"I've been a college coach for 27 years, and I will never miss a player more than I'll miss Dane," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl says.
Adds UT freshman forward Duke Crews, "He's not the quickest guy. He's not the strongest guy. He's not the biggest guy, but 10 times out of 10, he seems like the smartest guy on the court."
Because we are a stats-driven nation, Bradshaw's name won't pop up on any All-America teams, or even any All-SEC squads. But there is one place where his off-the-stat-sheet contributions are given their due: He has been named captain of SI.com's eighth annual All-Glue team. A rare combination power forward/backup point guard, Bradshaw, who was a member of last year's All-Glue team, was elevated to the captaincy by this committee of one in recognition of his versatility, guile and grit -- the very ingredients that help good teams stick together.
A graduate of Memphis' White Station High, Bradshaw came to Tennessee in hopes of becoming the Vols' full-time point guard. But when UT lost two of its best big men to suspensions at the beginning of Bradshaw's sophomore year, Pearl, who had just taken over for Buzz Peterson, asked Bradshaw to fill in. "You play guys based on who they can cover," Pearl says. "Dane's a great post defender because he beats you to the post and he anticipates. Then he becomes a matchup problem offensively, because who does the other team have who can guard him?"
Pearl believes the constant pounding Bradshaw takes has caused his body to break down. Though his shoulder injuries have led his shooting percentages to plummet in league play (20.3 percent from the field, 26.1 percent from three), Bradshaw has still found a way to rank second in the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.63-to-1) and fifth in both steals (1.85) and assists (4.78).
As his tip-in against Oklahoma State demonstrates, Bradshaw has shown an uncanny knack for delivering huge plays in huge situations. In Tennessee's win over Kentucky last week, Bradshaw did not score a point, but he had nine assists and two turnovers and made a late steal to help seal the victory. Last season, Bradshaw twice made steals and baskets in the closing seconds to clinch wins over eventual national champ Florida. Gators fans paid Bradshaw the ultimate compliment when they heckled him while he was in the stands during a Florida-Tennessee football game.
Bradshaw turned in the signature performance of his career under considerable duress when Tennessee played at Memphis last year. He had uncharacteristically caused a stir beforehand by referring publicly to the "gang bangers" who he said watched Memphis' home games. With his hometown crowd booing him every time he touched the ball, Bradshaw scored a career-high 21 points that night to go along with 10 rebounds and five steals in an 88-79 loss. After the game, he made a point to apologize both to Memphis coach John Calipari and his wife for what he had said.
"How about that?" Calipari said afterward. "He goes over and tells my wife, 'Miss Cal, I apologize.'" Calipari has also said admiringly of Bradshaw, "He's a wonderful young man and a terrific basketball player, just an absolute competitor. Whatever he has in his body, he gives. And as coaches, you want guys like that."
The shoulder troubles are not the first time Bradshaw's body has given out. He suffered a torn ligament in his right wrist in January 2006, but decided to forego surgery until the season was over. (He led the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio despite a cast.) Bradshaw attributes his toughness to having grown up with his older sister and two older brothers, all of whom played college basketball.
"There were plenty of times I'd run in the house crying, or they'd kick the ball down the hill and walk inside. I'd have to tough it out," he says. "I've always been unselfish to a fault. Every coach I've played for has told me I needed to look to score a little more, but I just enjoy it when I get people in position to score."
Some of Bradshaw's favorite moments on the court come when he watches the opposing bench to see if the coach is calling for an isolation against him -- at which point Bradshaw grabs a taller teammate and switches assignments. That cerebral approach extends to the classroom, where Bradshaw earned his communications degree in three years and is now working toward his masters in sports management.
While it's easy to see why Pearl is dreading Senior Night on Feb. 27, he plans to announce that evening he is personally endowing a scholarship in Bradshaw's name that will be given out annually to a Tennessee student-athlete who exemplifies the virtues Bradshaw brought to the program. "It may take a few years to endow it fully, but it will come out of my pocket and it will be enough to be around forever," Pearl says. "Dane embodies everything that is good about intercollegiate athletics. The only thing that's missing is he has yet to propose to marry my daughter. That, and his shooting percentage lately."
Alas, there is no cash prize for being named captain of SI's All-Glue Team. Just a salute from the committee for a sticky job well done.
Here are the rest of the 2006-07 honorees, followed by the complete list of the seven previous All-Glue teams:
It's a good thing Shiloh turned out to be such a good player because Wolf Pack coach Mark Fox missed the birth of his daughter, Olivia, to recruit him. The Bakersfield, Calif., native came to Nevada in hopes of being the team's starting point guard, but after the school brought in Ramon Sessions, Shiloh accepted a switch to shooting guard. Fox, who says Shiloh is "as complete a guard as we've had here," has often complained Shiloh has been left off the WAC's All-Defensive team as voted on by the coaches, even though he was selected in a unanimous survey by his own teammates as the Pack's top defender.
