MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Former LSU assistant coach Robert Kirby sauntered into FedEx Forum on Sunday not knowing fully what to expect when he saw Johnny O’Bryant III.
He tried his best to keep tabs on his former pupil, often exchanging texts or calls with friends, LSU coach Johnny Jones or O’Bryant’s mother, Angela Moore, after departing from the LSU coaching staff to take over as an assistant coach at Memphis before the 2013-’14 season.
But the last time Kirby saw O’Bryant in person, the Cleveland, Mississippi, native was a bruising, 265-pound, back-to-the-basket player who struggled to elevate his midrange game to seriously turn the heads of NBA scouts.
Sunday, Kirby watched as O’Bryant displayed a smooth stroke from beyond the arc, hoisting four 3-pointers from each spot on the wing to end his 14th pre-draft workout, this one for the Memphis Grizzlies alongside former Ohio State star Aaron Craft and Oklahoma State guard Markel Brown.
“He’s matured a lot more from a mental standpoint,” Kirby said. “Physically, he’s gotten his body in shape, he’s moving really well. It’s just the small, little things he has to do a better job of. Keeping his head up and coming on the court with a little swagger.”
Now down 10 pounds to a svelte 255 frame and well-conditioned, O’Bryant is more confident than ever in his offensive movement in the open floor as the NBA draft approaches Thursday.
O’Bryant, a 2010 McDonald’s All-American, came raw to LSU, according to Kirby.
At East Side High School, O’Bryant was privy to facing up on defenders, not realizing how much of a presence he could be in the paint when he arrived in Baton Rouge.
That, Kirby said, was the hardest part of O’Bryant’s development.
The coaching staff was forced to ingrain in O’Bryant that he needed to play to his strengths instead of doing whatever he felt worked.
“No one had actually worked with him for a long period of time on that,” Kirby said. “He’s grown into that, and he’s accepted it. To develop and mature as a young man, to accept responsibility for things not going well for him, it’s been great to see him develop in that area.”
Pundits project O’Bryant as a solid second-round pick, with most mock drafts putting him between pick No. 35 and 45.
“A lot of guys told me I looked good,” O’Bryant said. “But the guys are watching you all year, seen you a bunch of times, watch you at the (NBA draft) combine. You just need to come in and continue to work hard and show what you can do in person.”
That’s been O’Bryant’s top priority in the past two months, circling the country to audition for as many NBA teams as will lay eyes on the two-time All-Southeastern Conference player.
Some teams give feedback, but most keep judgments close to the vest, leaving O’Bryant still to wonder what Thursday holds for him.
He’s kept in touch with former LSU guard and fellow Mississippian Andre Stringer and said he spoke to sophomore Tigers Tim Quarterman and Jarell Martin ahead of his Grizzlies workout. Jones, assistant coach Charlie Leonard and former Tiger assistant Korey McCray also regularly keep tabs on their former star.
“It’s a family atmosphere there,” O’Bryant said. “We stay close.”
The family atmosphere will carry over to Thursday. O’Bryant plans to keep his Thursday night low key, watching the draft at his home in Jackson, accompanied by his family, friends and agent.
Stringer and former LSU forward Jalen Courtney — whom O’Bryant called “his brothers” — will join in.
Perhaps more importantly, it’s a day of rest after a grueling two-month stretch for O’Bryant, who will finally see a manifestation of the constant refining of his fledgling professional-style repertoire.
“It’s been a long, tough road to get to this point,” O’Bryant said.
“But to hear my name called on Thursday it would be all worth it.”