Colin Bryant ’15

Sometimes dreams change. For alumnus Colin Bryant, his dreams of a pro basketball career were dashed by an injury. But now Bryant is a highly successful sports agent and executive, who not only helps college basketball players go on to play professionally, he also prepares them for life.

Colin Bryant and Antonio Daniels at their high school graduation

Helping young people succeed is Bryant’s mission in his career and in his life. Bryant earned his Master of Business Administration degree with a specialization in sport business in 2015, fulfilling a promise to his parents. He left college as an undergraduate to help his friend, NBA broadcaster and former player Antonio Daniels, when Daniels was drafted by the then-Vancouver Grizzlies. With that experience, he became a certified sports agent, but he also completed his degrees.

Bryant and Daniels were childhood friends growing up in Columbus, Ohio, playing basketball at St. Francis DeSales High School, a Catholic school in Columbus. “Growing up in Columbus, Antonio was my best friend,” Bryant said. “We played all the time with dreams of going to the NBA. We were on track for our dreams to come true.”

Bryant played basketball for California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Both skilled players, Daniels earned a scholarship to Bowling Green State University in Ohio, while Bryant earned a full-ride basketball scholarship to California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. But Bryant’s dream was derailed by a hip injury and a broken jaw his senior year at Cal Poly. “At the time, I was maybe a year shy of getting my degree,” he said.

Instead, Daniels was selected by the Vancouver Grizzlies with the fourth overall pick of the 1997 NBA draft. It was for Bryant, the “opportunity of a lifetime to help him. He wanted me to come.”

Daniels, now the color analyst for the New Orleans Pelicans, said he has been through “heaven and hell” with Bryant. “The Lord has blessed us to evolve together inside each other’s lives,” Daniels said.

Bryant accompanied high school friend, Antonio Daniels to Vancouver and became a sports agent.

Bryant dropped out of Cal Poly and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, accompanying his friend. “He signed a three-year, $8 million contract,” Bryant said of Daniels. “We were 22 years old, and off to fend for ourselves.”

While Daniels had one of the top sports agents at the time, he did not receive attention, and Bryant took over that role. He began marketing Daniels, and thought, “‘this could be something that I could do.’”

By end of the rookie year, Daniels was traded to the San Antonio Spurs in Texas. “That was a blessing in disguise for both of us,” Bryant said. “He went from the worst team in the league to winning the 1999 NBA championship.”

Bryant learned the business of the NBA from Spurs management and players, including Gregg Popovich, R.C. Buford, David Robinson, and Tim Duncan, and he eventually was certified as an NBA agent.

But Bryant never forgot the promise he made to his mother and father about completing his degree. He said, “Although I was practicing in the industry, I made it a priority to pursue my education.”

He enrolled at the University of Texas-San Antonio and completed a semester. Then Daniels was traded to the Portland Trailblazers. Due to the rigors of his career and travel schedule, it was impossible to be in the classroom, so Bryant decided to focus on his blossoming career. During this time, he signed more players, including Raymond Felton, Damian Wilkins, Acie Law, and his biggest client Rashard Lewis, whom he negotiated a $100 million-plus deal with the Orlando Magic.

“But through it all, that promise I made and the desire to get a degree was always on my mind. I felt empty,” Bryant said. “Although, I was achieving at a high level, I knew I could do so much more.”

Bryant and his daughter, Bella

In 2011 he was inspired by the birth of his daughter Bella. “I took my role as a father seriously,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a hypocrite and push education when I hadn’t completed my degree. I wanted to be someone she  could look up to.”

As online education became more prevalent, Bryant completed his degree in management from the University of Phoenix. “But I had a thirst for more knowledge,” Bryant said. “I became more comfortable with online learning and better appreciated the value in the convenience that it afforded me. I had the hands-on experience [as a sports agent], but I wanted to add technical knowledge, case studies, and I was looking for the best school to attend.” He was impressed by Saint Leo’s curriculum, and the enrollment process was easy, but it was a busy time in his career and life.

