sitting out last year to focus on classes. Hodo averaged 5.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game as a freshman in the 2010-11 season. John F. Kennedy graduate DeWitt Wood Jr. is poised to return to action after sitting out this past season as a redshirt.
Bryson averaged 12.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game as a senior at Villanova in the 1992-93 season. He then embarked on an 11-year pro career in Europe. He had a few NBA tryouts, coming closest to getting a roster spot in 1994 when he was one of the last cuts made by the Philadelphia 76ers. He was out of basketball for a few years when an old friend talked him into returning.
Bryson and Xavier Joyner were two years apart, but grew up together, neighbors in the Pleasant House Apartments in Seat Pleasant. When they were both students at Largo High, Joyner recalls Bryson shattering a backboard one day in practice.
“We had three or four kids walking around with glass in their hair for a few days,” Joyner joked.
In 2007, Joyner was the head coach at MC-Germantown, and Bryson joined his staff.
“I'd ask him every year to think about coaching and he'd say, 'Maybe,'” Joyner said. “With the experience he had, playing at a high level in the Big East and playing in Europe, I knew it would be something the kids would respect.”
When Joyner became the coach at PGCC in 2010, Bryson came along — a homecoming of sorts, as the PGCC campus is located next door to Largo High. Bryson now resides in Bowie and works as an advertising salesperson for 106.7 The Fan, a CBS Sports Radio station.
Last season, when Bryson took the job at Rockville, the two old friends got to match wits. PGCC won both meetings between the teams by margins of 10 and 11 points. But Joyner took nothing for granted, changing the names of plays in order to cross up his former assistant.
“He knows a lot of my trickery, so he caught on fast,” Joyner said.
That's a skill Bryson will need to utilize during the next few months. As part of the consolidation of teams, Montgomery College is adopting new colors (purple, silver, black and white) and a new mascot (Raptors) for all teams, and the athletic facilities at all three campuses will undergo renovations to incorporate the new colors. Bryson will relocate from the Rockville campus to Takoma Park/Silver Spring, where the men's basketball team will be based.
The college already had just one women's basketball team, and its base will remain at Rockville, which Bryson said could create some logistical challenges. The Maryland Junior College Conference basketball schedule typically includes men's/women's doubleheaders, so travel schedules will need to be determined.
Conventional wisdom suggests assembling a strong roster is an easy matter, now that there is only one junior college team in Montgomery County instead of three. But Bryson said he's taking nothing for granted.
“It would seem easier, but I don't want to assume it,” he said. “If you're out on the street, working to find players you're going to be more successful than you would by assuming that because it's one school and it's a nice big county that kids will come here. Anyone doing due diligence is going to get good players.”