Twenty-one is a magic number. In each of the last four seasons, the Bradley Braves have hit that number of wins or better.
In addition to the number of wins, the Braves have found success in the postseason, having reached the championship in each of the last two tournaments they have played in. This gives them 10 postseason wins in the last four years.
This season looks to have more of the same results.
The Braves lost David Collins and Theron Wilson, but they look to replace that force with two players, sophomore Will Egolf and junior Andrew Warren, who is coming back from early, season-ending injuries last year.
In his first game back, Warren showed no signs of rust and scored 21 points in only 24 minutes on the floor.
“It was a big confidence booster for him as well as the team,” said junior Sam Maniscalco.
Egolf also came back strong with six points and a block in 15 minutes.
But even long before the exhibition, Bradley was focused on basketball.
Last summer, Bradley traveled to Brazil to play in a tournament against professional teams.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Maniscalco said. “It was great to see the differences culturally and to be able to play some pro teams. Anytime you can play organized games in August is a good thing.”
And the trip provided more than just results on the floor.
“We bonded as a team as we stepped out of our comfort zones,” Maniscalco said. “This is only going to pay dividends down the road.”
Looking toward the coming season, the Braves return four of the top-five scorers from last year’s squad. They will have some production at the forward position to fill after losing top scorer and rebounder Theron Wilson.
Sophomore Taylor Brown will look to fill that void.
He made his case to Braves’ fans while playing the forward position in an exhibition game against Lewis. He had 12 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes.
Two other sophomores, Anthony Thompson and Eddren McCain, will also look to get some considerable time on the floor this year.
Thompson is the big man taking Collins’ spot in the rotation. In the exhibition, Thompson didn’t miss a shot, as he recorded four points in 10 minutes.
McCain will again be at the helm of the Bradley offense this season as the point guard. Last year, McCain led the Braves in assists, becoming only the fourth freshman in team history to do so.
McCain saw a lot of floor time against Lewis as a starter. He had three points and an assist in 23 minutes.
But Bradley isn’t just experiencing a youth movement. The Braves also have a considerable amount of veteran presence, especially at the guard position.
Seniors Chris Roberts and Dodie Dunson and Maniscalco will man the backcourt along with McCain.
Those three upperclassmen will spearhead the offense along with Warren and Brown. Last year, the Braves compiled 216 3-pointers, 71 of which were made by Maniscalco.
“Everybody brings something different – speed, athleticism, skill, size, strength,” Maniscalco said. “Everybody plays a key role in our success.”
This season will be a tough one for the Braves. The MVC is returning 31 of 50 potential starters from last year.
Those numbers don’t include Warren or Egolf because they didn’t start enough games last season.
The teams in the MVC this year will look to build upon the overall success they achieved last year. A conference record seven teams played in postseason tournaments. Only the six BCS-football leagues had as many teams playing that late in the year.
“There are a lot of good players in this league,” Maniscalco said.
This will be coach Jim Les’ eighth season as the head of the Bradley basketball program. The Braves are 126-105 overall and 61-65 in conference play under his direction.
Freshmen Jordan Prosser and Jake Eastman will be redshirted this season to save a year of eligibility.
This season is primed to be a very exciting one in the MVC.
With so much experience returning for action this season, the MVC is shaping up to be one of the premier mid-major conferences this season.