Starting off a week with a statement is never encouraging news. And, such was the case on Monday morning.
Bryant was fresh off a 97-71 loss at the hands of the Cincinnati Bearcats. They'd been fighting off sicknesses running through the clubhouse, claiming K'vonn Cramer, Earl Timberlake, and others. As Jared Grasso paraphrased, even if there was a player on the court that didn't test positive for flu, they most certainly came down with something; the coughs were abundant all week in practice, film sessions, and the locker room.
From complications with illness, per the school, K'vonn Cramer was hospitalized in Cincinnati the morning before the game. It's unclear his exact medical diagnosis. Per Jared Grasso and the school, Cramer is improving and is expected to be released in the coming days; the coaches and student-athletes were able to FaceTime and call him throughout the week.
Understandably, with Tuesday's postponement vs. Tulane and two games ahead, the Bryant locker room had taken a bit of an emotional hit. But to navigate through the hardships, the message was consistent from top to bottom - stick together.
"When you go through hard things, you get closer," Jared Grasso told the media after Friday's win over Stony Brook. "I talk about this early in the year; we are going to hit some adversity. It's part of the deal, and you don't know when or where it's going to come from. And when it does, you have to find a way to get through it - and the way you do it is to stick together."
And surely, Bryant, still down a fully game-ready Earl Timberlake and others, knew sticking together was the only way to come out on top.
The Bulldogs knocked off Stony Brook 79-60 on Friday; their 17 three-pointers tied a single-game D1 record that matches only a January 2011 performance at Monmouth. Immediate impact transfer Sherif Gross-Bullock, who won the A-10 Sixth Man of the Year at La Salle just two seasons ago (as Sherif Kenney), knocked down 21 points - 19 of which came in the second half. Charles Pride chipped in 20 of his own. And the Bulldogs shot a whopping 46% from downtown.
Sunday's 104-97 win over Manhattan was a different kind of fight. It was one Bryant was heavily favored after the Jaspers' roster was rendered depleted when Steve Masiello was fired as the head coach just weeks before the season started. Although it took five extra minutes, Earl Timberlake - healthy enough to contribute 26 minutes off the bench - knocked down 23 points. Throw in Sherif Gross-Bullock's 20 and Antwan Walker's 20, and you've got a recipe for a record-breaking day from the Washington, DC natives.
Bryant's teams under Jared Grasso have taken different form factors. From 2018 to 2020, it was about finding their way win a melting pot of players from the Tim O'Shea era and the transfer portal. The target went on the Bulldogs' back two seasons ago with standouts Peter Kiss & Hall Elisias joining the team, and those iterations tended to struggle early with finding their true identities, oft taking well into January to find the chemistry balanced that worked.
2022-23 is different. Although Bryant hasn't won every game they should've so far, one thing is for certain: from a chemistry perspective, this is the way Jared Grasso wants his team to be.
"You need to go through some hard things in order to become a good team - that's how teams really grow," he told the media on Friday. "This situation has helped our team grow and has put some things into perspective for guys that life is fragile. I get to coach basketball. These guys get to play college basketball. There is nothing better than that experience. For me, it was the best experience in my life."
"I've talked about this a lot to these guys - you see something like (K'vonn Cramer) happen out of nowhere - a 22 year old freakish athlete - and when something like that does happen, it puts it into perspective about how good we have it to not take it for granted," he continued. "We talked about it a lot this week, and that message was bigger than anything. At the end of the day, that's my job - help prepare these guys for life. Sometimes lessons are hard and you have to go through hard things to get those lessons."
"But, I don't want any of those guys to ever take for granted what they have here at Bryant, the relationships they have here, and the opportunity they have here. For me, that's what it's about; that's why I love this group and what they're about, and I know we're going to keep growing."