All-Army, all-around good coach

by Sgt. Caitlyn Smoyer
3rd Sustainment Brigade

FORT STEWART, Ga. -- Chief Warrant Officer 3 Aaron L. Bryant, the assistant coach for the All-Army Women’s Basketball Team, stood at the sideline during the final seconds of the 2016 Armed Forces Championship in San Antonio, Texas.

One point behind the Navy, the Army team received the rebound of a missed free-throw and drove the ball down the court and into the left corner. Tripping from the aggression of the Navy’s defense, the Army team member fell to the floor, passing the ball a short distance to her teammate. Spc. Vanessa Lamison, a Soldier from Fort Bliss, Texas, immediately recovered the ball and shot it into the air at the three-point line just as the final buzzer went off. It swished through the net.

Members of the audience went wild after the last-second winning shot. The coaches ran around the court with their hands in the air. Every member of the team piled onto Lamison on the gymnasium floor. They had just won the tournament by two points and earned the gold medal.

It was a moment Bryant will never forget, he said.

“It gives me chills,” he said. “I can’t believe she hit that shot.”

Bryant, a senior petroleum system technician for the 3rd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade, is able to serve his country while still doing what he is passionate about: coaching basketball and teaching others the meaning of dedication.

Bryant grew up in Chicago wanting to be a police officer, he said. His interest in basketball did not express itself until he attended a program at his local church where all the children announced what they wanted to be when they grew up. His close friend, Bryan, was set on becoming a basketball player.

“There was just something about seeing him with that basketball and the way he talked about why he wanted to be a basketball player at the age of nine that kind of stuck out to me,” Bryant said.

He began watching basketball and familiarizing himself with techniques. With help from his friend, he grew a love for the sport and realized it was a game he wanted to continue playing as he grew older. Getting a rim of his own to practice on and playing on a school team increased his knowledge and ability to fine-tune needed skills.

Bryant saw Michael Jordan as his role model. He wanted to be the best he could be, attend the same college and even play for the Chicago team like Jordan.

“I just wanted to emulate everything that he did in the game of basketball,” he said. “Watching him have an impact, both on and off the court, inspired me.”

His freshman year of high school found him living with his uncle, a Marine, in Hawaii in order to escape the Chicago area. When his uncle deployed, he was sent to live with his grandmother in Alabama. He finished 9th grade there and started his sophomore year. However, due to the poor health of his grandmother, he moved back to Chicago where he finished 10th grade and found his basketball groove.

Though his love for the sport had emerged at a young age, it was not until that year he felt a real commitment, he said. He became a strong defense player for his school’s team.

He began preparing himself for college; however, his lack of stability in one location hindered his ability to continue playing on a school team to heighten his skills, he said. He moved back to live with his uncle, who had been relocated to North Carolina to retire.

His uncle taught him the value of a dollar, Bryant said. He spent his spare time, during his junior and senior years, working and learning to become independent. He was given an ultimatum after graduation: to stay there and work or join the military until he figured out what he wanted to do with his life. Knowing his option for a college basketball scholarship had been shot, and not wanting to spend the rest of his life working there, he joined the Army.

His passion for the sport never faded, nonetheless. He decided to join the men’s intramural post team in Alaska and again when he moved to Fort Gordon, Georgia. Later, in 2003, when he was stationed at Camp Casey, South Korea, Bryant took his skills to a new level and decided to try coaching.

His experience and success with it taught him something he had not realized until then, he said.

“Every great player cannot coach. Coaching is very hard. You’ve got to make sure you have the right people in at the right time. They expect you to lead them.”

Bryant continued to coach from then on.

“His coaching ability is phenomenal,” said Master Sgt. Caprice M. Walker, a senior culinary management noncommissioned officer with the 3rd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade and a friend from Camp Casey. “The skillset that he brings to the team is on the level of the WNBA league.”

After coaching both the men’s and women’s post teams for several years at Camp Casey as well as Fort Knox, Kentucky, he was invited by a good friend to be the assistant coach for the All-Army Women’s Basketball Team. He accepted gladly and has held the position since 2010, with the exception of three years due to deployments.

“I was away physically but not spiritually,” he said.

The 2016 Armed Forces Tournament produced the same outcome as his first year, with a gold medal in hand.

Bryant lets his players know, through hard work and discipline, that the tournament is not
 a vacation. The women are all still Soldiers coming together to accomplish a mission, just like any other day.

“I’m hard on them, but I’m fair. You’ve got to give them that tough love and ensure that you instill discipline. They don’t like it initially, but they love me at the end when we’ve got that gold medal.”

After winning the Armed Forces Championship, seven members of the Army team got the opportunity to play at the 2nd Conseil International du Sport Militaire (CISM) World Military Basketball Championship along with two members of the Air Force, two from the Navy, and one from the Coast Guard. This event, held at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California, brought together six countries to compete against one another for the world title.
 After beating Canada, France, China and Germany, the team played the final game against Brazil; however, team USA lost by one point, earning the silver medal for the world championship game.

Bryant considers himself a realist, and even with the loss he knows the team did very well, he said.

He also hopes to put together a Fort Stewart men’s team this year and a women’s team next year since the post has not had an organized basketball team in over 10 years.

“I’m doing my best to get this program back on its feet,” he said. “I’m serious about what I do.”

Walker is sure of Bryant’s success, due to his passion, she said.

“He can take the Fort Stewart basketball team, which hasn’t been around in many years, and excel. He’s a good coach.”

To show his dedication to the game and the words that he believes in, Bryant got a tattoo on his arm of a Michael Jordan quote that he chooses to live by, he said.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”

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