Last weekend was filled with plenty of seminal moments for Loyola Maryland men’s basketball’s Brandon Bradsher.
Was it the senior point guard making the first start of his career in Saturday’s season opener at Lafayette? Did it occur when he led the Greyhounds in scoring with 21 points in a 77-75 loss to the Leopards? Or was it when he proved he was no one-game wonder with a 12-point effort in Sunday’s 72-70 setback to Lafayette?
According to Bradsher, the answer is: none of the above.
“The best part was just getting out there with my teammates,” the Ellicott City resident and Boys’ Latin graduate said. “I never had an opportunity to start in a game, just in practice. So getting that experience to just see how it feels to be out there on the floor and just getting engaged with my teammates offensively and defensively, that was a blessing. Just getting out there and playing the game, that was pretty much it.”
Bradsher was one of a few bright spots for Loyola (0-2 overall and in the Patriot League), which was forced to delay its season opener scheduled for Jan. 2 due to a positive test for the coronavirus among its Tier 1 personnel.
After playing just 28 minutes in 17 career games, Bradsher shot 57% from the floor and 58.3% from 3-point range, grabbed four rebounds, and turned the ball over only twice in two starts last weekend. Those numbers would usually be a point of pride for many players, but not for the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Bradsher.
“I can definitely say that I wish I didn’t have those two turnovers,” he said ruefully. “I wish I didn’t miss those shots. But that’s the name of the game. So I’ll just have to put in more work on my off days.”
If Bradsher does not sound like an ordinary point guard, it probably has something to do with his extraordinary journey to last weekend’s stage. He began his college career as a team manager, had to lobby a new head coach for a chance to compete as a walk-on, and saw little playing time in two seasons.
His perseverance is a lesson for aspiring players, said junior guard/forward Jaylin Andrews, who played with Bradsher at Boys’ Latin.
“He’s always had a good work ethic since we were in high school and to see him trust in the process and to see everything turn out as it did in the games, we were so happy,” he said. “Despite the losses, I was so happy to see how Brandon played.”
According to Andrews and Boys’ Latin varsity coach Cliff Rees, Bradsher was a standout player in high school. He was promoted to the Lakers’ varsity team as a freshman, became the full-time starting point guard as a sophomore, and scored more than 1,000 points when he graduated in 2017.
“He always had the talent,” Rees said. “He always had the scoring ability. His freshman year, he played significant minutes for us, and it took time to really teach him how to be a point guard rather than a scoring-type guard, which he had been throughout middle school. But he just got better and better every year, and by his senior year, he was sensational.”
But Bradsher’s height of 5-8 at the time scared off many Division I programs. Division II schools like Tampa and Division III teams like Salisbury recruited him heavily, but only Loyola and Navy were willing to give him a chance to compete as a walk-on.
Asked why he did not pursue offers with Tampa and Salisbury, Bradsher replied, “The reason why I didn’t go was because I thought I had a fair shot at playing Division I even as a walk-on. I knew that my opportunity was going to come, and that when it came, I was going to seize the opportunity. They were wonderful schools, but I just thought that I could play at the D-I level.”
Under Greyhounds coach G.G. Smith, Bradsher served his freshman year of 2017-18 as a team manager, helping with rebounding at practice, filming video of practice and games, and warming up players during substitutions. After the season, Smith left, and the university hired Tavaras Hardy. That’s when Bradsher made his pitch to the new coach for a shot as a walk-on.
“Because a lot of scholarship guys transferred [after Smith’s departure], I knew spots were open,” he said. “So I asked Coach if he could take a chance on me, and I tried out that summer. I had to prove myself that entire summer before school started.”
Hardy said he was swayed by Bradsher’s exuberance and later granted him a spot as a walk-on.
“I just felt like I could believe him that he was going to work hard, that he wasn’t going to complain that he wasn’t getting much playing time, and he lived up to everything that he told me he would do,” Hardy said.
But being on the roster is no guarantee of extensive playing time, which came sporadically for Bradsher. That required an adjustment on his part.
“It was hard not getting time knowing that I felt like I could be out there as well,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I am a selfless person, and I’ll do anything I can for the team. So I tried to do my best to practice and prepare the guards that were in front of me.”
Rees, who has stayed in touch with Bradsher, said his former player never second-guessed his decision to go to Loyola.
“Yeah, he had some frustrations because he felt like he could play with these guys, and I did, too,” Rees said. “But it was never ugly disappointment or anything like that. He was just like, ‘Coach, I think I can play with these guys.’ And I said, ‘Brando, you can, you can play with these guys. You just have to go prove it every single day — on the court, off the court, in everything that you do.’ The kind of kid that he is, he’s not going to stop working, he’s not going to quit, and he’s not going to get down.”
Injuries to senior Isaiah Hart and junior Kenneth Jones this winter left Bradsher as the next true point guard on the depth chart, and Hardy informed Bradsher on Friday night that he would start the next day against Lafayette.
Bradsher said any nerves he might have felt were extinguished by the support of his teammates.
“It was a regular game as soon as I hit a couple,” he said. “My teammates did a great job of trying to find me. They just kept encouraging me to shoot and to take over and be a leader. And then on Sunday, I wasn’t thinking too much. I wasn’t trying to say, ‘I have to score 21 points again.’ I was just trying to do whatever I could for us to get the W.”
Andrews said Bradsher is not the type to be content with last weekend’s performances.
“He didn’t feel like he had made it,” Andrews said. “He felt like he had opened the door a little bit, and now he’s just continuing to put the work in so that he can get to where he’s at now and keep improving.”
Case in point: after Sunday’s game, Bradsher and several players returned to the court inside Reitz Arena and participated in shooting drills while still wearing their uniforms. That desire to improve has reinforced to Hardy the wisdom behind his decision to add Bradsher to the team’s roster.
“Brandon is a hard worker,” Hardy said. “He’s just one of those guys that feels like confidence is earned and is putting the work in. So he deserves to play with that kind of confidence.”
Rees said Bradsher is a testament to relentless tenacity.
“If there’s ever a kid that could do it, I thought it would be Brandon,” he said. “I talked to him early on, and I told him, ‘As a walk-on, it’s really important just to make sure that you’re doing everything the Coach needs, doing your part. It’s going to take time to earn that playing time and everything else, but you’ve got to stick with it, and you’ve got to better than the others as that walk-on.’ So we’ve had a lot of conversations about it early on, and he’s had a good mentality going into it all along, and I think he’s enjoyed being a part of the program even when he wasn’t getting playing time and things like that.”
A timetable for the return of Hart and Jones is still undetermined. When one or both rejoin the team, Hardy said he would let practices decide which point guard warrants the next start.
That may explain why Bradsher dismissed the notion that he has achieved his lifelong priority.
“I think I’m still in it,” he said. “I haven’t felt it yet because I guess I’m still in the season. Once I look back, I’ll probably be like, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’ But I feel like I belong here. So I can’t really say that I’ve felt this wasn’t going to come. I felt like I was going to give it my all and that I was going to have a good performance because I belong here and I know that I belong on the floor as well.”