The senior forward is a 4.0 student who has dreams of the Ivy League. But first, there's an another effort to push back the Hodgkin lymphoma that is bringing his season to an end.
Jack Bryant wanted to clear the record and his name.
Some of his teammates on the Garfield High School boys basketball team had surely noticed his absences.
When Bryant, a 17-year-old senior, stood in front of the team Dec. 20, he made it all too clear. He wasn’t just missing practices. His absences were more than excused.
While his teammates sat, the quiet, reserved Bulldog stood and delivered a short and powerful message at midcourt: He was fighting cancer for the third time since his original Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis in May 2015 when he was 13 years old.
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He never made excuses and only missed time while undergoing or recovering from chemotherapy. Or going to countless doctor visits. After his speech, many gained a new respect for the resilient, 6-foot-3 forward.
“It wasn’t like I had a pass to come and go as I pleased,” said Bryant, a 4.0 GPA student who dreams of attending MIT or an Ivy League school. “People react really differently to the word cancer. I just kind of put it out there in as bland of terms as possible, because the worst reaction I can get from people is, ‘Oh crap, you’re dying.’ I try not to get that response from people.
“It was emotional, but I tried to stay somewhat positive. I try not to let it drag me down.”
Bryant, despite a recent bout of the flu, plans to attend the Bulldogs’ Senior Night on Friday against Franklin in the Metro League regular-season finale. His family of mother, Jean, and father, Andrew, will be there to celebrate, along with brothers Ben (14, freshman) and Colin (16, sophomore), who also attend Garfield.
“I’m not in super good shape right now, because I’m missing so much time playing,” admitted Bryant. “I’ll play for two weeks and then have to sit out a week. It’s the breaks that get me.”
Bryant gave his team a lift with his words in December. A 2-3 team suddenly gained life and won its next seven games and 10 of the next 11.
“That was probably the turning point for our team, and we had one hell of a practice that day,” said Garfield interim coach JayVon Nickens, who at age 13 lost his 17-year-old brother, Terry Manuel, to leukemia in 1993. “That was our best practice of the year. Jack led the charge and since then we bonded better on the court and off the court. Jack has been one of our captains, and he’s leading us every single day.
“He’s been giving us everything he’s got. He wants to be out there. He wants to show the guys that if he’s fighting, you should too.”
Bryant scored his first basket in Metro League play in Garfield’s 85-55 blowout victory at Chief Sealth on Jan. 19, and the bench erupted in celebration. He has scored a total of six points this season.
Bryant is quiet and private and doesn’t want anyone feeling sorry for him. He’s powered through rough days after chemo, sometimes getting sick after a tough practice drill.
“He inspires and encourages the team a lot, because he’s battling through cancer and playing basketball and still being dedicated to team,” said Micah Jessie, one of the leaders on a 12-6 team. “It just pushes everyone to go harder on the court for Jack. Nobody’s fighting as hard as Jack has been. He’s been through a lot.”
Friday’s game will be the last for Bryant. Wednesday, he’ll be admitted at Seattle Children’s for a week of intense chemotherapy. He’ll undergo a stem-cell transplant on Feb. 14. Doctors harvested Bryant’s stem cells in June for the procedure that his doctors hope erases his cancer once and for all.
“We hope this is it, but realistically it may not be. I try to push that out of my mind,” Bryant said. “This is the last thing until my doctors tell me otherwise. They expect this to be the last thing, but there’s a pretty real possibility that it comes back. That’s just the type of cancer I have.”
Bryant must have limited contact with the public over the next three months while his compromised immune system recovers. His last PET scan revealed no cancer, but doctors are advising the stem-cell transplant.
“I’m going to have an immune system like a baby,” Bryant said.
He plans to join the baseball team before season’s end.
“Being part of a team just gives me a sense of normalcy,” he said. “For me, sports have always been the way for me to socially interact, because I’m not super social. Sports kind of give me that outlet. Playing sports while entering treatment has really helped me feel more normal.”
Feeling normal to Bryant are times like when he provided last season’s baseball team with its lone highlight in the High School Baseball Classic at Safeco Field. Bryant broke up a no-hitter with an infield single up the middle with two outs in the top of the seventh of Garfield’s 1-0 loss to Newport on April 22.
“I can’t think of a better guy to have that single hit,” Garfield baseball coach Chris Moedritzer said of Bryant, who has won a Most Inspirational award every year he’s been in the program. “Jack will definitely have a spot on our team. He’s got a jersey whenever he’s able to return and cleared by doctors. It will be a boost to our guys and our program to have him there. He just wants to be one of the guys.”
Bryant played mostly on junior varsity last season in baseball, but his call up to varsity before the postseason allowed him his highlight moment, which he downplayed.
“It could have been called an error, but still it was really cool,” said Bryant. “It was in between a hit and an error.”
Bryant’s diagnosis was later identified as a rare Nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma.
“The type of cancer I have is a weird hybrid,” he said. “It’s Hodgkin’s, but my type displays characteristics of both Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s. It has a high recurrence rate.”
Bryant has had his spleen removed and endured more than 50 doses of chemotherapy. Bryant has remained dedicated to his school’s activities even though his cancer returned twice, in the spring of 2016 and last year.
“I don’t think he’s ever said, ‘I can’t,’ ” said his mother, Jean Bryant. “He’s never used cancer as an excuse. He has chosen not to give cancer power over his life, nor is he defined by it.”
When Bryant found out his cancer was back last spring, he still managed to take two college entrance exams — the SAT (which he scored a 720 on reading and writing and 800 on the math portion) and ACT (35 out of 36) — in succession. He continues to take advanced-placement classes.
Bryant sees time on the floor mainly in blowouts this season. He’s happy to be one of the guys. He won’t be mentioned with Garfield basketball legends such as Brandon Roy, Tony Wroten, Will Conroy and the like, but that doesn’t mean his impact on the program has any less value.
“Jack’s been around some great players and coaches and followed some great people there, but Jack’s a lot tougher than all of those people,” said Leo White, an assistant who’s been with the Bulldogs’ program since 2008 and is a Central District fixture. “There’s been some big names, some stars who were all-state and all this, but they’re not comparable to Jack at all.
“He’s been tough and not just this year. His teammates see a lot of fight and heart in him.”