Player. Coach. Agent. It's hard to imagine someone with a greater breadth of basketball experience than Michael Bradley. High school Mr. Basketball. Bit player for Kentucky's 1998 national championship team. College transfer. Dramatic rebirth as an impactful player for Villanova. Early entrant in the NBA Draft. Journeyman on five NBA teams (four based in the U.S. and one in Canada). And then Main Man again for teams in four European countries.
After retiring as a player in 2010, Bradley became a certified agent who specialized in placing college players on European teams. Then he turned to coaching, first on the high school level and now in college.
This one-man basketball band could be found last week in a windowless office at Eastern Kentucky University's Alumni Coliseum. A man of the basketball world surrounded by barren walls and high hopes.
In this latest incarnation, Bradley is EKU's new Associate Head Coach. Of his duties, he said, "recruiting and player development will be big for me."
It's hard to imagine a developmental issue with which Bradley can't empathize.
His time with UK was a carnival fun house of highs, lows and unexpected twists.
Having scored 2,444 points and grabbed 1,020 rebounds as a high school player from Worcester, Mass., Bradley drew recruiting interest from the coach at UMass, a fellow named John Calipari.
"My high school coach, I don't know if he was trying to get me to play better defensively or not, but he told me Coach Cal liked me offensively, but didn't think I played any defense," Bradley said as he chuckled at this it's-a-small-world connection.
Bradley conceded he was no Marcus Camby as a rim protector. As it turned out, Calipari and Bradley shared a mutual recruiting disinterest.
Bradley was enthralled with then-UK coach Rick Pitino. As he pondered his college choice, Kentucky was coming off a national championship in 1996 and en route to the 1997 Final Four.
"They're turning out pro after pro," Bradley said. "And the style of play is right up your alley with run and gun."
In his recruiting pitch, Pitino envisioned Bradley following Jared Prickett and Scott Padgett as forwards who stretched defenses with shooting, passing and decision-making.
"I really bought into what Coach Pitino was saying, and how he would develop me and how he would better my future," Bradley said. "That was the hook, line and sinker."
Then after Bradley signed with UK and prepared for a move from New England to the Bluegrass, speculation surfaced of Pitino going in the opposite direction: leaving Kentucky to become coach of the Boston Celtics. Week after week, Bradley and his family heard new rumors of Pitino's move to the Celtics. They repeatedly called the UK basketball offices.
"To ask if he was leaving," Bradley said. "And he would always say, no.
"So then eventually it pops, and it happens. And, you know, our family was pretty caught off-guard."
Bradley asked for a release from his National Letter of Intent. UK refused.
As is frequently the case in college athletics, expediency was the guiding principle. UK officials and partisans argued that players sign with a school, not with an individual coach.
Was Pitino the reason he came to Kentucky? "Oh yeah," he said last week. "Strictly."
Of course, by the time Bradley arrived in Kentucky in the summer of 1997, Tubby Smith was the new coach. Smith saw Bradley as an offensive player anchored in the low post.
"Not even that," Bradley said in a tone that suggested setting the record straight rather than still-smoldering resentment. "Just more screen and then screen again. Screen again, if possible."
Looking back now as a coach, Bradley can understand Smith's viewpoint. Smith's big men at Georgia were screeners. The system worked. He lists Smith along with Pitino, Leo Papile (who also coached Nerlens Noel on the AAU level), Steve Lappas, Lenny Wilkens, Maurice Cheeks and Rick Adelman as coaching influences.
Bradley averaged 6.9 minutes, 2.4 points and 1.7 rebounds as a freshman on UK's 1998 national championship team. Tellingly, he does not wear his championship ring. He keeps it in a safe at home.
"I don't feel that much a part of Kentucky basketball history, to be honest with you ... ," he said. "I really didn't contribute that year. And even my sophomore year, I contributed somewhat, but I don't feel any connection to the program."
Bradley started every UK game as a sophomore. He averaged 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds. Then he decided to transfer.
"I didn't want to leave," he said. "I loved the university and I loved my teammates. And I was actually enjoying school. ... But I had to do it for me because I wasn't having any fun playing."
It's easy to think that Bradley was misused by Kentucky, and then — to borrow a term Calipari favors — unleashed by Villanova. But it's not that simple. He acknowledged becoming a more disciplined player and a more driven player at Villanova.
