BANGOR — Chris Bryant spent 15 years climbing the basketball coaching ranks, first with coaching fifth graders, before getting his opportunity to be a college basketball coach.
The Freedom native and Mount View High School alumnus recently completed his fourth season on the staff at Husson University, where he holds several titles — assistant coach, director of day clinics and camps, academic officer, and recruiting coordinator — on the men’s basketball coaching staff.
Before accepting a position at Husson, Bryant spent two stints at Mattanawcook Academy, first as an assistant girls basketball coach and head junior varsity girls basketball coach followed by a stint as the head coach of the boys basketball and baseball teams. He also spent two seasons as a varsity basketball assistant and junior varsity basketball head coach at Mount View, his alma mater.
Bryant turned to coaching, simply, for the love of the sport.
“I wasn't a star athlete — to be honest I wasn't even an average one — I just loved the game,” he said.
He fondly recalls trekking to the Bangor Auditorium during the basketball playoffs and watching the dominant high school teams and players of 1990s, falling in love with the 1992 Dream team and the Fab Five — Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson — of the University of Michigan.
“As I grew up the fire continued to burn and build,” Bryant recalled.
His fervor for basketball continued as an undergraduate student at the University of Connecticut, where he graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in diagnostic genetic science, in the early 2000s when he held season tickets for the basketball programs and enjoyed soaking in the spectacular 2004 season as the men’s and women’s basketball teams won national championships for the university.
“After watching [Connecticut men’s basketball] Coach [Jim] Calhoun and [Connecticut women’s basketball] Coach [Geno] Auriemma first hand I decided to take a crack at it and fell in love,” Bryant said.
Bryant’s start in the coaching profession came at the fifth grade recreation level, and it did not take long coaching fifth graders for him to realize coaching was his calling.
Over the next 15 years, he climbed the ranks from recreation basketball to junior varsity girls basketball to junior varsity boys basketball, to varsity boys basketball and now a NCAA Division III men’s basketball coach.
“The players have gotten bigger, but the other aspects stay relatively unchanged,” he said.
The best aspect of coaching, he said, are the relationships, challenges and development — all of which makes the coaching profession fun and rewarding.
“You build bonds with so many individuals in the community you coach in,” said Bryant. “Players, coaches, parents and even the occasional officials all form bonds over time.”
Bryant thrives on the challenge of playing basketball chess, as he described, against an opponent.
“Basketball is a complex game and the challenges can be consuming,” he said.
The most rewarding aspect of the profession, however, is watching players develop and get better thanks to your teachings.
“It is rewarding seeing players advance, and their joy brings you joy,” Bryant said.
The profession of coaching can have peaks and valleys, Bryant said when asked to describe the profession’s challenges.
“High highs and even lower lows,” he commented. “For every great win there can be devastating losses. But as in life we lose, and we aren't defined by those losses, we are defined by what we do after those losses.”
Bryant encourages those pondering a career in coaching, or anything one is passionate about, to simply go for it.
“Be selfless and give your time to help someone get better at something,” he said. “Bruce Lee said ‘real living is living for others.’ If you define yourself only by what you have obtained then you are living a pretty egocentric and [meek] existence. Teach others things you know and are good at. Basketball, poetry, riding a unicycle, whatever it is — pass it on.”
In his daily life, Bryant is able to teach about two of his passions, basketball (at Husson) and science (he has worked in the field of genetics and recently as a biology teacher at Bangor High School).
Bryant also shared advice for those aspiring to continue playing sports at the collegiate level.
“If you want to be recruited as a college athlete you need to be active marketing yourself,” he advised.
Attending showcases, camps and clinics are among the first items Bryant recommended, as well as building a personal relationship with coaches at institutions you are keen on attending.
“There are a lot of talented athletes looking for opportunities so if you can build an off the court relationship with a coach he is more likely to recruit you,” Bryant said.
Entering junior season of high school, Bryant encourages student-athletes to email a multitude of college coaches to express your interest in their program.
“Cast lots of lines to catch a good opportunity,” he said. “Be sure to include lots of information: height, wingspan, weight, anticipated college major, statistics, and highlight film — the more the better. Also including a recommendation from a respected coach can also carry some weight.”
No matter how much of a challenge it may be, Bryant advised to not give up if the desire to keep playing your sport is there.
“You might need to offer to manage for a year to earn the opportunity, or travel to a different geographic location, but options are there to stay involved in the game,” he said. “And if that doesn't work out, keeping active with intramural and club options can also help scratch the itch. Stay passionate, focused, and persistent.”