Freshman Bradley hopes to provide inside spark for Tar Heels
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Tony Bradley Jr. knows the opportunity awaiting him this fall at North Carolina.
The freshman big man will suit up for a fast-paced offense that looks to get the ball inside. And the Tar Heels could use some help up front after losing a pair of big men – including Associated Press first-team All-American Brice Johnson – from an NCAA finalist.
''I'm not trying to say I'm coming in to score,'' Bradley said in an interview with The Associated Press. ''I don't know what to expect. I'm just going to come in and work my hardest and see where it goes from there.''
The 6-foot-10, 235-pound McDonald's All-American from Bartow, Florida joins a team looking to replace Johnson's nightly double-doubles and at-the-rim finishes. With Johnson and reserve Joel James gone, the Tar Heels are left with two experienced big men in seniors Kennedy Meeks (6-10, 260) and Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 235).
The other members of UNC's recruiting class – scholarship guards Seventh Woods from Columbia, South Carolina and Brandon Robinson from Lithia Springs, Georgia, along with preferred walk-on Shea Rush of Kansas City, Missouri – bolster a deep perimeter led by returning double-digit scorers Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson.
That leaves Bradley in line for a potentially significant role, especially with Hicks having a history of foul trouble.
''It's just help keep up the production,'' Bradley said of his focus. ''That's my goal.''
Terrence McGriff, Bradley's high school coach, describes Bradley as a ''big, wide body'' with good hands. He also said Bradley's passing and decision-making was good enough that he also used him as a halfcourt distributor from the top of the key.
''All those big guys Carolina has had since Roy (Williams) has been there, he fits right in with the way they want to play perfectly,'' McGriff said.
Bradley's father, Tony Sr., said his son's drive to play college basketball took off after attending the McDonald's All-American Game as a youngster. He told his father he wanted to play in that game, then kept a program and T-shirt from the game as a reminder as he worked on his game and with a trainer to get stronger.
The result: Bradley entered college as Scout.com's No. 26 national prospect.
''He kept working and I guess that motivated him,'' Tony Bradley Sr. said. ''When he got that call that he made McDonald's All-American, he pulled the program out and he pulled the shirt out. He said, `See Dad, my name will be on there.' I said, `It's all about work. You worked to get it. You earned that.'''
Rising junior Theo Pinson has seen the benefits of Bradley's work in pickup games since the freshman arrived on campus last month, adding that Bradley was unafraid to call for the ball inside.
''I think it's very important that he gets confidence early,'' Pinson said. ''I think the college game is more about confidence than a lot of stuff. If he feels like he can fit in and play at this level, he'll be fine.
''He has such a willingness to learn and try to get better, so I don't see a problem with that at all. He came in, he's asking questions . he's taking all that in and doing a good job.''
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