Miami Heat’s Rashard Lewis and Bryant at the 2013 NBA National Championship

At the time, Lewis was playing for the Miami Heat with Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. “I was studying on airplanes, in hotels, after games, and anywhere I could,” Bryant said of his Saint Leo studies. “I was a young father with a lot of responsibility, but I was committed to my studies at Saint Leo. I had late nights and early mornings. But I also had the support from my teachers and classmates. It was the community that I needed to fulfill my dreams.”

Bryant understood that earning his MBA with a sport business specialization was a way to sharpen his blade, add skills, and meet personal goals. “It makes me more efficient as an agent, a businessman, and an entrepreneur,” he said.

He completed his last 40-page paper after attending the NBA draft, rushing back to his hotel to finish it. “I earned this degree!” he said. “I have achieved a lot, but this was one achievement that I hold close to my heart and that brings me a strong sense of pride. I framed my degree right away.”

Bryant earned his MBA-sport business degree from Saint Leo.

Bryant said Saint Leo improved his skills in communicating online with people around the world and working with others in business settings. “It was preparing me for pandemic life, five years later,” he said with a laugh. “I was connecting with people all over the world. I’m glad I got a chance to do it later in life and appreciate the information I learned. It helped to further develop my 40-year-old executive mindset.”

Daniels said Bryant’s greatest attributes are his work ethic and attitude. “Even though things have not always gone his way, he has not stopped working,” the NBA broadcaster said. “Most people would quit. He has bent, but he has never broken.”

Bryant working as an agent.

Now, Bryant is the president of Max Deal Sports, a full-service sports management firm in Houston, Texas. In his role, he helps players navigate the world of professional basketball, preparing them for futures on and off the court. He talks to players and tells them it’s never too late to complete their degrees. “Basketball has an expiration date,” Bryant said. “You have to prepare for life after.”

He cites some of the players he represents, who have earned their degrees including Aric Holman (Mississippi State), Jordan Bone (Tennessee), and Jordan Bowden (Tennessee). He also represents Simi Shittu, who left Vanderbilt University after his freshmen year and is in the process of finishing his degree while playing professional basketball in Israel.
He gives back to the community by coaching Bella’s team and hosting a summer youth basketball camp with Daniels.

Bryant hosting a summer youth basketball camp.

Bryant gives back to his community and focuses on the next generation by coaching his daughter’s sports teams, operating a youth basketball camp that he and Daniels created in San Antonio 20 years ago, and he is establishing a foundation to help urban city youth understand the importance of education while pursuing athletics.

A new center launched by Saint Leo University is helping learners of all backgrounds.

Saint Leo opened the Center for Alternative Pathway Programs during the summer in a digital space housed on the university website. The center aspires to be an educational provider of choice, focused on addressing the continuing education needs of the current workforce. While the center offers programs unlike those found in a traditional university experience, it was started in the same spirit that motivated the founders of the university more than a century ago: to fulfill the needs of prospective learners.

What makes the center distinct is its speed and flexibility. It operates apart from the academic colleges that each create degree programs that require longer periods of committed study, and it pivots more easily to meet marketplace needs. The center also helps individuals meet challenges that will arise at certain points in their careers.

People who have completed some level of formal education or workplace training still find, on a regular basis, that they need to learn new techniques, business processes, or programs, or revisit material, explained Dr. Cindy Lee, director of the Center for Alternative Pathway Programs. This happens because applied practices and knowledge for work environments now become outdated quickly, in as little as four years, Lee said. Additionally, disruptions in the economy can force people to look for new work requiring new skill sets, as the recession created by the novel coronavirus has done.  

“Naturally, we didn’t expect the pandemic and resulting economic damage when we started the center,” Lee said. “But we hope any alumni who find they could use new skills will turn to our programs to see if we might meet their needs.”

The Age of Upskilling

Those looking for new work, those trying to advance in their careers, and adults who are simply interested in new areas of knowledge are all candidates who should consider “upskilling” through the Center for Alternative Pathway Programs, according to Lee.

The array of course offerings available through the center is already broad. Instruction in so-called soft skills—such as effective writing, public speaking, or overall workplace communications skills—is available because so many business owners and executives complain that those capabilities are often lacking in employees and potential new hires. 

Hard skills are offered as well, such as statistical process control and various computer programs and robotics. Data analytics and data visualization are among the more analytically-oriented skills that businesses want more employees to possess, Lee added.

