One now zero as Bradley begins career
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- OK, so technically his number wasn't available, seeing how it's hanging in the rafters at the Erwin Events Center on the University of Texas campus.
Still, Avery Bradley could have asked for any old number or waited until he arrived at UT and taken what the equipment staff handed him.
Instead the freshman -- who wore No. 11 in his high school days at Bellarmine Prep and Findlay Prep, the same digits sported and since retired by his longtime Longhorns hero, T.J. Ford -- picked up the phone this summer and made a request:
"I told them I wanted to wear zero,'' he said. "To me, this is a fresh start. High school doesn't matter. It's over. There are no more rankings, any of that. I have to prove myself all over again, so that's why I wanted to start at zero. Start at the beginning.''
Imagine that. No sense of entitlement or grandiosity, two feet planted firmly in Austin and not halfway in the NBA.
You ask Bradley, who many figure for a one-and-done, if he thinks about his future and he sheepishly says, "People tell me I have potential, but until I go out there and prove it, what people say or think about me doesn't matter.''
There's a word for kids like Bradley.
In a sad testimony to the state of the game today, that word is throwback.
"The thing about Avery, he doesn't come in here thinking he knows everything,'' Texas coach Rick Barnes said during the recent Big 12 media day in Kansas City. "He came in here this summer to work out with Kevin [Durant] and Justin Mason and he was like a little puppy, following them around. He's just got it figured out.''
Bradley comes to Texas as perhaps the quietest top prospect in recent memory. While many of his 2009 classmates turned recruiting into a soap opera -- waffling in their commitments or flat-out reneging, staggering through the multistep process of the NCAA clearinghouse or letting their proud papas make noise in the papers -- Bradley gave his verbal to the Longhorns in September 2008. Then he just played basketball.
No drama, no hijinks, just hoops.
But as the college season dawns, Bradley is ready for his close-up. With a ridiculously deep roster, Barnes said his freshman will earn one of the coveted starting spots.
Because as much as the new kid likes to defer to his elders, he can outplay almost all of them.
Bradley averaged 19.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.9 steals as Findlay Prep went undefeated last season. It earned him a spot as a McDonald's and Jordan All-American, as well as the No. 1 spot in the ESPNU 100 rankings of the Class of 2009.
But what separates Bradley at this stage isn't his offense. Everyone can score.
It's his defense.
Most teenagers treat that end of the floor with the same giddiness they muster for geometry homework. Not Bradley.
"What Avery loves to do as much as any player that I've been around in a long time is really get into the offensive player and belly up to him,'' Barnes said. "He's probably got to get a little defensive discipline, where he doesn't just take off and try to do something on his own and maybe give up a 3-point shot and he has to work on his close-outs. But once he gets there, he can really guard you.''
Bradley grew up in Arlington, Texas, before moving with his family to Tacoma, Wash., before eighth grade. Necessity and available cable packages turned him into a Pac-10 hoops fan, but his heart remained in the Lone Star State. The same T.J. Ford poster that adorned Bradley's wall in Arlington hung in his Pacific Northwest bedroom.
The Longhorns sent Bradley a generic recruiting letter during his sophomore season, but didn't really get after the guard until much later.
They weren't alone. Bradley was barely a top-100 player before his junior season.
And then, to use the basketball vernacular, Bradley "blew up." With a great spring and an even better summer, Bradley's stock rose from a mid-50s ranking all the way to eighth by the time his senior year began.
"I've never seen a guy get that much better in such a short period of time,'' Barnes said.
By then, Texas had well ingratiated itself with Bradley, closing the deal before he began at Findlay Prep and before he took over the top spot in the class.
Bradley came home to Texas this summer, enrolling in summer school and working out with Durant and other Longhorns alums.
"It was weird at first,'' Bradley said of playing with Durant. "But after a while I kind of got used to it. I loosened up around him.''
But if the Horns, tabbed No. 3 in both the preseason polls (AP and coaches), are going to live up to their lofty expectations, Bradley is going to have to shake his deferential attitude soon.
Barnes said as much as he admires and appreciates his rookie's respect for the team's upperclassmen, he also needs Bradley to do what he does best: play.
"There's going to have to come a point where he's going to just have to let it go and be who he is,'' Barnes said.
That won't be easy to do. This isn't a kid prone to arrogance.
Don't misunderstand. He knows he's good. He just doesn't exactly realize what that means.
Now on the cusp of donning burnt orange for the first time, Bradley said he hadn't considered the full circle twist of fate -- that this year, perhaps some kid in Texas will hang an Avery Bradley poster on his wall just as Bradley once tacked up Ford.
"Wow, I never even thought of that,'' he said. "If I could make that kind of impact on someone, man, that would be amazing.''
Maybe even amazing enough to warrant a number change?
"Yeah, maybe,'' he laughed. "Maybe next year I'll wear No. 10.''
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com.
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