Sports

Ramel Bradley hopes Israel leads to NBA

It's not often that someone uses the word "mayhem" in casual conversation. But former Kentucky standout Ramel Bradley did last week.

Bradley, who announced he had signed to play for a team in Israel next season, was listing the many problems that arose for his French professional team last season. The center, former Nevada star Nick Fazekas, broke an ankle. Another player quit. Another player died in a car accident. The team changed coaches.

"All mayhem broke out," he said.

When asked how he held up, Bradley said, "You know, my skin couldn't get any thicker after that experience."

Always irrepressible, Bradley came to consider the difficult season a "life lesson." He got a reminder, surely unneeded, about perseverance.

"If you don't give it your all and go after your dream," he said, "life really isn't worth living."

Bradley takes his evergreen dream of someday playing in the NBA to Israel next season. He signed a one-year contract to play for Maccabi Ashdod in the Israeli National League. Ashdod is a port city about 30 minutes from the capital of Tel Aviv.

He said he considered offers to play in Spain and Slovenia before deciding on Israel. A talk with players who had been in Israel eased his concerns about safety. Being told about the short bus trips in such a tiny country whetted his interest. A conversation with the coach made up Bradley's mind.

"For a couple years, he had been following my game," Bradley said. "He just had a lot of faith in me and what I can bring to the team."

In 2008-09, Bradley played for a team based in Zagreb, Croatia.

Playing for a team based in Dijon, France, last season ("Where the famous mustard comes from," he said), Bradley averaged 12 points. He also averaged a team-high 3.7 assists.

Even with that success, Bradley felt he was at a basketball crossroads. At 25, he had to take a sober look at his long-held dream of playing in the NBA.

So when he returned to this country, he sat down with his agent, Andy Miller, and "everyone around me." It was time for a frank assessment.

"We put it out there," he said. "Like, how realistic is it to sign an NBA contract?"

His agent said it was realistic. NBA teams were aware of Bradley. He needed a harmonic convergence of timing, momentum and opportunity.

Bradley wondered aloud if he should try to move to the NBA's Developmental League. His agent suggested Bradley post strong performances in the more lucrative market overseas.

Hanging over this discussion was Bradley's advanced basketball age and the possibility that he might not make it. How much longer should he pursue the dream of playing in the NBA?

"You know me," Bradley said. "I have the blood and the bone of a wolverine. I'm pretty strong mentally. I don't think that's a factor."

Bradley leaves Aug. 23 for Israel, where he hopes he can play well enough to spark interest from an NBA team. Having largely set aside his interest in performing rap, he'll take a single-minded attitude to Israel.

"By next year, I want to come back" as an NBA player, he said. "My dream is the (New Jersey) Nets move to Brooklyn and I sign with the Nets."

What convergence could be more harmonic than Bradley playing for a team in his beloved borough of Brooklyn?

UK fans can follow Bradley's career on his Web site, dreamsmooth.com. He also has a Twitter account on @dreamsmooth. "I want to keep people involved," he said. "You need the support."

Support is a two-way street. Rest assured that Bradley still follows Kentucky. He has a keen rooting interest in freshman Doron Lamb, a fellow New Yorker. But the Cats could be made up of players from parts unknown and be confident that Bradley would be live-streaming UK games on his computer.

"I'll never be unattached from the Kentucky program," he said.

'Not a scorer'

Whether a player accepts a role, especially when that role does not involve shooting and scoring, can make or break a team. In that regard, UK seems in good shape with DeAndre Liggins.

When asked what contributions Coach John Calipari wants from him, Liggins said, "I think it's still the same: rebounding and defense. If I do that, he's going to love me."

Liggins, who came to UK as a highly regarded prospect, accepted the role of defensive stopper and energy spark "from day one" of Calipari's arrival in 2009. Besides the addition of leadership duties, he does not expect his role to change this season.

"That's what I do," he said. "I'm not a big-time scorer. I defend, and I know my role."

Liggins said he worked on his ball-handling and shooting this summer. Apparently the work paid off as Calipari has noted the player's improved shooting.

"DeAndre's better than I would have projected when I saw him as a high school player," the UK coach said.

No comparison

Junior Darius Miller was asked to compare freshman point guard Brandon Knight with John Wall, who earlier this year became the first UK player to be selected with the first overall pick in the NBA Draft.

"They're way different," Miller said. "They have different games. They're both extremely talented, but they don't play the same at all."

When asked to elaborate, Miller said, "There's not too many John Walls running around here. He was a freakish athlete.

"Brandon gets it done a different way. Brandon shoots the ball extremely well. They're just different. You all will see it when he plays."

Rob Peter/pay Paul?

