Kris Bryant's remarkable progress on the basketball court is evidenteach night she mans her power forward position for Mount Hebron.
But the most convincing proof of improvement in the play of the 6-foot junior can be found on videotape.
"We were looking at some tape from last year, and it was a real treat to watch Kris play," said Viking coach Dave Greenberg. "If she ran down the floor without falling down, it was a major accomplishment."
"Horrible," Bryant added, echoing Greenberg's critique. "I can't believe some of the things I did. I'd shoot the ball without looking at the basket. I couldn't catch the ball. I still fall down a lot, but it was twice as bad last year. Pretty uncoordinated."
Fast-forward the tape to this season, and you'll discover a Bryant who has transformed her game to become the county's premier inside force.
The Vikings, who are pursuing their 12th county championship under Greenberg, depend on many parts.
Erica McCauley continues to dazzle the league with clutch shooting and exquisite ball handling. Emily Yanero leads the team in scoring and puts on a nightly foul-shooting clinic. Tierney Clark and Lori Pasquantonio specialize in playing defenseaccording to the Hebron textbook. Sandra Benson is maybe the county's most underrated frontcourt player.
And then there's Bryant, easily the league's most improved player. No one has had a more sudden impact on her team.
Last year, when she averaged 5.2 points and 4.8 rebounds, Bryant was the first forward off Hebron's bench.
On a busy night, she would contribute about 15 minutes of play. And in between her baskets or rebounds, she would produce her share of embarrassing moments.
But after an intensive off-season, during which she enhanced her skills on a local AAU Junior Olympics team and at two basketball camps, Bryant showed up at Hebron's first practice last fall as a dramatically improved player. She immediately established herselfas a starter, and these days she rarely sits on the bench.
Without Bryant's steadying influence in the paint, it would be hard to envision the Vikings with a 19-1 record, a 19-game winning streak and their sights set on their sixth state title in seven years. Bryant is averaging 13.6 points -- on team-high 55 percent shooting -- and a team-leading 9.7 rebounds.
Players like Bryant don't come along often at Hebron. Just ask Greenberg.
"She's the best inside player we'veever had, the first real power forward we've had," he said. "You don't find kids that like to hit the boards like her. When she catches the ball down low, you'd better be aware, because she can do somethingwith it. What don't get counted in the stats are the open shots the other kids get because people concentrate on her."
"I like the position. I like being aggressive, pushing people around," said Bryant, who scored 14 points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds in Hebron's surprising 72-29 rout of Howard Thursday night. "Rebounding is my main job. If I have a good game rebounding, it makes me feel like I worked a lot harder. You have to want the ball."
The only thing more notable than Bryant's blue-collar style on the boards or her underrated jump shot is her swift rise from bench player to certain first-teamAll-County selection.
Bryant credits her toughness to her middle school days. As a fifth-grader, when she already was one of the taller girls in her school, she tried basketball on a boys recreation team. Although she had not developed a fervent interest in the game, she played on a boys team for the next three seasons.
The turning point for Bryant -- a resident of the Milford Mill section of Baltimore County -- came after her parents decided to enroll her at Hebron as a freshman.
"Although a lot of people don't believe this, our decision was not made with basketball in mind," said Russ Bryant, Kris' father, who teaches math at Howard High. "We weren't crazy about MilfordMill (High), and Hebron was the closest school in this county. I hoped that she could become a real good player, but stuff like that is so unpredictable."
In accordance with state regulations, Bryant hadto sit out the sports year as a freshman after transferring. She chose to manage Hebron's girls basketball team, and that job gave her a close look at the Vikings' program. Hebron won its fifth state title that year.
"I didn't really feel like part of the team that year, but I realized how much I wanted to play basketball," Bryant said. "Just to wear a Hebron uniform would have been enough."
Bryant already has exceeded her expectations. After contributing in a part-time role to Hebron's sixth state championship, her performance next month will dictate largely how far the Vikings will go in the playoffs. Andwho knows how much better she'll be as a senior? Greenberg can't wait to find out.
"She was just a big, awkward kid two years ago, butshe has easily come farther than anybody," he said. "By the end of last season, we saw the potential, but we never knew how good she would be. She'll only get better."