The Best of Times; The Worst of Times

Special Note: Michael Bradley will help to deliver Thanksgiving baskets to the Pine Hills Community Center on Tuesday, November 23 from 2-3:30pm. Each basket will contain a gift certificate for a turkey and various food products related to a traditional Thanksgiving feast. Each department in the Orlando Magic organization filled baskets for various families throughout the central Florida community.

Charles Dickens once wrote, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’

If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought the phrase was penned by Michael Bradley.

Bradley, like many other players in the NBA, has experienced both in his career. Now, the forward in his first season with the Orlando Magic wants to put those worst times behind him and focus once again on the best ones.

But to go back to the best of times, one must travel back to 1997, when the Worcester, Mass., native became a budding high school star and signed with a major Division I team in need of talent in the frontcourt. That star began those best of times in the spotlight at the University of Kentucky, where he made an immediate impact and helped lead the Wildcats to a national championship in just his first season of collegiate basketball. The best of times continued into his sophomore season, where he established a still-standing record for field goal percentage in a season (.657) for UK.

And yet those best of times continued still, despite sitting out a year of school after a transfer that brought him closer to home, at Villanova University. It was there that Bradley solidified his mark on the college basketball scene, this time leading the nation in field goal percentage (.692, which broke another school record), while ranking 16th in the nation in rebounding (9.8 rpg) and 20th in scoring (20.8 ppg). With a national championship ring in tow, his name etched in multiple record books, and after being touted among Dick Vitale’s “Super Seven” top collegiate basketball players, Bradley left Villanova one year early in search of another place to make his mark – the NBA.

It sure was the best of times.

“I was pretty fortunate to have success throughout high school and college,” Bradley said. “I went to the University of Kentucky and won a national championship my freshmen year, and then I transferred to Villanova and did really well there in terms of personal goals. I think I just put myself in a lot of good situations and was surrounded by a lot of good coaches and players that helped develop me. I just tried to be like a sponge and take it all in and learn from everybody that I was around. I think all that, and always playing against older people growing up (he faced his brother, who is two years older, on the court his whole life) shaped me into the player that I have become.”

That player continued to roll in success even into the professional ranks – he was chosen with the 17th pick in the 2001 NBA draft by the Toronto Raptors, and after seeing limited playing time in his rookie campaign, things starting swinging his way. In 2002-03, Bradley was himself again, recording double-doubles and finding the basket. During an 11-game span in the starting lineup towards the end of the season, Bradley flourished, averaging more than nine points and rebounds per game.

And then came the worst of times.

From the start of last season, Bradley found himself battling right knee tendonitis, which he eventually had surgery on, missing the first 53 games of the 82-game season. After coming back for just five games, Bradley was waived by the Raptors and found a new home with the Atlanta Hawks for the last 11 games of 2003-04, where he put up modest averages of 1.1 points and 1.1 rebounds in the brief outings.

Enter the Orlando Magic.

“I was working out at the IMG training facility in Sarasota, Fla., and my agent was in touch with general manager John Weisbrod,” Bradley said. “They sent Coach (Johnny Davis) down to check me out for two nights, and he watched me work out three or four times in a two-day period. Right after he left they started talking to my agent and they wanted to make an offer. I had a couple of other offers, but Coach came down and he was really excited about me and I figured that was a big positive to have the coach on your side.”

Indeed, Weisbrod and Davis were willing to look past those worst few moments of last season and into the potential that he displayed throughout the remainder of his career. Weisbrod even called him his “wild card,” a so-called diamond in the rough. And even though he has remained on the injured list for much of this season (he has seen action in only three games so far), Bradley is itching to get back on the 12-man active roster and show Orlando and the rest of the NBA what everyone at the Magic already know.

“I just want to get my opportunity to be on the court – you can’t do much on the bench or on the injured list where I am at now, so I am just trying to work hard here and practice. These guys know what I can do, and now it is kind of a numbers game. I just have to make do when I get out there, and then I could get a few more minutes than I have been getting. Everybody knows what I bring – rebounding, passing, and an all-around game, so hopefully I can get back soon and help.”

In other words, the worst of time are over, and the best of times – well, they’re still to come.