A Masterpiece in the Paint
Feb. 15, 2001
By: Jonathan Gust, Villanova Media Relations
Born and raised in Worchester, Mass., less than 50 miles outside of Boston, Villanova junior Michael Bradley grew up a Celtics fan, watching legends like Larry Bird and Kevin McHale run up and down the parquet floor of the Boston Garden. The Bradley's were a basketball family with a court in their backyard and a dinner table lingo that often revolved around the game they all loved. Michael's father David Sr. played basketball at Fairfield University, and he helped teach his sons, Michael and David Jr., about the game he grew to love.
"I started playing ball when I was about four or five," said Michael Bradley. "My brother and I played in a YMCA league, and my dad actually coached us until I was about 12."
Despite playing college ball and coaching at both the junior college and high school levels, the elder Bradley never pushed either of his sons to play basketball.
"Basketball was always my choice," said Bradley. "I was never pushed into basketball or forced to play. I just picked it up from them (my father and my brother) and my love for the game grew."
As his love for the game grew, so did Bradley. When he arrived at Burncoat High School as a freshman, he already stood tall at 6-7. Bradley played sparingly for the Burncoat High varsity squad early on in his freshman campaign, but went on to earn the starting nod for the final 10 games of the year. From that point forward, he was Burncoat's starting center, as well as their center of attention. Bradley grew an inch a year at Burncoat, and looked down at opponents from a 6-10 frame by the time he was a senior.
"My freshman year, I didn't really play early on," said Bradley. "We only played a 20-game season, and I was on the bench for the first 10 games. But then something happened, an injury or whatever, and I got the chance to start. I never came out of the lineup from that point on."
Bradley's senior season was the apex of a continued development, as he averaged 35.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 4.9 blocks per game. He was named the Gatorade Player of the Year, Mr. Basketball in the State of Massachusetts, and Gatorade's Northeast Player of the Year, following a senior campaign that saw him lead his team into the state championship game. Bradley would leave Burncoat scoring 2,444 points and pulling down 1,020 rebounds.
Bradley was recruited some of the nation's best college programs. He seemed all but set to attend school at nearby Boston College and play for coach Jim O'Brien, but unforeseen circumstances at the school changed his mind and sent him packing for Kentucky to play for head coach Rick Pitino.
"Back then it was touch, looking back on it now," said Bradley. "I don't dwell on the past. Everything has worked out well now. I originally wanted to go to B.C., but a lot of stuff happened there, and I ended up at Kentucky."
Bradley played in 32 games as a freshman at Kentucky, averaging 2.4 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over seven minutes per game. He would go on to be a key contributor in the `Cats' NCAA run, playing in five of the team's six tournament games, and helping lead Kentucky to a NCAA title.
Bradley returned as the team's starting center as a sophomore in 1997-98. He established a new school record for field goal percentage in a season (657), finishing the season with averages of 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Bradley never the found his desired role in the team's offensive scheme, however, and decided a change was needed.
"Kentucky was fine for the first few years, but towards the end of the second year, I just didn't feel I was getting the most out of the situation," said Bradley. "I wasn't really enjoying playing basketball and I just felt it was time for a change."
The change for Bradley came down to playing for Ohio State, and former B.C. head coach Jim O'Brien, and Villanova and its head coach Steve Lappas.
"It was really hard," said Bradley. "I am really close with coach O'Brien and coach Lappas. I knew I wanted to play for one of them, but I couldn't make up my mind. I went and forth every day. It basically came down to my relationship with coach Lappas, and the fact that I wanted to be a little closer to home."
Having to sit out the season following a transfer is a situation that would have be frustrating to an ordinary player, but Bradley is far from ordinary. He made the most of the situation, spending all of his extra time in the gym and on the court.
"It wasn't frustrating," said Bradley. "I don't really let too many things frustrate me. I'm a pretty easy-going guy. Obviously I would have liked to play last year and try to help the team get to the tournament. But everything worked out for the better."
Bradley entered the 2000-01 season on a mission, looking to show Villanova, the Big East Conference, and the nation what he was capable of. He found immediate success on the Main Line, filling up the boxscore nightly. He displayed the passing skills of a point guard, the three-point range of a shooting guard, and the inside game of a dominant big-man.
Through the Wildcats' first 23 games of the season, a stretch that saw Villanova post a 15-8 record, Bradley averaged over 22 points and close to 10 rebounds a game. Shooting just under 70 percent from the field, he is leading the nation in field goal percentage, and is on pace to break Ed Pinckney's school record for field goal percentage in a season set in 1981-82.
If Bradley is able to average double figures in scoring and rebounding for the season, he will become one of only a select few in Villanova history to do so. Already owning 10 double-doubles on the year, he has led the Wildcats in scoring in 19 of the team's 23 games, and in rebounding 17 times.
Bradley's passing skills and three-point range are his most surprising attributes- skills that are found few and far between in players his size. His all-around game and surplus of talents are comparable to those of the players he grew up watching and admiring...Bird and McHale.
"I never would say `I want to do this like him', but I learned a lot just from watching those great teams that the Celtics had back in the day," said Bradley. "I was lucky because I was at the tale end of when the Celtics were good and I was able to remember what it was like even to this day. I learned some post moves from McHale just watching him do his thing, and Bird, I always liked how he passed the ball and shot it. I just tried to pick up a few things from each of them."
Those who haven't seen Bradley play would say that comparisons such as these are unrealistic to make between a college player and two NBA greats. But just looking at Bradley's numbers for his first 21 games as a Wildcat, 22.2 ppg., 9.5 rpg, 2.7 apg., 1.7 bpg., display one hard fact- he can do it all and no one to this point has been able to stop him.
"It's been fun just getting back on the court," said Bradley. "I had a lot of expectations for myself. I knew I worked really hard last year and I knew what I had in me. So far I have played like I expected, but I still think I can do a lot more."
Bradley attributes many of his skills on the court to practice and repetition, and he sincerely believes that with every game Villanova plays, both him and the Wildcats will continue to get better.
"I want to get back to the NCAA Tournament and try to go as far as I can," said Bradley. "That's the ultimate goal, winning another NCAA Championship. But we have to be realistic and take it step by step. First we have to make it to the tournament. I think that would be a good accomplishment. We're really young and half the guys on this team haven't even tasted the NCAA Tournament. I think for the first step, making the tournament would be really good. Hopefully we can accomplish that this year, and then next year go a little further."