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Future looks bright for Bradley basketball

Spending break at home, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands.
I came to the conclusion that it is tough to be a Bradley fan without living in Peoria. Not only can you not see the team in person, I couldn’t even get them on my TV.
This left me searching the Internet for audio feeds and spending a lot of time on the computer reading the opinions of people fortunate enough to see the Braves in action.
I’m not just talking men’s basketball either.
The women seem to be flying under the radar, but they are off to a 13-5 start, including a seven-game winning streak.
To be honest, I didn’t expect much out of either team this season.
The men lost Jeremy Crouch and Daniel Ruffin to graduation, and later junior Andrew Warren to a season-ending foot injury.
The women have struggled to win consistently in recent years and lost a leader in Devyn Flanagan.
Boy, did they prove me wrong.
The men and women both got off to 4-0 conference starts, cementing themselves in the Missouri Valley Conference championship picture.
How could this be with both teams being so young?
I figured out the answer as I put my new Christmas present to use, NCAA Basketball 09 for Xbox 360.
After red-shirting Warren and Will Egolf at the start of my dynasty, my team got off to a rough start. But after simulating the dynasty for four seasons, the underclassmen became stars and in my fourth year I made the NCAA Tournament.
And that is when I really started thinking about the future of Bradley basketball.
These teams, which have already been successful in 2008, are just getting started.
Of the nine players who average more than 10 minutes per game for the men, four are underclassmen. This includes sophomore Sam Maniscalco, who is already playing like a seasoned veteran, but doesn’t even take into account Warren or Egolf.
Egolf showed a lot of potential in his limited starting time before his injury, and Braves fans already know what Warren is capable of.
If healthy, both of those players will be in the line-up day in and day out.
But maybe their injuries aren’t such bad things after all.
Warren’s injury puts him in the same class as Maniscalco, and Egolf will again be considered a sophomore next year, with two years of experience already under his belt.
Next season the team could potentially start four or five players who are not seniors and have another player contribute in red-shirt freshman Anthony Thompson who has been soaking up knowledge from the bench.
It’s almost scary to think of the 2010-11 team that could feature Maniscalco and Warren as seniors and Egolf, McCain, Norris, Thompson and Taylor Brown as juniors. 
Not to mention Jordan Prosser, one of Bradley’s recently signed recruits, with a year of experience as a sophomore.
I don’t want to put any unreachable expectations out there, but that team could start the season nationally ranked.
Not to take anything away from next year’s team with Dodie Dunson and Chris Roberts in their senior seasons, because that will also be a team to reckon with.
Although I do not own any women’s basketball video games, it’s not hard to see that the women are on the same track.
There is no doubt the team will miss seniors Monica Rogers and Kelly Krumwiede after this season, but it should be able to fill the gaps and continue on with its recent success.
The guards should be set with the return of freshman Michelle Lund and junior Skye Johnson.
Lund has already broken Bradley’s freshman 3-point record and is second in scoring.
Johnson, last year’s MVC Defensive Player of the Year, is averaging more than 10 points per game this season and has quickly adjusted to the point guard position recording 6.1 assists per game, good for second in the Valley.
Sophomore Raisa Taylor will help solidify a back court that already has a lot of potential for next season.
While replacing the senior forwards will be hard, the Braves certainly have the players to step in.
Junior Jenny Van Kirk, who has started all but one game this year, will be back next season along with sophomore Sonya Harris who is the team’s third leading scorer.
With the 6-foot freshman MacKenzie Westcott waiting in the wings, there is no reason why the women can’t keep on winning.
With all that said about both teams, no one even knows who will commit to the Hilltop and help extend the winning tradition.
As a junior, I am glad I will be around for one more year, but I will enjoy cheering on my alma mater after I graduate just as much.
Alex Mayster is a sophomore journalism major from Palatine. He is the Scout sports editor.
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