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Saturday, Jan 22, 2022

Friends, family say Bryan left powerful legacy

Jibri Bryan goes up against a defender in the Bears' game against the Chattanooga Mocs, February 2015.
Jibri Bryan goes up against a defender in the Bears' game against the Chattanooga Mocs, February 2015.

Whenever Jibri Bryan jumped above the rim in Hawkins Arena, the stadium lights would almost form a halo around his 6-foot-4 frame.

The sixth-year senior will never step foot on the court again. He was tragically shot and killed on Feb. 2 at the Flash Foods gas station on the corner of Forsyth and College streets.

Bryan had many titles in his life: basketball player, student, graduate, son, brother and boyfriend. The one title that Bryan seemed to take the most pride in was father. He had a two-year-old son, Jibri Jr.

“If you knew Jibri, you knew the most important thing in the world was his son,” said Matt Panaggio, Bryan’s former teammate who transferred to Henderson State University in Arkansas.

‘What’s up, little man?’

Bryan was not able to be around his son as much due to the strains of being a college athlete enrolled in a master’s program.

"He hated that he couldn't spend as much time with his son because he was at school," Bryan's girlfriend Nia Jordan said. "Because he wasn't there all the time he still wanted to maintain that relationship. That was his number one priority."

Many days Bryan would make the two and half hour drive to Savannah, Georgia down I-16 to see his son.

"Whenever we had free time [or] a day off — they could give us an hour off — he was going home to see little Jibri," teammate Jestin Lewis said. "He would say 'I'm gonna go see little man.’”

When Bryan did not have time to visit, he was in constant contact. He used FaceTime to see his son on a daily basis.

"He was always on FaceTime with him. He was always saying 'What's up, little man? Say what's up,' telling him to say what’s up to the team," Lewis said. "He just used to always smile when he got on FaceTime with his son."

At one point, Bryan contemplated not coming back for his sixth and final season. Jordan said that he told her he was missing all of his son’s childhood milestones.

Teammate Desmond Ringer said that Bryan was someone that the rest of the team looked up to based on his fatherly skills.

“As a father he set an example, outside of my own father, with how I want to treat my kids,” Ringer said.

[pullquote speaker="Desmond Ringer, teammate" photo="" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]As a father he set an example, outside of my own father, with how I want to treat my kids.[/pullquote]

Bryan had a strong relationship with his family. They often drove up to see him play home games, bringing Jibri Jr.

"His family was everything to him. They were so supportive,” Jordan said.

Growing up in Savannah, Bryan used basketball as a way to secure his future and stay off of the streets.

"He said all the people he grew up with either ended up dying or in jail,” Jordan said. “He said basketball saved him because he got a full scholarship to Mercer."

Books and Ball

At the age of 9, Bryan was playing organized basketball in a league with 11- and 12-year-olds.

He reached high school and was a stand out at Benedictine Military School in Savannah. His accolades included being named to the all-state team as well as being two-time team MVP.

Books and Ball, these two words make up Bryan’s Instagram and Twitter handles. Each was a priority in his life from an early age and only became more important once he became a father. He looked at both education and basketball as avenues of providing for his son.

“It's funny because he didn't really like school. Basketball was the reason he was here,” Jordan said. “But once he had a son, it put everything into perspective.”

Bryan was three classes away from finishing his master’s degree in business.

“He said he really had to get this master’s degree for his grandma,” Jordan said.

‘My favorite dancer with the beautiful smile’

Bryan met Jordan through his teammate Desmond Ringer. Ringer and Jordan attend the same church. Bryan began badgering Ringer about his friend all while Jordan was doing the same.

“Every time I would be with [Jibri], he would ask me about Nia,” Ringer said. “I would tell him ‘Yeah, she is cool. Go talk to her.’ And she would ask me about him, and I would say ‘Yeah, he is cool. Go talk to him.’”

Bryan developed a relationship with Jordan, a member of the Mercer dance team, often referring to her as “my favorite dancer with the beautiful smile,” Jordan said.

[pullquote speaker="Nia Jordan" photo="" align="right" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]You don’t find too many people like that. I know that I will never find anyone else like that. That’s the crazy part.[/pullquote]

“He loved that girl for real,” Ringer said. The two became very close and Bryan would spend all of his time split between the team, Jordan and his son.

“He hung out with me, he hung out with Des[Ringer] and Tu[Lewis] or he was playing basketball,” Jordan said. “Or he was talking to his son. He called him every morning, at lunch and at night.”

As a boyfriend, Jordan said he was “caring and genuine.”

“You don’t find too many people like that. I know that I will never find anyone else like that. That’s the crazy part,” Jordan said.

Five knee surgeries in six years

On the court at Mercer, Bryan was plagued by injuries. After redshirting his freshman year, Bryan took the floor in his second season. Six games into the year, he sustained a knee injury that forced him to take a medical redshirt. His return to the court in his third year was still hampered by injuries, but he saw action in almost half of Mercer’s games.

Once healthy, Bryan showed that he could be a leader on the court. He played in 71 games in a row over the course of the last two seasons and started in 35 of them. He returned for his last season, but early on his knees began to give him trouble again.

“He had all those surgeries, and he was struggling to play with the pain in his knees. But he never wanted to stop,” Jordan said.

She said that he had five knee surgeries in six years and still wanted to play basketball.

Early this season Bryan felt the pain return and was forced to undergo another knee surgery. At times it felt like he might not return to the court . When he was ready to return, he decided that he did not want to start — even though it was his senior year.

“As a senior to give up your starting spot to a sophomore shows how real of a dude he was. He was all about the team,” Lewis said.

Nothing short of brotherhood

His time spent with teammates normally consisted of playing NBA 2K. Bryan was very competitive.

“He always swore the whole room was against him because he was the best,” said former teammate TJ Hallice.

Ringer said his favorite memory of Bryan was going places with him. One of the frequent stops was Church’s chicken.

“We used to go to Church’s every Wednesday. And we used to see people in there, and he would always crack a joke,” Ringer said. “Every moment was funny. Every moment with him was my favorite.”

[pullquote speaker="TJ Hallice, former teammate" photo="" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]I miss everything about him so much. That was my brother, and I’ll never forget him.[/pullquote]

Bryan’s success was an inspiration to those in his hometown and his family.

“I’ve been talking to his cousins, and they always said that he was the pride of the family. He led by example, and everyone wanted to be like him. Everybody loved him down there in Savannah,” Lewis said.

His relationship with his teammates was nothing short of brotherhood.

“He was a great teammate and brother,” Hallice said. “I can’t say what the biggest thing I will miss because I miss everything about him so much. That was my brother, and I’ll never forget him.”

Bryan leaves behind people who cared about him. He also leaves behind a legacy.

“He wanted to leave a legacy for his son,” Jordan said. “I don’t think he realized that he had already done that. Just by being the type of person that he was. He left a legacy in 23 years that most don’t leave in 80.”


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