October 22, 2009

Avery Bradley: UT's latest hoops supernova

Avery Bradley was interested in Texas before Texas was interested in him.

As the 2002-03 Longhorns were making their run to the Final Four, they were already - unwittingly - recruiting a 12-year-old kid who might take Texas to its next Final Four.


"Me and my family watched every single game of theirs in the tournament," said Bradley, the No. 1 recruit in the country last season who lived in Arlington, Texas, from 2001-04 before moving to Tacoma, Washington.

"That's when I knew I wanted to go to Texas. I had got a T.J. Ford jersey, and I had it on, and I still have it to this day. That's when Texas became my dream school."

Texas assistant basketball coach Chris Ogden lucked into the recruitment of Bradley by calling someone who used to coach Bradley in the state of Washington.

The coach told Ogden that Bradley had spent time in the state of Texas growing up and had always liked the Longhorns.

"I liked Texas before Texas liked me," Bradley said. "I just remember Coach (Rick) Barnes coming to see me for the first time. Everyone was like, 'The Texas coach is here. The Texas coach is here.' And I was excited Coach Barnes was there to see me. I didn't want to go anywhere else."

Now, Bradley, who figures to start for Texas this season at shooting guard and will play some point guard, talks to T.J. Ford all the time. They spent several days this summer at Cooley Pavilion - the UT basketball facility - going head to head.
Ford would give Bradley valuable advice.

"T.J. always tells me to slow down by looking before I make my moves," Bradley said. "In college, you have to think before you do things. In high school, you could just go by people, but it will be harder than that in college."


Bradley, who helped lead Findlay Prep to a 33-0 record last season and the mythical high school national title, may have to slow down a little bit on the defensive end as well. He always wants to pick up his man full-court and might reach - just a little.

"What you like about Avery is that he has one of those motors that run all the time," Rick Barnes said. "He is going at 'go.' And like all of our guys, he really wants to be coached. Maybe to a fault. He really wants to please you on every play. He can go forever.

"He is going to have to learn to slow down a bit and play as hard as he plays without fouling. I think he will be one of those guys who will grow quickly. He gives you want you want - 100 percent effort on both ends of the court, which makes him a great asset."


Barnes said no one has ever improved as much from oral commitment to arrival on campus like Bradley. There is already speculation he could be a one-and-done player.

"He is further along defensively than anybody we have ever had," Barnes said. "He is going to have to adjust because he is going to get into some foul trouble. His nature is to climb up in you as soon as he can and stay glued to you.

"One thing he will have to fix is that he reaches too much. He will get burnt by that in college. He just needs a little discipline to his game defensively. Some of it we don't want to take away because he is just naturally a guy who has this tremendous ability to force the man he's guarding to turn their back and play with their back to the basket."


Last season at Findlay, Bradley averaged 19.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.9 steals per game while converting 54 percent from the field. His new Texas teammates already to talk about him with reverence. Even the veterans.

"With what Avery brings on the defensive end, we'll be able to get after people a lot better," said senior guard Justin Mason. "His on-the-ball defense is unlike anything I've ever seen. Once he applies what he's learned with Coach Todd (Wright) to in-game situations, I think he'll be one of the best defensive players in the country."


Transfer point guard Jai Lucas, who will be eligible on Dec. 15, said what stands about Bradley is his work ethic.

"He works hard every day," Lucas said. "Even when no one is in the gym looking, he's still in there working, and I think that's what takes him over the top. A lot of people are gifted athletically and can run and jump. But he really takes the time to get himself better.

"Defensively, he's probably one of the best defenders I've seen since I've played basketball. He's able to stay in front of anybody because of his speed and strength."


Senior forward Damion James said he now sees why Bradley won the dunk contest at the McDonald's All-American Game. Bradley, who is listed at Texas as 6-2, 180 pounds, has a 40-inch vertical jump.

"He's so explosive. It's crazy how fast he gets up off the ground when he goes up for a dunk," James said. "I've never seen a guy who has so many put-back dunks being at 6-3. He's throwing down put-back dunks like me and Dex (Pittman) do, and he's four inches shorter.

"Then, just the way he plays defense. He just takes that on as a challenge. He wants to pick up full-court and pressure guys and just get into him. And that just by itself is going to get Avery a long way because he's young."


Bradley says the desire to play defense has been inside him since he was a little kid.

"My mom says that's what she remembers most about me on the court from the time I was a little kid, is that I loved to play defense," Bradley said. "For me, it was a way to stay on the court. I just wanted to show I'm always going to work hard, even if I'm tired, no matter what."

Bradley said his mentality when guarding the ball is, "I'm going to shut you down. I'm looking to take it."


His teammates say Bradley's work ethic is contagious. Bradley said it was reinforced by a meeting with Michael Jordan at last year's Jordan All-American Classic for high school all-stars.

"He told us he was always the hardest worker and that he worked hard all the time because you never know who is watching," Bradley said. "He said it could be the first time for somebody to watch him, and he wanted everyone to know he was good because every time he played, he played as hard as he could."


Bradley said the veteran players on the team have taken a talented group of newcomers (Bradley, Jordan Hamilton, Shawn Williams and J'Covan Brown) under their tutelage.

"Justin (Masonn) helps me every day," Bradley said. "Every time I have a question when coach is talking and things are moving fast, I always go to Justin. He really helps me be more mature. Coaches don't have to tell me more than once because Justin helps me out.

"Our teammates push us. Me and Mace (Justin Mason) push each other because we want to make everyone on the team pick up their intensity level to ours and work as hard as we do on the defensive end and offensive end."


It's possible Bradley's arrival could cut into the minutes of several veterans, including Mason's.

Said Mason, "I just want to help win a national title. No one is worried about minutes. If we don't work together and get our young guys as good as they can be, we have no chance to reach our goals."

Added Bradley, "I just take that as being brothers, and it doesn't matter who's starting or playing - we just want to win.

"Some people are going to come into practice after a hard day and be down, but we're always going to lift each other up because we're brothers and hang out together outside the basketball court and on. The freshmen hang out together all the time. We're like best friends."


T.J. Ford told Bradley to slow down the pace of his game at times. Kevin Durant told Bradley to keep working hard.

"Kevin told me to always work harder than everyone else," Bradley.

Bradley made it clear he got the message with the number he chose to wear for the Longhorns.

"I picked to wear No. 0 because it's different and it's like a new start for me because I'm in college," Bradley said. "I felt like I need to prove myself again because it's like a whole new beginning for me."

Bradley's new beginning and electric play could mean big things for the Longhorns - his childhood dream team.

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