This was almost too good to be true.
Someone pinch the man, but not too hard. You don’t want to wake a man living his dream.
Here was Michael Bryson, sauntering through the Kings’ practice facility Thursday morning for a predraft workout, trying not to let his profound glee get in the way of his basketball fundamentals.
And there was Vlade Divac, stretching an arm to say hello, and there was Peja Stojakovic right behind, to offer a warm Sacramento welcome.
These are beloved Kings from back in the day now tasked as club executives to restore a once-proud franchise. And that process includes bringing in scores of draft hopefuls for a close-up peek, to see them shoot, pass, rebound, work with others.
Thursday’s session included point guard Josh Hagins from Arkansas-Little Rock, guard Gabe York of Arizona, guard Brannen Greene of Kansas, guard Max Hooper of Oakland, forward Jordan Loveridge of Utah and Bryson.
Bryson is an intriguing prospect. The Foothill High School graduate offers versatility and athleticism as a 6-foot-4 shooting guard who averaged 18.0 points as a senior at UC Santa Barbara last season.
Bryson grew up as a Kings fan, playing the role of Stojakovic in front of his parents’ North Sacramento home as he unleashed dozens of shots until the sun set. Bryson remains a fan. He can peel off all the names of players on those playoff teams last decade, and to get a chance to meet Kings brass tickled him beyond belief.
That sweaty practice jersey Bryson wore Thursday with a Kings logo splashed across the front? Bryson may sleep in it the rest of the week.
“Seeing (Vlade and Peja) on the floor here, it’s incredible to me,” Bryson said. “That 2001-02 team was incredible. That’s what I think of when I think of Kings basketball: Vlade, Peja, Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Doug Christie ... such a legacy.”
Bryson hired agent Bill Neff, who arranged for a Boston Celtics workout earlier this month. More NBA team workouts are looming, including, perhaps, another one with the Kings. Bryson is not on anyone’s first-round draft board, but the second round? Or signing somewhere as an undrafted rookie free agent?
Said Kings assistant general manager Mike Bratz, “He has a chance, yes.”
“I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to come here and work out, and to listen to (Kings executives). They know what it takes to win,” Bryson said. “Anything they say to you, you have to listen and take full advantage. Having a chance to work out in Sacramento is a blessing. This is a longtime dream of mine. These were people I grew up idolizing.”
Bryson acknowledges: “I’m under the radar, and I have nothing to lose. I’m an underdog.”
An underdog who is especially adept at shooting. He has good form, his coaches have said since his prep days, and Bryson isn’t afraid to compete.
He averaged 18.4 points in five games against Pacific-12 Conference opponents, a step up from his Big West Conference competition. Active and athletic, Bryson averaged 6.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and just under a steal a game this past season for Santa Barbara.
“Bryson played pretty well (in the workout),” Bratz said, adding that he liked his “versatility, his strength, smart player. He had a great career at UC Santa Barbara, and he’s solid, a real good individual.”
Drew Hibbs and Guss Armstead vouch for Bryson’s skill and character, having known him for years. Hibbs was Bryson’s coach at Foothill, where Bryson was an honors student. Armstead regularly works out NBA and overseas players as a strength and conditioning coach.
“Bryson’s a big-time shooter who has great mechanics, and he’ll get better, and he’s an underrated defender,” Armstead said. “He would drive from Santa Barbara to Sacramento for a workout, which shows you how committed he is.”
Said Hibbs: “The older I get, and the closer I get to getting out of coaching, I appreciate Bryson that much more. He’s always had talent and work ethic. I went to the Big West tournament and saw him against UC Davis and Hawaii. The respect the Hawaii players showed him after that game, it was genuine and real. You could see it, and it speaks of his character.
“He’s the whole package. Not only would you want your players to be like him, but you’d want your own kids to be like him. We’re pulling for him. For our kids at Foothill to be able to look up to a guy like Bryson, in our Hall of Fame, as a guy who did it the right way and worked hard for it, it’s pretty special.”