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A TALL TALE : Being 7-5 Helps, but Utah Teen Is a Complete Basketball Package

Times Staff Writer

As Shawn Bradley entered the gym for an all-star game, heads snapped up and fans gawked at the tall, skinny prep All-American center.

Bradley stood on his toes and touched the rim during warmups.

A fan approached Bradley and asked him his height.

“Depending on what kind of mood I’m in, I’m 7-4 or 7-5,” Bradley joked.

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Actually, Bradley is 7 feet 5 inches and still growing.

“I’d like to meet Manute Bol (the 7-6 center who plays for the Golden State Warriors), because I’d like to look up to somebody,” Bradley said.

Like Bol, who draws stares wherever he goes, the freckle-faced, redheaded 17-year-old Bradley is accustomed to attracting attention.

“I’m always getting a lot of second looks,” he said. “People look at me funny. It’s like, ‘Are you from a different planet?’

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“Some lady asked me once, ‘Is it hotter because you’re closer to the sun?’ She was dead serious.

“People are strange. But I love being tall and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I think I’ve got a definite future ahead of me in basketball if I keep working hard.”

A senior at Emery High in Castle Dale, Utah, a farming community of 3,000 about 150 miles south of Salt Lake City, Bradley was named Utah’s Mr. Basketball after leading Emery to the State 2-A title last season. He averaged 28 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocked shots as his team went 24-0.

“I saw him last year and he showed me a great deal of promise,” said Dick Vitale, the ESPN and ABC sportscaster and former coach. “He has great potential. And as a prospect he certainly excites you.”

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Said Don Mead, veteran scout: “He’s as good a big man as you’ll find around. And he’s a great shot blocker.”

Playing against Tony Maroni, a 7-1 center from Lockport, N.Y., in a summer tournament, Bradley blocked three consecutive shots in the first minute of the game. After one block, he ran into the stands to retrieve the loose ball.

“I enjoy blocking shots,” Bradley said. “It’s kind of a rush. If I know I can stop (his opponent), I’ll let him have the ball and I’ll keep my hands up and try to block the shot.

“If I’m playing against a better player, I’ll just front him and try to deny him the ball.”

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Bradley impressed coaches at the Nike camp at Princeton, N.J., earlier this month. The nation’s top 100 high school basketball players compete at the camp.

“If you were going to start a basketball team, Shawn Bradley would be a good starting point,” USC Coach George Raveling said. “You can’t coach a kid to be 7-5.”

What’s more, Bradley is well coordinated and runs the court fluidly.

“I’ve never seen coordination any better than Shawn’s for his age in a big man,” said Chuck Tibbs, who coaches Bradley on a team of all-star high school players from Utah.

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“You watch the coordination of a Ralph Sampson and a Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) and he has the same type of coordination.”

Paul Westhead, Loyola Marymount’s coach, said Bradley is one of the best big men he has seen.

“If you didn’t know his size, you would think that he plays like he’s 6-5,” Westhead said. “He’s very fluid.

“At the Nike camp, I saw him put the ball behind his back in midair on the fastbreak and pass to a teammate for a layup. It was Bob Cousy revisited.”

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Westhead thinks Bradley has extraordinary potential.

“He’s not a dominating player in that he’s going to frighten you or scare you,” Westhead said.

“You mistakenly might want to challenge him. But he’ll pin the ball as you shoot.

“And he’s still only a young boy. His playing days are way ahead of him. I think he’s got the potential to be the next dominating player in basketball.

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“He might be the first 7-5 guy that I’d allow to be in my fast-break system. I’ve always said that I don’t want any seven-footers because they slow us down. But Shawn and Kareem would be the exceptions.”

One of the nation’s most heavily recruited players, Bradley was contacted by 110 schools after his sophomore season. His mother has saved every recruiting letter.

“I’ve organized the letters and put them in three-ring binders,” Teresa Bradley said.

“I have 15 three-ring binders and they cover the table in the dining room. We can’t eat there.”

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Bradley, however, has narrowed the contest to seven schools--UCLA, Arizona, Brigham Young, Utah, North Carolina, Duke and Syracuse. He plans to sign next April.

