January 12, 2010

In-state programs make strong impression on five-star forward

Johnny O'Bryant sat impassively behind Ole Miss' bench during the Rebels' loss to Mississippi State this past Saturday at Tad Smith Coliseum.

O'Bryant wasn't tipping his hand on Saturday, nor was he giving any clues on Monday night in a telephone interview.

However, one thing is becoming perfectly clear: the five-star forward from Cleveland (East Side), Miss., is giving serious consideration to playing his college basketball close to home.

"It was a good game," O'Bryant said. "Both teams really got it. (Mississippi State center Jarvis) Varnado in the paint had some Ole Miss guys altering shots. …Both have really good players. Mississippi State is missing (still-ineligible freshman) Renardo Sidney. If they had him, they could go far. Ole Miss is deep. They could make a run, too."

O'Bryant said he has been to Mississippi State for both football and basketball games. His trip to Oxford marked his first Ole Miss basketball game-day experience.

"The coaches came up before the game and told me that the students were out and it probably wouldn't be packed, but it was packed," O'Bryant said. "It was a great atmosphere."

Later Saturday afternoon, O'Bryant and fellow five-star prospect Ky Madden were given a tour of the Rebels' sparkling new basketball practice facility, one that the program finally moved into on Monday.

"I saw it after the game," O'Bryant said. "They were moving into it like the next day. It was real nice."

While O'Bryant said Monday he "really doesn't have a list" of favorites, he intimated the Rebels helped their cause on Saturday.

"Ole Miss is a straight shot (from Cleveland)," O'Bryant said. "It's a great program and it's close to home. Both schools are, really."

O'Bryant, ranked by Rivals.com as the nation's No. 13 overall prospect and the No. 3 power forward prospect in the Class of 2011, has scholarship offers from Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Baylor, Florida, Florida State, Harvard, Kentucky, Memphis and Southern Cal. He plans to attend Mississippi State's game versus Kentucky on Feb. 14, but he said he's in no hurry to make a decision. O'Bryant can sign in November, but he said he'll commit "whenever I feel like it's right."

For now, O'Bryant is focused on his high school team, one that started 2-4 but has since won 10 of its last 11 games.

"Everybody wasn't on the same page," O'Bryant said. "Everything's clicking now and we're starting to roll."

The 6-foot-9, 235-pounder, who said he likens his game to a mix between the Denver Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony and the Phoenix Suns' Amar'e Stoudemire, is also working on refining his skills.

"I was watching the game (Saturday) and everyone's tight with their moves and quick," O'Bryant said. "I tend to get wide with my dribble. I need to get tighter and I need to get better with my pull-up jumper and my iso game."

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