Santa Clara center John Bryant is known as Big John, and not just for his game or size 18 shoes. At 360 pounds in his first two seasons, he lumbered down the court, frequently taking rest breaks.
But on a challenge from his coach, Bryant has dropped about 85 pounds over the past two seasons, and less has become more. Bryant has remade himself into the West Coast Conference player of the year and a candidate for the NBA, while changing his outlook on life.
``This is one of the greatest seasons of my life and one of the greatest years of my life,'' Bryant told reporters after winning the award on Monday.
Bryant averaged 18 points and 14 rebounds per game, and avoided the ice pops that have been his downfall for years.
There's no argument that Bryant was big. He came out of high school at 6-foot-10 and 360 pounds. That weight kept the San Pablo, Calif., native from being recruited by big-time programs, so he went to the small private school in the Bay Area.
and six rebounds, but playing only 23 minutes per game.
Kerry Keating took over the program before Bryant's junior year, and cajoled Bryant into dropping some 50 pounds. That helped produce a breakout season, with Bryant averaging 18 points and nearly 10 rebounds. His minutes rose to 27.
But Keating thought Bryant could do even more if he weighed even less.
``We are always trying to motivate our players,'' Keating said. ``I talked about how losing weight would affect him as a player and as a person.''
It wasn't exactly a suggestion.
Keating told him to get down to 275 pounds or be redshirted, Bryant recalled, although Keating contends the weight goal was not quite that rigid.
``We figured 275 was an attainable goal,'' Keating said, but a few extra pounds would not have gotten Bryant benched.
Working with a nutritionist and trainers, Bryant went on a diet and started a workout regimen.
``At first it was real hard,'' he said. ``Once I started seeing results it got easier and easier.''
The toughest thing was dropping his love of ice pops.
``For a late night snack, I could eat eight of them, no problem,'' Bryant said. ``That's the No. 1 thing that had to be cut out.''
Then came a bizarre incident.
en knocked Bryant down, and another came from behind and stabbed him three times in the back. He needed 14 stitches to close the wounds.
Fortunately, the blade missed Bryant's organs, and he was cleared to play two weeks later. He didn't miss any of the basketball season. The attacker, who was 18, confessed.
``I have a couple of scars, nothing big,'' he told The Associated Press in October.
When the season started, Bryant was down to 275 pounds, and noticed his speed and endurance increasing.
``I was getting up and down the floor, and could stay in games longer,'' Bryant said. ``What I was doing was really working.''
This season, he has averaged 31 minutes a game, most on the team. He made 60.7 percent of his field goals, blocked 79 shots, and led the nation in total rebounds (430), double-doubles (24), and 20-point/20-rebound games (5).
Bryant also cut off the long, curly mane that made him look like a giant Hobbit. Keating thought Bryant had been using the hair ``as a distraction so people wouldn't ask him about weight.''
Bryant was looking at some old photos of himself the other day and was startled by the difference.
``It's a long road and I'm just happy I have gotten where I am at,'' Bryant said.
He's not done.
``You've gotten this far, why not go to the next level?'' he wondered.
That means dropping 10 or 15 more pounds and trying to make the NBA after his college career ends this month.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who watched Bryant post double-doubles on the Zags in both games this season, thinks he could do it. ``I really think he's got a shot at the next level,'' he said.

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