Both hard and soft skills are desired in industry sectors across the contemporary economy. As prospective learners look through the center’s website, they will see next to the course information on the amount of time in hours or weeks courses are expected to take. The cost of each course is also clearly visible. Some courses offer certificates upon completion. Pricing is set on a course-by-course basis.

Micro-credentials are Another Alternative Path

An area of special interest to some learners will be the tier of center courses developed for those with some prior career experience or developed aptitude. These courses are more personalized to career fields, and the center awards micro-credentials to those who complete them.  

Some of the micro-credentials courses that fit this category are cognitive behavioral therapy skills for counselors; basic security management for law enforcement and military personnel who want to move into the private sector; and a suite of artificial intelligence (AI) training courses. A micro-credential offering is being developed for educators who want to become more adept at teaching reading in K-12 settings, and that draws upon the expertise of Saint Leo’s Graduate Education Department faculty.

When learners have completed their micro-credential, they are eligible to receive a digital “badge” from the university. Badges validate to employers and other interested parties the learners’ accomplishments. Since digital badges can be incorporated into online résumés and social media platforms, such as LinkedIn profiles, they can help the badge-earners set themselves apart in the workforce.

Helping Professionals Learn Additional Skills

Brittany Hahn ’15 completed her Master of Social Work degree with Saint Leo University recently, yet still was happy to find the Center for Alternative Pathway Programs was up and running. Hahn completed a micro-credential course on a therapy technique—cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) —that social workers and other types of counselors employ. CBT is described in professional literature as a form of talk therapy that helps a client change harmful thinking patterns and bad habits over time, and gradually become able to do so independently, without a therapist being present. Hahn respected the potential benefits and was eager to receive formal training in the approach.

“CBT is a well-established, evidenced-based therapy and considered a best practice for many disorders,” Hahn explained. So if she could find good training, she was confident she would become even more proficient as a social worker in a specialized hospital in suburban Tampa.

The six-week course required 90-minute, weekly online class meetings, and the content met her expectations. “I benefited from the small class size and felt like I received personalized instruction,” she said. Upon completion, she said she was “instantly able to implement the skills I learned from the course.”

Similarly, Jennifer Tillery said she found immediate benefit from the micro-credential she earned, though hers is from a beginning-level course in grantsmanship. She works in family support services for the Head Start agency in her area of north Florida, a position that entails working with other collaborative agencies that are often looking for new sources of funding. Coincidentally, Tillery has always loved to write and thought she could expand her skill set by learning grant writing, but specifically did not want to have to enroll in a degree program.

The five-week grantsmanship micro-credential, with weekly classes three hours long, fit the bill. Tillery said the instructor was very skilled at breaking down each concept so that the students attain a thorough understanding of the material, and also was available outside course hours. Tillery said she is motivated to take continuing grantsmanship courses if the center offers them. “I actually have three agencies that would like me to help get the process started of looking for grants,” she said.

Employers and Associations Can Ask for Customized Solutions

Even though new courses are under development, Lee said the center is looking for more ideas. She hopes alumni will recommend subject areas the center should be exploring.

The center will also deliver course instruction to particular workplaces or organizations, Lee noted, whether online or in-person, as conditions permit. In fact, the Center for Alternative Pathway Programs can create customized courses, Lee said, so that workplaces or work-related groups can be assured that the material presented meets the clients’ needs.

The center has already responded to changing, emergent conditions. Earlier this year, when people began to shelter in place as COVID-19 overtook the economy, University President Jeffrey Senese asked faculty to create some free, online enrichment courses to provide people with diversion and entertainment. A new spot was created on the center website for the mini-catalog of free courses, and people who were interested in offerings such as backyard birding or budget baking signed up using the center’s online registration capabilities.

None of that was in the initial plan for the center, but it does serve as proof of the center’s adaptability, said Dr. Mary Spoto, vice president of Academic Affairs. The center falls under her areas of responsibility.

The center also serves as an example of another theme that Saint Leo emphasizes: Learning should not stop after graduates earn their degrees, Spoto said.

