It’s been a long time since there’s been any semblance of hope surrounding the Bradley basketball program.
In the last three years, the Braves have won just 40 total games and finished dead last in the Missouri Valley Conference twice.
The team has lacked talent, depth, leadership and played mostly uninspiring basketball.
Last season, was the worst in decades with BU notching just seven wins and losing the most games in school history. There were embarrassing blowout home losses to Evansville and Wichita State by 30-plus points, leaving little to be excited about for the future.
But in coach Geno Ford’s second season the program appears to be heading in the right direction.
Bradley has begun the season 2-0 beating low Division I teams Eastern Illinois and Texas-Pan American by a total of 41 points.
It’s not so much an accomplishment the Braves have beaten these teams because it’s games they should win at home. The impressive part is the fashion they’ve won them.
They’ve shown toughness in building and maintaining leads. The offense and defense look much improved and the understanding of Ford’s system from year one to year two is obvious.
A year ago Bradley likely would’ve won both of these games, but it would’ve been like pulling teeth.
There is little doubt BU is much improved over the last couple of seasons.
“I think we’re much better than we were [last year],” Ford said. “If this year’s team played last year’s team we’d win by 20. The bad news is last year’s team is not on the schedule. It’s been a group where the seniors have set the tone with effort and energy. I think everybody has a better handle on what we’re trying to do on both ends of the floor.”
In 2011-12, the Braves had little depth, especially in the frontcourt. Six-foot-four-inch Jake Eastman was often utilized at the four position and despite his toughness was simply overmatched against opponents with four or five inches and 50-plus pounds on him.
This season, the depth has improved dramatically. Jordan Prosser and Shayok Shayok, who started a combined 57 games last year, now come off the bench. The additions of junior college transfer Tyshon Pickett and senior Will Egolf returning from injury have given Ford that luxury.
In Monday’s game against UTPA, the Braves’ depth showed. Pickett and Egolf were both saddled with foul trouble, but it was no problem as Prosser and Shayok came off the bench to contribute 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Egolf’s leadership and experience has been a major boost as has his new found outside shooting ability. In his first five years at Bradley he was 0-of-16 from 3-point range. This season, Egolf is 4-for-4 from three and 9-for-11 if you count the exhibition games.
That could be a huge for a team that struggled to knock down perimeter shots last season. If Egolf can successfully space the floor it will allow guards Dyrcius Simms-Edwards and Walt Lemon Jr. to get to the basket and finish, which will make the offense light years better.
You can’t take two game against EIU and UTPA and think this team is on its way to 20 wins. There are still a lot of holes and a .500 season would still be a huge success.
But after several years of subpar basketball, there is finally hope returning to the Hilltop. Ford is righting the ship and good times appear to be on the horizon for the program and the university.
Alex Ross is a senior sports communication major from Fishers, Ind. He is the Scout sports editor.
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