The NCAA transfer portal was stacked this spring.
With over 1,600 players to pick from this year — the most ever — men’s college basketball coaches were frantically recruiting to find the best fits for their program. It was no different for Bradley, as head coach Brian Wardle was able to land three key college transfers, all of whom will have to play a huge role for the Braves if they want success this season.
The Braves reloaded the guard position after the transfers of Terry Nolan Jr. and Sean East II, the team’s top two minute-getters in the backcourt. This came in the form of junior college transfer Terry Roberts and graduate transfer Mikey Howell.
Roberts, a 6-foot-3-inch guard hailing from North Amityville, New York, led the Florida Southwestern State Buccaneers to a top-5 finish last season in the NJCAA Region 8 national poll while becoming their all-time leader in steals. He had 15 other Division 1 offers from places like Southern Illinois and Wichita State, but he said Bradley was his pick because of his affinity for the coaching staff.
“I came to Bradley because of the relationship I have with the coaches,” Roberts said. “[They are] real genuine and they treated me like family once they started contacting me.”
After moving from New York to Florida and now to Peoria, Roberts admits the transition feels different but welcomes the change of scenery.
“Being on the East Coast, it’s more fast-paced, so coming here it’s kind of slower and I like it,” Roberts said. “It’s something different.”
Through three games with the Braves, he’s averaging 13.7 points, 5 assists and 1.7 steals per game, the most on the team in all three categories. He believes his playmaking ability and his defense are his strong suit, and that was definitely on display as he began fitting into Wardle’s system.
“My role is to basically just be a playmaker,” Roberts said. “Be able to find my teammates, make plays for my teammates and myself and play defense. Coach [Wardle] stresses defense and that’s something I say I do pretty well.”
Howell comes from the other side of the country, leading UC San Diego to three California Collegiate Athletic Association titles in Division II during his first three seasons with the team and a Division I reclassification for his senior year. He finished 12th in the country and first in the Big West Conference with 6.0 assists per game last season and that team-first mentality defines his role on the team.
“I just wanna come in with my minutes, bring energy [and] try to facilitate and control the tempo of the game,” Howell said. “Like Terry [Roberts] mentioned, we emphasize defense a lot here, so I just want to keep coming in and trying to work on staying in front of my man and doing little things that help the team win.”
Howell’s 11 assists this season are second on the team thus far. For him, the environment at Bradley is what attracted him as well as the change of pace that Peoria offers compared to San Diego.
“[Bradley] just really stressed family-oriented relationships and I’m a big family person,” Howell said. “Just the way the team carries themselves, I think we’re just a close-knit group. Being here is something new, and I think I wanted to experience a different environment, which I like.”
In addition to the guards, junior college transfer Malevy Leons adds a big body to the paint that can swat away shooting opportunities and crash the boards. After three games, he’s averaging 11.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.
Born and raised in the Netherlands and transferring from Mineral Area College, Leons is the reigning NJCAA men’s basketball player of the year. He averaged 18.7 points per game and 9.5 rebounds while shooting 56% from the field last year to lead the Cardinals to a perfect 20-0 regular season and claim the Region 16 and Midwest District Championships.
Despite offers from Missouri, Marquette and Wichita State, among others, he chose Bradley because of his instinct that this was the place for him.
“I just had the best feeling with [Bradley],” Leons said. “It felt like a family over here and a place where I would really grow.”
All three players prove to play important roles for the Braves this year as they look to recapture the MVC championship.