“In the future, the Center for Alternative Pathway Programs will represent a much larger part of the institution,” she predicted. “We will have short-term instruction that can be very quick in responding to market needs and can be delivered on a one-course basis, or through short-term but sequential courses. Our new offerings for K-12 educators who want reading instruction is one example, and our credentials on cognitive behavior therapy for counselors is another. Our longer-term, academic degree programs will continue, of course, with the result that Saint Leo will be an institution that offers multiple ‘doors’ for people to enter and find the educational solution that best fits. We have always said that we want our students to be lifelong learners, and with a quickly evolving workforce of today, the need is greater than ever. Through the center, we are helping more people become true lifelong learners.”

For More Information

The Center for Alternative Pathway Programs is actively enrolling students. Saint Leo University alumni may also take advantage of a special 10 percent discount. To learn more, email micro@saintleo.edu or visit saintleo.edu/micro-credentials.

As I write this article, I’m sitting in my friend’s living room in Rio de Janeiro, where I studied as a high school exchange student five years ago. I’m back, 30 countries later, surrounded by familiar faces in the neighborhood that started my love for travel. But now I embrace my experience here from a totally different perspective.

My 2016 started off with no electricity during a citywide blackout in the interior of Brazil. Instead of celebrating the New Year, I was editing an interview my film crew conducted earlier that day with a journalist covering the mudslides that occurred near our city of Mariana, in the state of Minas Gerais. The reality of travel and working abroad is not simple, and it’s certainly not as easy as many people fantasize it to be. Working productively in constantly changing environments and political situations requires flexibility and adaptability, which is contrary to the stable conditions that most people believe are necessary to work effectively. However, regardless of the many inconveniences and surprises, this is the most rewarding kind of job I can imagine.

Invalid Displayed Gallery

In late November of last year, toxic mudslides from a burst dam at an iron ore mine contaminated three major rivers that are the water source for more than 250,000 people. They also killed thousands of fish and displaced hundreds of families. Recovery of the Rio Doce and its dependent environments is expected to take more than 30 years.

In situations such as I faced here in Brazil, where film and photography are the tools used to convey messages and address global issues, travel and education are synched. Inevitably, while traveling, the truths of injustice, crisis, and poverty are also brought to the surface in our lens. In many countries I have been pulled to crisis, and local issues surfacing, and facing the fundamentals of human injustice in conflict.

As an international hospitality and tourism major, I remember sitting in class during my freshman year when a guest speaker spoke about his work in the Peruvian Amazon. I followed this dream to the rain forest. What was conceived as a three-month summer internship turned into a six-month project that enabled me to learn how to analyze cultural issues and how tourism interacted with culture all over Peru. My internship allowed me to travel with a professional purpose, push myself to the best of my abilities, and learn the power of image in our visual world.

We are taught in our courses to follow our dreams, as our passions will push us to excel. My professors and advisors encouraged the idea that a true understanding of the world exists outside the classroom, and the best education we can have is experiencing it. The purpose of university is to teach us to succeed in the real world.

“I’ve been detained at borders. I have also heard stories and met people I will never forget who taught me what it means to be human in the context of saying ‘I love you’ and ‘cheers’ in 15 languages.”

— Erin Skoczylas ’16

Among my university courses were business strategies and languages. However, my most valuable lessons in photography and travel were gained outside the classroom. My financial skills came from learning how to budget my travels and bargain for vital goods and services. My language skills were attained when I forced myself to survive in a foreign environment.

I have sailed across the world, hitchhiked on two continents, slept in the port of Hong Kong, camped in deserts, in jungles, and on the sides of a highway. I’ve been detained at borders. I have also heard stories and met people I will never forget who taught me what it means to be a human in the context of saying “I love you” and “cheers” in 15 languages. Who’s to say that education is not learning to climb Machu Picchu on my own, watching the sunrise over the ancient temples of Bagan, or learning to ride a motorbike in India? These are moments when I challenged myself as a person, as a traveler, and as a photographer. They have led to the most extraordinary experiences, and my best photos are the ones I have taken when I put myself at greatest risk.

University is not only a time to invest in your education, but to invest in yourself as a person and develop the mental skills you need to build your career. I am now in my final semester, finishing my courses online. In the real world at last, I will be working and learning more about the wetlands of Brazil and then interning in Costa Rica. You’ll find me somewhere in a jungle, in the mountains, or on a beach with a camera.