Bradley men’s basketball was selected third in the annual Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll released on Thursday morning. Senior forward Elijah Childs was named to the all-conference first team as the only Brave selected.
Bradley was slotted behind first place UNI and second place Loyola-Chicago, receiving one first-place vote.
“Preseason polls are – I think most coaches agree – they’re great for the fans, great for media, but so much can go on in a season,” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said. “You can throw those [predictions] right out the door, this season more than ever.”
Last season, the preseason poll failed to predict what would be an unpredictable year.
Bradley was picked to finish second behind favorite Missouri State. The Braves finished the conference season at 11-7, tied for third. The Bears underperformed, finishing at 9-9, good for a sixth-place tie.
Preseason third-place pick Northern Iowa won the regular season title while Southern Illinois, which was predicted for the last place, finished fifth.
While Wardle doesn’t buy too much into the poll each year, he doesn’t deny that preseason accolades – or lack thereof – can serve as motivation.
“We have a lot of guys like that in the locker room,” Wardle said. “They’re gonna find something that can motivate them or get that chip a little bigger on their shoulder … We somehow always find a way at Bradley to find motivation with all the preseason and postseason awards.”
After being selected to the preseason all-conference second team prior to his junior season, Childs averaged 14.8 points per game while pulling down an average of 8.7 rebounds, but missed 12 games with a hand injury.
“He’s improved his 3-point shooting,” Wardle said of Childs. “His ball handling has been better, finishing better with his weak hand … He looks very good right now.”
As one of two seniors on the team with a plethora of freshmen and transfer additions, Childs has focused on his role as a leader while continuing to improve his game on the court.
“Donte Thomas was a mentor for me, and I’m trying to be a mentor for Darrius Hannah,” Childs said. “I’m trying to be a mentor for Jayson Kent, Connor Linke, Rink Mast. I’m just trying to help them come along and have great success like I’ve had.”
Despite official practice commencing yesterday, expectations within the program are already lofty.
The team returns a handful of key pieces from last year’s MVC Tournament title team, including Childs, senior guard Danya Kingsby, junior swingman Ja’Shon Henry and sophomore guard Ville Tahvanainen.
The backcourt will get a boost from transfer juniors Terry Nolan and Kevin McAdoo, who both redshirted last season, and sophomore transfer Sean East, who played last season at UMass.
“This is definitely the deepest team I’ve played with at Bradley,” Childs said. “Anybody could go off on any night.”
Despite being pegged at third place, Childs has no doubts about the team’s potential for a third straight MVC Championship and trip to March Madness.
“I’m ready to take what’s mine, take what’s ours,” Childs said. “I love to win, and I want to be at the top, I just don’t want to be one of those three teams, I want to be the first team.”