HUNTINGTON - People who have seen Thomas Bryant play for the Huntington Prep boys basketball team know about the passion and emotion he takes on the court.
Bryant showed that same emotion Thursday during a send-off ceremony for the McDonald's All-American Game in Chicago.
He was all smiles and nearly moved to tears watching a tribute video from his family in New York and hearing Huntington Mayor Steve Williams proclaim it as "Thomas Bryant Day" in town.
"Just having a day to myself, that's crazy," Bryant said. "I never thought that would ever happen to me in the world. That just feels great and proves that hard work is finally paying off. I'm not going to stop working."
Bryant is one of 24 players nationally that were selected for the McDonald's All-American Game, which will be played at 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 1, in the United Center home of the NBA Chicago Bulls.
He is the second player from Huntington Prep selected for the game in three years, joining Andrew Wiggins who played one season at the University of Kansas before becoming the No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick in 2014.
While Wiggins was more of a reserved personality, Bryant is a flamboyant, outgoing individual who has not only had an impact on the basketball floor. He has also helped to bring the entire Huntington St. Joe student body together as one when it comes to support of athletic events.
Two weeks ago, Bryant led a raucous group of Huntington Prep players who made the trek to Charleston to cheer on the St. Joe girls basketball team to its seventh consecutive Class A state title.
"He's a fun-loving kid and he rubs everybody the right way," Huntington Prep head coach Arkell Bruce said. "He's at all the activities for school, at state tournaments leading the cheering section and he's loved by everyone."
One of the more touching moments of the send-off was when a video played featuring his family in Rochester, N.Y.
Bryant received an outpouring of congratulations from relatives - some invoking laughs and showing where he got his personality, and some nearly invoking tears, such as his mother's message about how proud she was, to enjoy his day and how she loved him and would call him later in the evening.
"It just brought back so many happy memories, you know," Bryant said. "I got a little bit emotional, but I got through it. Just knowing you're loved and you're doing a great job and your family loves you and supports you, it doesn't get better."
Because of his tight-knit nature with his family, it wasn't easy when Bryant left two years ago to come to Huntington Prep to expand his basketball game, but Bryant he expressed gratitude to everyone in Huntington for the family-like atmosphere, which made it easier.
"My time has been great, just coming here and having everyone accept me in with open arms," Bryant said. "It just feels great that I was able to make that transition."
While his time in Huntington is quickly coming to a close, Bryant is intent on leaving the town he's called home for two years with a pair of lasting memories.
"Right now, I'm focused on having fun at McDonald's and winning that national championship," Bryant said.
Bryant is expected to make his college announcement in the days after the completion of the Dick's Nationals, which take place April 2-4 in New York City. His final choices for college include (in no particular order) are Kentucky, Indiana, Syracuse and Missouri.