DECATUR - Tarise Bryson can't seem to get comfortable.

Since his career at Illinois State ended, Bryson - a Stephen Decatur High School graduate - has been a basketball drifter. His stops have included Yugoslavia, Venezuela, Florence, S.C. and a tour with the Harlem Globetrotters. All have been short in duration and satisfaction.

"I haven't been in a situation yet where I've felt like it was going to fit me," said Bryson, who will play in today's 3-on-3 Hoop-Fest in downtown Decatur. "Now, I've got to the point where you got to start at the bottom to make it to the top."

Bryson, whose college career included a 41-point explosion against Central Michigan, 40 points against Miami (Fla.) and 38 points against Purdue, was the 2001 Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year. He was on many NBA scouts' radars entering his senior year at ISU - a season that never materialized.

In ISU's opener against Weber State, the 6-foot-1 dynamo broke his wrist and was shelved for the season. After a lengthy NCAA inquiry into his eligibility, Bryson was denied the chance to make up the season. It would have been his sixth year at ISU, but the school argued that a misdiagnosed learning disability was to blame for his initial ineligibility.

Bill Neff, Bryson's New York-based agent, said the abrupt end to Bryson's college career cost him valuable exposure and momentum.

"Tarise is so far down in the totem pole now," Neff said. "He's hungry, but it's very hard to climb it. They don't give you a lot of chances."

"Basketball means everything to Tarise, and that was taken away by the injury," said Tom Richardson, Bryson's head coach at ISU and current Vanderbilt assistant. "That's bad enough.

"Then, when the NCAA makes a decision that's so wrong and so unjust, it's a shock to the system. Anyone would have a hard time dealing with that, especially a young man whose whole life is centered on basketball."

A serious car accident set Bryson back further, but he rebounded. Just not in the way he envisioned.

Most recently, Bryson left the Florence team in the United States Basketball League because the franchise was on the brink of folding and he had an injured ankle. He wasn't content in either of his overseas ventures.

Even a three-week tour with the Globetrotters didn't put a smile on his face. Bryson was eager to showcase his skills. The Globetrotters - surprise, surprise - were more into messing around.

"It was a lot of guys whose careers were over with just wanting to make money," Bryson said.

Bryson said the highlight of his career was high-caliber workouts in California leading up to a tryout with the Sacramento Kings, where he played alongside Chris Webber and Bobby Jackson.

Neff theorized that much of Bryson's trouble stems from difficulty adjusting to new surroundings. Bryson said he's also had "a lot of personal setbacks" that he declined to specify.

"He just gets antsy when he's not in his neck of the woods," Neff said. "I'm telling you, Decatur is like New York City to him. Decatur must be a nice place."

Bryson, 25, said he no longer has much of a soft spot for home. He's discovered many of his old friends aren't so loyal now that his career has lost steam.

"When it boils down to it, they don't really care about you," Bryson said. "They just care about what you're doing at that present moment."

Bryson said nobody has told him he isn't good enough, but thinks his attitude hasn't done him favors. He originally couldn't accept having to start from scratch after so much success in college, but believes he's learned from the hardships.

"There are guys in the NBA that I'm pretty sure I'm better than or just as good as, but they're in the NBA because they kept focused and they had their chance," Bryson said. "I'm hoping to just stay positive and hope my chance will come."

Bryson eyes a future coaching career, but plans to chase his playing ambitions a few years longer. He won't be picky about his next destination.

"Anything's better than just sitting in Decatur and playing cards with your friends," Bryson said. "At first, I didn't think that. Now, I know that. When you have time on your hands, it's trouble around here."

Kita Jones, organizer of the Hoop-Fest, predicts Bryson will ultimately shove aside his struggles.

"He's a strong-minded person," Jones said. "Just when you think he's down and out, he's going to come at you."

Bryson, who played on the victorious team last year, will team with fellow Stephen Decatur product Mike Wilder in the tournament. He looks forward to battling some local rivals, scheduled to include Decatur native Rodney Walker, former DePaul players David Booth and Howard Nathan, ex-Illini Victor Chukwudebe and potentially Brian Cook and Jerrance Howard.

"This tournament is basically everybody trying to prove a point, see who's better than who," said a grinning Bryson.

Afterward, he'll keep trying to prove his point. And find a place he can be happy.

Jay Schwab can be reached at jschwab@; or 421-7971.

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