Fans being asked to pay more than three times as much for the right to buy tickets in the first four rows of Rupp Arena noticed an interesting factoid.

The settlement with former Coach Billy Gillispie required UK's Athletic Association to pay him $3.25 million, which includes $265,000 to cover his legal bills.

The revenue generated by higher basketball ticket prices is estimated at $3.65 million.

Silence is golden

Inevitably, conversations with three Canadians who will play against Kentucky this week turned to hockey, the national sport of Canada. For all three, hockey was their first sporting love.

Evan Matthews, a freshman forward for Windsor, said he started skating at 4 years old and played in a hockey league at 5.

"I played hockey all my life," he said. "Up until last season."

Ryan Barbeau, a point guard for Western Ontario, called hockey "my first sport."

Luke Braund, a forward for Western Ontario, said he started playing hockey at 5 and continued to play until 10th grade.

When asked why they gave up hockey, all three noted how parental interest in hockey led them to look for another sporting interest.

"Hockey had a lot of politics," Matthews said. "Parents were involved and wanted their sons to play more. (Playing time) was not based solely on performance. I just got fed up."

Barbeau said he "hated" the traveling involved in playing youth hockey. Then he added, "I didn't like the atmosphere. The parents were nuts."

When asked what he meant, Barbeau asked, "Have you ever seen a junior hockey league game here?"

Uh, no.

"Oh, the parents are absurd," he said. "They're yelling. They're swearing. It just got out of control. It's pretty nuts."

Braund said he came to love basketball more than hockey.

"There's something about getting in an empty gym, just you and a basketball," he said. "Say what you will, there's something magical about it that you can't find in hockey."

Freshmen debut

Windsor Coach Chris Oliver has several freshmen who will play their first college-level games this week. He found this thought intriguing.

"Hey, why not play it against Kentucky?" he said. "In front of 2,000 Kentucky fans. Great! How about that?"

Evan Matthews, one of those freshmen, said he expected many more Kentucky fans than Windsor fans in St. Denis Centre to watch the games.

Because his high school team was not highly regarded, Matthews said he became accustomed to small home crowds. "We had maybe 40 or 50 people," he said of the home attendance. An expected good game between, say, two high schools in Windsor might draw "maybe 100, 200 people," he said.

"So I enjoy going into a gym and have fans against us because I like the noise. I don't think it'll affect me. I just like noise and excitement."

Tickets available

University of Windsor spokesperson Elisa Mitton said that a few hundred tickets remained available for UK's games Monday and Tuesday in Canada. The Sunday game is a sellout.

The tickets can be bought at St. Denis Centre.

'Playing for love'

Western Ontario Coach Brad Campbell likened his school to the Ivy League. High academic standards. The noted Richard Ivy Business School. Athletics as recreation.

"A lot of guys, plain and simple, are playing for the love of it and love to compete," Campbell said.

Western Ontario played Ohio State last summer.

"I think we lost by 38," Campbell said before adding, "and to tell you the truth, I thought we played pretty well."

Todd the recruiter

The father of UK recruit Anthony Davis noted the role played by UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. in the commitment. The family met with Todd during its unofficial campus visit.

"He spoke to a lot of the questions my wife and I had," said the player's father, also named Anthony Davis.

Todd was reassuring enough answering academic questions that the elder Davis said, "Our heart is at ease."

'God's gift'

Anthony Davis, who committed to UK on Friday, has been most noted for the growth spurt he had as a high school junior. It catapulted him from unranked and largely unknown to top 10 in the class of 2011.

When asked how much his son grew ("7 or 8 inches") and to explain the spurt, the player's father said, "First of all, I can't explain it. ... I can't really tell you where it came from. It's God's gift."

Semantics

In announcing fans must pay more for ticket prices and make larger donations to the K Fund for priority seating, UK called it a price "adjustment" rather than a price "increase."

An "adjustment" sounds more wallet-friendly.

And noting how its Eligibility Center looks into questions about an athlete's eligibility, the NCAA calls this process a "review" rather than an "investigation."

An "investigation" connotes possible wrongdoing.

Congratulations

To former UK player Adrian Smith, who was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as part of the United States' 1960 Olympic basketball team.

His nickname of "Odie" originated from an act known as "Pap and Odie" that was part of country music legend Roy Acuff's band in the 1940s and 1950s.

Growing up in the Mayfield area, Smith became known as "Odie" while one of his uncles was called "Pap."

Spell check

A note last week misspelled a name. The Knoxville News-Sentinel sportswriter is Mike Griffith.

Happy birthdays

To Bonnie Bernstein. The former college basketball sideline reporter for CBS turns 40 on Monday.

To Ryan Hogan. The former Kentucky guard (and nephew of former UK All-American Kevin Grevey) turns 32 today.

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