Bradley is academically qualified. He has a 3.4 grade-point average and scored 940 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. He plans to retake the SAT.

Because Bradley is a devout Mormon whose ancestors accompanied church leader Brigham Young to Utah, there is speculation that he will attend BYU.

“It’s kind of hard for me to say that BYU has the inside track because it would look like I’m definitely going there, which I’m really not,” Bradley said. “And if I say that I’m not going there, people will say I’m deserting them.

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“But I’m going to be liked and disliked no matter where I go. I’m going to go to the school that will help me the best and do me the most good.”

Bradley plans to go on a two-year Mormon mission after his freshman season. He will return to college and play his last three years. He said every coach who is recruiting him has agreed to the plan.

“When I talk to the coaches, I tell them that I’m going on this mission and they tell me they don’t have any problems with it,” Bradley said.

“If they did have any problems with it, I’d go on my mission and then I’d sign someplace else after two years.”

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Bradley thinks the two-year mission will help him mature as a basketball player.

“The two years I teach will help me mature and I’ll hopefully gain some weight,” he said. “I don’t think it will take away at all from my career. There have been a lot of (athletes) who have been on missions and been successful. I don’t hear of too many people who’ve been well-to-do in sports and have come back and didn’t do anything more in sports.”

Donny Daniels, an assistant coach at Utah, thinks the two-year break from basketball will help Bradley.

“After he comes back, he’ll have 40 more pounds on that frame of his and he’ll be kicking . . . " Daniels said.

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If Bradley decided to concentrate on baseball instead of basketball, he might also have a future there.

A first baseman, he batted .400 and was a second-team all-state selection. Despite his giant strike zone, he struck out only eight times all season.

In fact, Bradley terrorized opposing pitchers.

“We were playing against a pitcher who was struggling and he walked me on four pitches,” Brad ley said. “His coach pulled him and afterwards I heard him say that if he couldn’t throw strikes to a 7-5 guy, he shouldn’t be playing base-ball.”

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Reiner Bradley put his face against the nursery glass as the nurse held up his newborn son.

“She must have the wrong kid,” Bradley thought. “Both me wife and I are tall and skinny but this boy is short and fat.”

Bradley stood 6-foot-8 inches and his wife was 6-0.

How could they have a son who was 19 inches long and weighed 10 pounds?

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But it was no mistake.

When Shawn Bradley came home from the hospital, there was a basketball in his crib.

“He was so short and fat that we couldn’t tell Shawn apart from the basketball,” Teresa Bradley said. “We thought he’d never grow.”

But he grew. And he kept on growing.

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After he had outgrown the growth charts in his baby book, his parents drew a growth chart on his bedroom wall. It has nearly reached the ceiling 17 years later.

He was 6-8 in the eighth grade and 6-11 coming out of the ninth grade. He was 7-2 last year after completing 10th grade.

Although his height is an asset in basketball, it presents some problems off the court.

He has trouble meeting tall girls, for instance.

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“The girl I took to the prom was 5-4,” Bradley said. “When we slow-danced, she stood on a chair. The girls joke that if they go out with me, they’ll have to dance on a chair.”

Bradley’s first car was a Volkswagen bug.

“I learned to drive with the wheel between my knees,” Bradley said. “I probably wouldn’t know how to drive any other way.”

Bradley has his clothes custom-made by a local seamstress. He orders his dress shoes, size 16, from a big-and-tall man’s outlet on the East Coast.

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When Bradley met Mark Eaton, the 7-4 center who plays for the Utah Jazz, Eaton offered to give him the name of his tailor.

Despite his height, Bradley is a normal teen-ager. He likes to ride motorcycles, but quit after he scrapped his knee in a minor accident.

A small-town boy, Bradley has spent most of his life on his family’s 2,000-acre ranch. They have a heard of 300 purebred Hereford cattle.

Bradley helps out during roundups, but he no longer does it from horseback.

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“Shawn has outgrown his horse,” Teresa Bradley said.

“When he gets in the saddle, his legs touch the ground. So we bought him a three-wheeler (ATV) and that’s his horse.”


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