Despite setbacks, former St. Joseph star still dreaming big
Shannika Bryant of Chicago, a former St. Joseph basketball player, warms up at XSport Fitness in Chicago December 19, 2012. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 25, 2013 11:31AM
Shannika Bryant is playing basketball again, although the location of her home court has changed.
Bryant, the former St. Joseph star center, began a promising Division I career at Wichita State in 2010. Now she is playing junior college at Odessa College in west Texas and targeting a career in sports broadcasting rather than the WNBA.
A lot has changed since Bryant’s senior season of high school, when she was named to the Sun-Times all-area team and an Illinois Basketball Coaches Association all-state honorable mention. She became the first St. Joseph female player to sign a Division I basketball scholarship.
During Bryant’s first semester at Wichita State, though, her father Williams was diagnosed with cancer.
“Everything happens for a reason,’’ Shannika Bryant said. “I know it made me a stronger person on and off the court.”
She played in seven games for Wichita State, averaged 3.1 points and 2.4 rebounds in just 62 total minutes before leaving school in December to come home and be with her family. In addition to her father’s illness, Bryant struggled adjusting to being a freshman on a team with talented, experienced players ahead of her.
“I think it was part of growing up,’’ Bryant said. “I didn’t have the best moments my freshman year. Freshman year is always the hardest part. In high school, you are No. 1 and you played your best and there was nobody above you. Going from that to a Division I school where there are girls better than you, more experienced than you and more talented than you, that’s something to deal with.”
She finished her first year at Wichita State by completing classes online while she was home with her family.
Shannika’s mother, Doris Bryant, supports the initial decision to go to Wichita State.
“She had other Division I offers, 30 or 40, but the Wichita State coach was persistent, and called day in and day out, all the time,’’ Doris said. “She got along well with the girls when she met them. Had she stayed and gone for a second year, her playing time would have picked up as other girls graduated.”
With her father Williams improving after chemotherapy, Bryant spent the fall 2011 semester at Triton College in River Grove and transferred to Odessa for the spring semester of 2012. She did not play basketball that year for either school.
“I didn’t want to lose a year of eligibility,’’ Bryant said. “I went to the gym every day and worked out with the (Triton) men and scrimmaged. When I got to Odessa, I practiced with the team every day and conditioned with them.”
Bryant’s progress was slowed this academic year when she suffered a detached retina in an early season game. She went home to have surgery in November and returned to school in time for finals. She has played five games with Odessa this season and has averaged 4.2 points and 4.0 rebounds.
“She is funny, and she makes me laugh. She is a joy to have as a teammate,” said Lauren Berry, a teammate of Bryant’s at Odessa and a former standout at Normal Community West High School in Illinois.
Berry said the Wichita State experience does not come up often in conversation with Bryant.
“She has shown me pictures, but she hasn’t really mentioned too much about it,’’ Berry said. “I think she feels more at home because this place is not as big an environment. We are more tight-knit as a group, there is more one-on-one in the classroom, and I think she has transitioned very well.”
Bryant plans to complete her sophomore year at Odessa and transfer again to a Division I school. She said she has received letters of interest but has not had any concrete talks yet.
Looking back, Bryant views Wichita State as an opportunity, a learning experience and a significant memory.
“I do believe, if I had gone back, I most likely would have been in the top shape of my life,’’ Bryant said.