With players cycling in and out every four years, it’s inevitable that college basketball teams are going to go through some level of change every year. But what has happened with the Bradley men is more than just change; it’s a complete program overhaul.
It is not appropriate to discuss what Bradley did last year in terms of making predictions for this year, because last year’s team and this year’s team bear hardly any resemblance to each other. Instead, the changes to the program are the story for this year.
With a 46-86 career record at Bradley and waning interest in the program from students and fans, almost everyone in the Bradley community agreed that it was time for former head coach Geno Ford’s tenure to end.
Ford’s departure made way for an entirely new coaching staff led by new head coach Brian Wardle. Wardle comes from University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he had a 95-65 record over five years, led his team to three straight postseason appearances and a 2014 regular season Horizon League championship and was named the 2014 Horizon League Coach of the Year.
“What I plan to bring every day is an energy level and enthusiasm for our fans and supporters of the program,” Wardle said. “I have a passion for the game and I love coaching, and I want players that also share that passion for the game and want to work and want to get better every day.”
Along with the new coaching staff, the Braves have a nearly entirely new roster. After several transfers, dismissals and graduates, the 2015 Braves were left with only three returners: fifth-year senior Mike Shaw, senior Ka’Darryl Bell and sophomore Dante Thomas. The rest of the roster includes one junior Division I transfer and nine freshmen, making the Braves one of the youngest teams in the nation.
“The best players that fit our program this spring were high school players, and that’s why we brought in so many,” Wardle said.
Bell said the freshmen have been adapting well to the program. He praised the young players for their maturity and their ability to take constructive criticism in stride.
Bell is the highest-scoring returner, averaging 6.1 points per game, as well as the returning leader in assists at 2.1 per game. Mike Shaw is the leading-returning rebounder with 3.4 rebounds per game last year.
Bell spoke about some of the changes in coaching style from last year.
“Wardle is much more intense and hands-on, and he knows how to get the best out of his players,” Bell said. “He’s way more focused on defense and rebounding, and doing the little things. In the long run, it will make it easier for us when the game starts.”
Ford preferred to build his team around upperclassmen and junior college transfers, so this youth movement is a new approach for the Braves. Wardle said he and his staff are ready for the rebuilding process.
“A good parallel to what we’re trying to do at Bradley is the Chicago Cubs,” Wardle said. “We want to build a foundation of young players, develop them, help them get better and grow the program year after year until we’re in contention for championships. You have to start from the ground up.”
Wardle said he wants to instill a mindset of toughness and aggressiveness in his program.
“When people talk about Bradley a year from now, they’re going to say that they are a tough team and they compete every single possession every single night,” Wardle said.
The Braves have a tough non-conference schedule this year. They play Arizona, Virginia and Ole Miss before beginning their Missouri Valley Conference play, just to name a few.
Bradley begins their season vs Ball State at Carver Arena Nov. 13.