Since the other day I filled everyone in on how great my two brothers Rob and Scott were athletically, it's time you heard a little bit about me and my many exploits in the athletic arena.
This will be the beginning of a series...all about Jeff Bradley, Athlete.
Today, I focus on basketball.
Caldwell Presbyterian (approx. 1970-77)...
With my blue satin short shorts and "CP" tank top, I began my basketball career playing for "Caldwell Pres." in what I believe was officially known as "Church Basketball." I was a second-grader when it all began, learning the system...the 2-3 zone defense...the "get the ball to the kid who can reach the hoop" offense under Mr. Walker (please help me if I've screwed that name up). By the time I was a fifth-grader, I was a starter, working the back court with my next door neighbor Doug Gaffney, and controlling the tile floor of the CP gym/auditorium. Championships? Uh, can't remember. But our rivalry with St. Al's was, in a word, huge. Church hoop ran through eighth grade and I have great memories of cutting down the nets in our final season, champions of the church league. However, it was with a fair amount of guilt that we accepted our trophies, knowing that our "big man" Sean O'Neill was actually Catholic. The investigation ultimately brought us down and, in case you haven't noticed, you never see Caldwell Pres. games on TV anymore. Stiff sanctions.
The Essex Fells Runnin' Rebels (1978)
The name says it all. Five slow, short white boys from the mean streets of Essex Fells, who named themselves after Jerry "Tark the Shark" Tarkanian's UNLV teams. Yes, we won it all, trouncing Chuck Muzzy, Bruno Valenti and North Caldwell in the eighth grade championship game. At this point, I was playing to my strengths (get the ball to Gaffney) and minimizing my weaknesses (everything else).
West Essex Knights (1977-1980)
I "earned" a spot on the junior high team as a seventh grader and actually got a shot to run the point for a while before the coach, Mike Bruchac, suddenly realized I could absolutely not dribble with my left hand. Making a keen coaching decision, because a 5-1, all-righthanded point guard was probably not best for the team, Bruchac decided to basically red shirt me and let me develop as a Two Guard. As an eighth grader, I ably filled thatTwo Guard spot. However, I believe in our limited schedule we may not have won a single game. I'm not sure about that, but I believe that to be close to accurate.
Anyway, my work on the junior high team prepared me for freshman ball, also under Bruchac. I remember like it was yesterday our big game with Caldwell. My brother Scott had just graduated from West Essex (quarterback in football, 20-point a game scorer in basketball, All-State catcher in baseball) and, well, most everybody in Caldwell knew "Bradley" had a little brother coming up to HS at West Essex. So, in Caldwell's gym, I took the floor to the sound of 50 or 60 Caldwell students chanting "Bradley sucks! Bradley sucks!" Little did they know, Bradley did suck. I dribbled the ball off my foot a couple of times, threw away about 20 passes and ended up with a nice seat next to Bruchac, who was clearly thinking, "This kid was adopted." We lost that game...as suburban a game as you'd ever find in NJ...by about 50 points.
Our freshman team had its moments and, I must say, a Christmas does not go by in the Bradley house where the Passaic Valley game isn't brought up (because I bring it up). In the PV game, I had my defining moment as a hoopster, scoring 19 points in the first half of a Christmas Tournament game with both of my college-aged brothers in attendance. Seriously, lit it up. Outside. Inside. Slashing to the hoop. It was amazing. "I was just, ya know, feeling it," I say every Christmas. "I was in the zone."
Nineteen points in one half just might be a Bradley record...not sure (Scott had 38 against Clifford Scott in a JV tournament once and if there'd been a three-point line, it would've been well over 50). Yes, nineteen points in one half. My finally tally for the game? Of course, you know the answer...19. And we lost by one.
I hung with it through JV basketball (see photo), and remember we broke out of the gates with a couple of wins over traditional Essex County hoop powers West Orange Mountain and Cedar Grove, before hitting a little 16-20-game "speed bump." We did not win another game the rest of the season, but we did hear the greatest post-game speech ever from our leader Tony Ortiz. Following yet another loss, Tony O came into the lockerroom to a group of dejected players and wrote on the chalkboard one single word. "Beans."
"Gentleman," our coach said. "We're a JV team. Anyone know what our record means?"
And all the players said at once..."Beans?"
And Tony O said, "Exactly."
That, ladies and gentleman, is my basketball career...next up, Soccer.