Jon Bryant on the Summer League Team for the Chicago Bulls, Sr.

When he makes his first appearance as the head coach at the Chicago Bulls’ summer NBA game on Friday, John Bryant will have one person at the front of his mind — his father, John.

Bryant did not travel to Las Vegas with the Bulls last year for the Summer League. Instead, he spent time with his father, who was battling COVID-19.

“It was the best decision of my life,” Bryant said.

Bryant’s father passed away later that year, but Bryant said the time together was invaluable. A year later, Bryant said his father’s guidance affects the way he approaches each day as the Bulls’ assistant coach.

“I can hear it,” Bryant said. “I talk to him every day. He would be very proud of me.”

This summer will see Bryant’s first trip as head coach after he was chosen by Bulls coach Billy Donovan to lead a team led by Dalen Terry into the first round of 2022 and second-year center Marko Simonovic.

Although Donovan was on hand to oversee summer training, Bryant said he was impressed by the amount of responsibility given to him in the role. Bryant described Donovan as a “wise old sage” – before jokingly backing down to make sure the head coach didn’t think he was in fact called “the old” – who only gave occasional tips from the sidelines.

Moving into the position of head of guidance comes with its challenges. Bryant was a bit hoarse after the first four days of training, devouring cough drops to soothe his throat.

“I’ve never talked much — not even with my wife,” Bryant said. “I find my voice.”

Bryant is intent on sharpening the bulls for a powerful Las Vegas outing, but feels his role off the field is just as important. Although players share their lives together in the locker room and on the field, Bryant believes emotional vulnerability can be a challenge among his teammates.

Every day before and after practice, he gathers the players in the half of the field to exchange about themselves and each other. This includes awarding a “Warrior” award for putting the most effort into practice, and a nomination that requires a player to explain why they like their teammate.

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Bryant began the process on the first day of training, sharing his experience with losing his father and how it affected the way he viewed basketball.

“I let them into a part of my life and get real with them,” Bryant said. “And then they can be real with me. As much as I can do that, I think that for me is real training.”

“Of course, I have to be paid and everyone needs to win and all that, but for me the real training is to train these young men to be better men for their communities, better fathers, better brothers, better cousins, better friends. I think I do my best to do it every day “.

Bryant and the Bulls will travel to Las Vegas on Thursday to begin the first round of four games of the summer league championship.

Although he won’t be in the stands, Bryant knows his dad will be present throughout his debut.

“I know he’d be proud of me,” Bryant said. “I try to do it in the best possible way every day. When I played, it was like: ‘Hustle. Try your best. Do your best. Work hard.'”

“And I try to do it not just for our players and staff but to be a reflection of what he taught me to do. I know he’s smiling.”

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