"The year I sat out (as a transfer) I used the motivation a lot that I wanted to prove Kentucky wrong," he said, "and I worked my tail off and changed eating habits and changed social habits. ... I can remember being on the treadmill and bike and lifting weights for the second time that day saying I'm going to prove all these guys wrong."
No more pizza at midnight. Instead, he snacked on turkey or tuna. No more parties and the carefree life of a college student.
"I became so focused on getting my body fat down and just getting as strong as I can and more explosive and more athletic," Bradley said. "Which are words that I kept hearing at Kentucky. 'You're too slow.' 'You don't have foot speed.'
"All that really started to sink in."
In his second game for Villanova, Bradley made 12 of 16 shots and scored 28 points at Duke. He also led the team with eight rebounds and six assists. Duke's 98-85 victory marked Mike Krzyzewski's 500th with the Blue Devils. Duke officially named its court for Krzyzewski that night.
"We were making our way to the bus as they held the ceremony post-game," Villanova Director of Media Relations Mike Sheridan wrote in an email. "Kind of an odd feeling to leave with the arena still packed and cheering."
Bradley had reason to celebrate, too.
"That was like my big take-that to whoever doubted me," he said.
For the 2000-01 season, Bradley averaged 20.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. His field-goal percentage of .692 still stands as the Villanova single season record. He was a consensus second team All-American.
Although he had another year of college eligibility remaining, Bradley entered the 2001 NBA Draft. He was taken with the 17th pick by the Toronto Raptors. (Bradley noted that another assistant, Reece Gaines, was taken with the 15th pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, thus making Eastern Kentucky the only college coaching staff with two former first-round picks. "That really separates us from a lot of other mid-major programs," he said.)
New Eastern Kentucky Coach Dan McHale has known Bradley since they arrived as freshmen at UK in 1997: Bradley as a noted recruit, McHale as a team manager.
After retiring as a player, Bradley moved to the Cincinnati area. That's where the family of his wife, Ellen, lived. After a year as an agent ("It was a sleazy business," he said), serendipity played a part in Bradley's entry into coaching. He and his wife were looking for a school for their three daughters when they visited the Summit Country Day School in Cincinnati. The athletic director asked Bradley if he had interest in coaching the boys' basketball team. He decided he did. Summit Country Day had a 93-13 record in Bradley's four seasons as coach.
Bradley found McHale's offer to join the Eastern Kentucky staff this spring appealing for several reasons. They were friends. It was a move to the college level. He would not have to uproot Ellen and the girls. Bradley commutes each day from his home in the northern Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati to Richmond.
McHale's staff aims to make EKU the first option for players who are not playing for UK or Louisville. "The train is moving forward," Bradley said, "and we're excited to get going."
One early stop along the track figures to be compelling: EKU plays at UK on Dec. 9. That will be the first time McHale has coached against his alma mater and the first time Bradley has been in Rupp Arena since the end of the 1998-99 season.
"It'll be cool," he said. "It is another game on the schedule, but it definitely has an asterisk next to it for Dan and myself. It's a special place. I'll always have great memories. Never say a negative word about my time there. Truly."
Former UK player James Young, who turns 20 on Aug. 16, will be entering his second NBA season next fall. When it comes to making a good impression, there's no such thing as an off-season.
Boston Celtics Coach Brad Stevens told New England Sports News that this summer could be helpful for Young.
"The summer league will be a big thing for him," Stevens told NESN. "And certainly for Marcus (Smart), too, but I think for James to gain a lot of momentum heading into next year, I think the 20 days that we're together (this summer) from practice to the last game are important."
The throwback team apparel company Mitchell & Ness recently compiled a list of the greatest NBA players to wear each jersey number.
Two former UK players made the list, which was announced last week: Antoine Walker (No. 88 in his second stint with the Celtics) and Nazr Mohammed (No. 48). A third player, who signed with UK but never played for UK, Shawn Kemp, made the list for No. 40.
One of John Calipari's former players at UMass, Marcus Camby, made the list for No. 29.
To Chuck Hayes. He turned 32 on Thursday. ... To former Vanderbilt and South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler. He turned 67 on Friday. ... To Gimel Martinez. He turns 44 Sunday (today). ... To Tim Stephens. He turns 57 on Tuesday. ... To Joe Crawford. He turns 29 on Wednesday.