The number three symbolizes manifestation. Three is a synthesis; a completeness. Three is the sign of the times: past, present and future. For Bradley, 2017-18 happens to be season three for head coach Brian Wardle.
In Wardles first year at the helm of a young, newly-renovated Bradley squad, the Braves suffered blow after blow in a 5-27 season. In year two, there were flashes of hope as the team made noticeable strides. Additions were made, and the fat was trimmed. They finished 13-20 overall (7-11 in conference play) and won a game in Saint Louis before ultimately losing to Wichita State.
Three is a number of growth.
For the past two years, weve watched these young Braves develop. Theyve made mistakes, but theyve learned from them. Theyve started to show they can play a strong 40 minutes instead of a limited 32.
Wardle and his staff put together a reasonable non-conference schedule this season. Little Rock, Vermont, Georgia Southern and San Diego State have been tournament teams in recent years. I think this non-conference slate is a good mixture of games that will challenge the Braves and prepare them for conference play, while also mixing in games where Wardle can empty his bench and use different combinations of players in order to figure out who plays well together.
The success of this team starts with senior forward Donte Thomas. Thomas allows Bradley to play small when hes at the five. This team needs his leadership, and they need him to average close to a double-double. When Thomass motor is running, and hes scoring out of the gate, it sets the tone for everyone around him. He was the only consistent player for the Braves last year. This year, hell have more help.
Darrell Brown Jr. was an all-MVC freshman last year. He led the Braves in scoring with 12.6 points per game and was the focal point of the offense. Its important to have veteran guards in college basketball. As Brown continues to become more comfortable in the system, hell also continue to be a pest for opposing defenses. Last year, Brown demonstrated hes got the deep ball touch and he can finish close to the basket. Now, its about spreading it around, without losing that scorers mentality.
Jayden Hodgson surprised me last season. He was the conduit for the second unit. Not only can he stroke it from downtown, but he also led the team in assists. Bradley was last in the conference in turnover to assist ratio, but Hodgson was the one who took care of the ball. He mixed in 11 starts last year, but I think the Braves are best with him leading the bench unit.
This needs to be Luuk van Brees year. Hes a great leader because his teammates immensely respect him. The other teams in the Valley paid a lot of attention to him last season. Hes got to continue to be a great catch-and-shoot player, but that will only happen if Brown and Hodgson draw attention and get him open looks, because the opposition doesnt want LVB to be the one to hurt them.
Nate Kennell proved to everyone that he belonged in the starting lineup every game. He might not look like an athlete, but hes got a sweet stroke from three, and does a great job breaking down defenses and either finishing with floaters or kicking it back out. He doesnt mess around. Hes gritty. Hes the guy diving on the floor for loose balls. The only complaint I had with him last year was that he didnt shoot it more often.
JoJo McGlaston is the best athlete on this team. Hes explosive around the rim, and he can create his own shot. He shoots it early in possessions, but Id rather have him shoot early than wait out a possession and turn it over. Hes a plus defender, and he plays with swagger. Bradley needs more guys who have a similar mentality.
As for the new additions, Luqman Lundy, the junior college transfer from Tonkawa College, Oklahoma, is a bigger guard whos a plus defender. He will get minutes because of his defense, but his role on offense may be a bit limited. Elijah Childs has the opportunity to contribute right away. Hes bouncy and can hit a face up 15-footer, something this Braves team hasnt had a whole lot of in the past from a big man. Ryan Stipanovich is a bigger guard at 67, and hes got a smooth outside game. He may not see a lot of minutes right out the gate, but as he continues to develop, he could turn into a good perimeter player for coach Wardle.
As year three rolls around, the team is more experienced. With the Shockers out of the Valley, there is no powerhouse. The league is wide open this year. This is the year Bradley approaches the hump. Theyre going to beat the teams they should. No more losing to Indiana State. No more coming out and playing flat against inferior competition like the Delaware Blue Hens.
People say the third times a charm, and in year three, Carver Arena will see a more complete and consistent Bradley team.
Bottom Line: The Braves will be at or above .500 in Missouri Valley play this season.
G Darrell Brown Jr.
G Nate Kennell
F JoJo McGlaston
F Donte Thomas
C Koch Bar