At times during his high school career, Cleveland guard C.J. Bryant has earned the label of a "knucklehead." Last week, though, his hard-headed nature came in handy because nobody was going to convince him that his Blue Raiders basketball team would be beat.
And because of his efforts, he was right.
Bryant averaged 34 points per game as Cleveland earned District 5-AAA road victories over previous league leader Ooltewah and rival Walker Valley. The two performances made him the Times Free Press Player of the Week.
His week can be best summed up by the final 16 minutes of the Walker Valley game, when he scored 26 of the team's 31 points. He scored 15 of the Raiders' 17 fourth-quarter points, and the one other basket they scored in the second half -- a 3-pointer by sophomore Anfernee Scott -- was assisted by Bryant.
For good measure, he had five steals, four assists and four rebounds in addition to his 35 points in the Walker Valley win.
Coach Jason McCowan couldn't take all of the credit for Bryant's so-called "transformation." A lot of it began during football season, where under new coach Ron Crawford, the running back and defensive back was named a third-team Best of Preps player.
"It's been fun to watch," McCowan said. "C.J. was one of those kids that, if the light ever came on, 'Wow.' He's been playing 32 minutes a night, handling the ball and guarding the other team's best player. We're getting the most we possibly can at the best time we possibly can -- the end of the year. He has really stepped up and put us on his back."
Bryant stands 5-foot-11 and really doesn't have a natural position on a basketball court. So it wasn't too much of a stretch that McCowan moved him to a forward spot in the second half Friday night. Yet it was a mild surprise that his 33-point outburst against Ooltewah might go down as his second-best perfomance of the week.
"It's nice as a coach because I don't have to worry about him. He's going to do his job," McCowan said. "I'm not calling sets for him -- he's just finding his rhythm inside of the offense. He's getting steals, shooting a high 3-point percentage and getting assists.
"It's nice to see, because he has an opportunity to end his career on a really high note, which is great for him."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.