Currently, Newman University has not one, not two but four connections to the NBA. This includes three student-athletes who have family members in the league, as well as a graduate student assistant coach for the men’s basketball team, whose dad is a former NBA stand-out.
Lee “Poe” Bryant and Mark Bryant
Bryant, who was raised in Houston but moved around a lot because of his dad’s job, completed his undergraduate studies in business at Bethel College before traveling overseas to Bulgaria, where he played professional basketball himself for eight months. While there, Russia invaded Ukraine, and Bryant remembers hearing jets flying low over where he lived and rattling homes.
“We take a lot of things for granted in the United States, so being out there was really eye opening,” he said.
Then, Bryant got hurt and had to return stateside.
Bryant always knew he wanted to earn his master’s degree, so he began looking for graduate assistant coaching jobs, which led him to Newman. He’s expected to graduate in May 2024 with a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in leadership.
For Bryant, basketball has been a big part of his life since the beginning.
“Ever since I was little, I can always remember going to the gym,” he shared. “As I grew, the game of basketball grew with me and was my first love. It’s a way of life, and seeing how my dad was as a coach and how he poured his love into the game rubbed off on me.”
Even though Bryant’s dad is a former professional player and embedded in the sport in every way, he never forced the sport on his kids. Bryant shared that his dad is a positive role model in his life and taught him to lead by example.
“Every situation or adversity I had in basketball, I’ve always gone to him, and he’s always been able to help because he’s been there before and he knows exactly what I’m talking about,” Bryant said.
After he graduates next spring, Bryant is considering playing overseas again, but his end goal is to coach in the NBA, just like the man who set the path before him.
“Looking at my dad is seeing all the work behind the scenes that he put into [the sport],” Bryant said. “It really manifested itself in me.”
Stevie Smith and Keith Smith
Like Bryant, Stevie Smith’s father, Keith Smith, is a former NBA player with the Milwaukee Bucks. Smith explained his dad played during the golden era of basketball — in the mid 1980s — when he was in the mix with players like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
Smith himself grew up in Seattle, where he attended the prestigious Rainier Beach High School. He then went to junior college at the College of Southern Idaho and developed a real love of basketball, especially when his team made it to the national championship. Then, after a stint at Abilene Christian University, Smith transferred to Newman.
“Coach Allen reached out, and he was a very genuine person, as is the coaching staff here,” Smith said. “When I came on my visit, there was just a good energy about people in this community and it felt really inviting.”
At Newman, Smith also studies communication and hopes to someday be a film writer.
He shared that basketball has always played a huge role in his life.
“It runs in my blood,” he said.
In addition to his dad playing at the highest level, Smith’s brother was one of the best players in Seattle throughout high school and went on to play at the University of Oregon and Pepperdine.
“I started playing basketball whenever I gained consciousness,” Smith explained. “There was always a ball near me.”
He added that his dad has told him to use the game and not let the game use him.
“He set a great standard just as a man outside of basketball,” Smith said. “As a person who grew up without a father, he’s been a great example of how to be a parent.”
For Smith, basketball has opened doors for him and given him the opportunity to attend college. One recent lesson the sport has taught him is how to control his emotions.
“Basketball has been a big part of my life, and there’s passion when you play,” he said. “Obviously you’re going to feel those emotions and they’re going to be very strong, but it’s just learning to give them attention and know they’re there and then use them correctly. Channel it. Let it out on the court.”
After he graduates, Smith hopes to take his basketball career as far as it can go and play professionally.
“And whenever it ends, just being accepting of that and knowing that it’s the next chapter of my life that I’m going to have to embark on,” he added.
Jacob Joe and Derrick Isaiah Joe
Joe shared that he and his brother are best friends and Facetime every day. It’s his brother who taught him to work hard, focus and put his mind to something. Joe is incredibly proud of his brother, too.
“It’s meant a lot to me, and it’s still hard to believe that it’s real that he made it because we used to talk about it as kids all the time,” he said.
Joe, who came to Newman because of a basketball scholarship and studies business management, added that basketball has always been the highlight in his and his brother’s life.
“Basketball has been the center point of my life, my entire life,” he said. “Growing up, me and my brother were always at the gym and had a court in our backyard. Some days our dad would just tell us to go out there and make a hundred shots or whatever.”
Joe hopes to one day follow in his big brother’s footsteps and play in the NBA before starting a business of his own.
Kyra Grimshaw and Jalen Brunson
Finally, Newman women’s basketball player Kyra Grimshaw’s cousin, Jalen Brunson, currently plays for the New York Knicks.
“It’s awesome that I have been able to watch him grow from when he just started playing ball to him now being a professional,” she said. “We both idolize our parents (his father and my mother, who are siblings). They both once were Division 1 and 2 basketball stars, and my uncle later played in the NBA himself.”
Grimshaw added, “So the love for the game has always run through the family, but it grew even more as Jalen and I followed in their footsteps and pushed each other in different ways to be the best we could be. It’s so exciting being there for one another as success shines.”
She shared that because she and her cousin play the same sport, it’s something they’ve always bonded over.
“It’s nice to have someone in my life who shares the same love for my sport and is at a much higher level,” Grimshaw said. “I can use him as an outlet for my mental and physical growth on and off the court. Whether it is him leading by example or a simple phone call to talk about anything ever needed.”
Outside of basketball, Grimshaw’s passionate about social work and is currently a graduate student in the field at Newman.
“After college, I want to continue my growth as a professional social worker and really dive into working with children,” she said. “But I also hope to find some way to give credit to the sport that has truly allowed me to get to this point, whether it may be running some clinics or even help with high school/travel basketball so I can be some sort of guidance to help young athletes reach the goals that I once had, too.”
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