KENT: Kent State’s Bryson Pope grew up in France, where his father Derrick Pope was known for his thunderous dunks during a 14-year professional career.
Pope’s first language was French, so there was a bit of an adjustment when the family moved to England when Bryson was 11, a five-year stop during the elder Pope’s basketball career.
Although adaptation to a new environment has become a valuable skill for Pope, who is a dual citizen of France and the U.S., moving so much as a youngster made him yearn for some consistency by the time he reached high school.
Perhaps that’s why when the family moved to Oklahoma, Pope committed to college at nearby Tulsa while still a sophomore at Jenks High School.
“I had other offers at the time, but ended up committing pretty early to Tulsa,” said Pope, a versatile 6-foot-7, 220-pound junior guard/forward. “I just wanted to get the recruiting process out of the way and just enjoy high school.
“Once I made that commitment, I didn’t want to go back on my word, so I stuck it out. In retrospect, I wish I would have waited a little longer to see what other schools would have come around, but I don’t regret going to Tulsa.”
But after two seasons with the Golden Hurricane, Pope realized he actually desired a change of scenery. He remembered enjoying his first visit to Kent State as a freshman in 2010, even though KSU had topped Tulsa 75-74 in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament at the M.A.C Center.
“When I started to look at schools [to transfer to], I looked at Kent State as one of the options,” he said. “I’d seen the campus a little bit and liked the true college feel and I knew about its winning tradition.”
Before he transferred, Pope averaged 6.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists as a sophomore, helping to lead Tulsa back to the 2011 NIT. He scored a career-high 16 points in a loss to eventual NIT champion Wichita State.
“Still, I just kind of wanted to get out of Tulsa and go somewhere else,’’ Pope said. “I went to high school in Tulsa and I just decided I wanted a change of scenery and the chance to experience new things.”
Tulsa’s loss became Kent State’s gain. Pope has a natural maturity on the court gained from his time playing in Conference USA, the experience of living abroad, his high school success (he was the Tulsa World’s State Player of the Year as a senior) and playing in Europe for France’s U19 team in the 2009 World Championships.
“There’s not much that shakes him,” KSU coach Rob Senderoff said. “He’s played in big games at Tulsa and in bigger arenas with his international experience, so he’s been there, done that.”
Pope reminds Senderoff of former Flashes center Nate Gerwig, who graduated in 2006.
“Like Nate, nothing really seems to rattle Bryson,” Senderoff said. “Something bad will happen or a call can go against him, against us, and he’ll just smile and keep on playing.”
Pope also brings versatility to a youthful team. Senderoff is comfortable playing him in various positions on the floor.
Pope is averaging 5.4 points and 3.8 rebounds in 19.9 minutes per game as KSU (11-6, 2-1 in the Mid-American Conference) prepares to host rival Akron on Saturday.
Those stats don’t quite tell the full story of the impact he’s had after sitting out last year under NCAA transfer rules.
“His energy is so important, because he’s always flying around trying to make plays,” Senderoff said. “He’s put up good rebounding numbers, strictly on energy and effort. Plus, the fact that he can play and guard multiple positions is invaluable for us. When he rebounds, he’s able to score and he’s also aggressive going to the basket. He may not be a senior, but he might as well be with his leadership and coolness he displays under pressure.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.