In particular, Shiloh has been a one-man nemesis for Utah State's Jaycee Carroll, who is one of the WAC's top scorers but has frequently scored well under his average against Shiloh, including a seven-point performance (on 2 of 10 shooting) in last year's WAC tournament final. Though Shiloh has worked hard to turn himself into a 41.3 percent shooter from three-point range (up from 21.6 percent his sophomore year), he is only averaging 9.7 points per game because he knows the team doesn't need him to shoot that much. This season, Shiloh and Nick Fazekas became part of the winningest class in school history. Fazekas may be remembered as the star of that class, but Shiloh was the glue. It takes both to win that many games.
It's obvious the entire program has launched a PR-blitz with the specific intention of getting Kirk onto this prestigious list. "He's a glue guy, he's a tough guy, he's a guy who never has a bad day in his life," coach Billy Gillispie said in December. "He's the glue for this team," senior center Antanas Kavaliauskas said in January.
The best advertisement, however, has come on the court, where Kirk has repeatedly locked down the Big 12's best offensive players while posting a 2.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and sinking a respectable 36.8 percent from three-point range. Before Gillispie offered Kirk a scholarship four years ago, Kirk had received exactly one Division I offer -- from Liberty. Yet, Gillispie made Kirk a starter as a freshman because he noticed Kirk kept beating everyone in preseason conditioning drills. If he doesn't get hurt, Kirk will set a school record for consecutive starts.
Stories written about Kirk tend to mention his habit of answering every question with a "yes, sir" and "no, sir." Gillispie also says Kirk is the first one to thank the bus driver when the Aggies hit the road. When it comes to describing his role on this team, Kirk also says the right things. "My role is the glue guy," he says. "I try to keep everybody together." For that, he also deserves some thanks.
What, you didn't know Ohio State had another big guy besides Greg Oden? If you're a Big Ten coach who has had to scout the Buckeyes, you certainly know about Hunter, who gives Ohio State a physical presence that perfectly complements Oden inside.
This is only Hunter's fourth year of organized basketball, so his offense is behind his defense (he is averaging just 6.7 points per game). Still, his 5.3 rebounds per game is extremely impressive for a guy who is playing less than 19 minutes a night. He is also making 58.1 percent of his field goals and 74.5 percent of his free throws.
When opposing teams try to double- and triple-team Oden, Hunter can give the Buckeyes a lift, such as when he contributed 14 points, six rebounds and three blocks in a Jan. 2 win over Indiana. A transfer from Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Hunter specializes in defending the post and working the defensive glass. Those skills will come in especially handy during the NCAA tournament when Oden goes to the bench. "Guys don't know me," Hunter has said. "They think, 'Well, he's just another basketball player so we'll double Greg and leave him open.'" Sorry to let the secret out, Othello, but Glue Guys deserve to be known, too.
Alando Tucker may give the Badgers their star power, but Landry gives them their attitude. He is Wisconsin's first player off the bench, but he's often on the court at the end of close games.
Though Landry is not the Badgers' biggest player, he usually guards the opponent's best post man. His quickness and timing has enabled him to rank ninth in the Big Ten in blocks. No rejection was more memorable than the one he had on his brother Carl's dunk attempt during Wisconsin's 69-64 win over Purdue. Landry's best game came in Wisconsin's biggest win, when he had 10 points, four offensive rebounds and four blocks and also scored a pair of key three-point baskets during the second half against Ohio State.
Off the court, this has also been a season of growth for Landry, who missed Wisconsin's final 15 games last season after he was declared academically ineligible. He has found motivation from some adult responsibilities: He is married to Efueko Osagie-Landry, who plays basketball for Marquette, and is the father of two young children. "I've always been a person who has said nobody can stop me but me," Landry said last month. "So if I don't stop myself I can go a long way." So can the Badgers, as long as their Glue Guy holds them together.
2006: Sean Dockery, Duke (captain); Dane Bradshaw, Tennessee; Mike Hall, George Washington; Sean Marshall, Boston College; Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA; Kenton Paulino, Texas
2005: Jamaal Levy, Wake Forest (captain); Louis Hinnant, Boston College; Erroll Knight, Gonzaga; Christian Moody, Kansas; Ellis Myles, Louisville; Roger Powell, Illinois
2004: Jaron Brown, Pittsburgh (captain); Tyrone Barley, Saint Joseph's; Erroll Knight, Gonzaga; Roger Powell, Illinois; Nick Robinson, Stanford; Robert Tomaszek, Texas Tech.
2003: Rick Anderson, Arizona (captain); Jaron Brown, Pittsburgh; Justin Hamilton, Florida; Chuck Hayes, Kentucky; Robert Johnson, Oregon; Ellis Myles, Louisville; Tony Robertson, Connecticut.
2002: Gerald Fitch, Kentucky (captain); Dahntay Jones, Duke; Billy Knight, UCLA; Byron Mouton, Maryland; Jarrod Odle, Indiana; Antoine Pettway, Alabama.
2001: Sergio McClain, Illinois (captain); Nate James, Duke; Luke Walton, Arizona; Justin Hamilton, Florida; Marcus Toney-El, Seton Hall; Jason Capel, North Carolina
2000: Lavor Postell, St. John's (captain); Alex Jensen, Utah; Nate James, Duke; Brian Beshara, LSU; Stanford (glue team)