An Ivy Leaguer Is the Best

There is an air of uncertainty about this season all over the country. Because the collegiate roster is bursting with good teams, hardly a conference race can be predicted with confidence, let alone the NCAA championship. No doubts exist on one count, however: the finest player in sneakers leads the forces of a most unlikely campus
December 07, 1964

If you look at allof him squarely, Bill Bradley seems too good—and too much—to be true. He is thebest college basketball player in the world (he won an Olympic gold medal andwas the best on the U.S. team in Tokyo); he is studious, religious, ambitious,popular and respected by his peers; he is trustworthy, loyal, helpful,courteous—he is, in short, Jack Armstrong and might also be Horatio Alger,except for the fact that his father is a bank president and is paying forBill's room, board and tuition at Princeton.

Fortunately—youhave to look hard for a flaw—the quirk of a permanently arched left eyebrowgives him a mischievous, almost Satanic, appearance, but that, too, is quicklydisputed by the sober, purposeful eyes, far more accurate gauges of this youngman's personality. Bradley is dark, angularly strong, with a few more than 200pounds on a lithe 6-foot-5 frame. His smile from out of the opposite page trulyreflects his warmth, though he can hardly be called the happy-go-lucky type.But it does belie his rigorous determination and self-discipline. Bradleyinsists that he is not a natural athlete. Without detracting from the immenseeffort he has put into basketball, few observers would agree with thisestimate. It probably is true that his more modest academic success is theresult of hard work rather than natural aptitude. Any Princeton student willtell you that a man who studies as much as Bradley does should be better than aB student—even if that would be A at most other schools.

Despite the factthat Bradley and Princeton get along marvelously, there is still mildastonishment that the best player in the country should be matriculating at OldNassau, an institution which has produced twice as many presidents asbasketball All-Americas, i.e. James Madison, Woodrow Wilson and William WarrenBradley. But there are certainly no regrets on Bradley's part about his choiceof college. He picked Princeton in the 11th hour, leaving Duke at the veryaltar and about 60 other schools and their coaches on the road to the church.All had been attracted by a high school career in Crystal City, Mo. thatincluded 3,066 points and two years of prep All-America. One of the losingcoaches said sourly that Bradley could have been the greatest college playerever, but performing in the relative obscurity of the Ivy League would deprivehim of that chance.

It has worked out,of course, in reverse. The novelty of having such an athlete performing in theshadows of ivy-walled Nassau Hall—without a grant-in-aid, without ersatzcourses of study—has only enhanced Bradley's reputation. In the unique settingof the Olympic trials, where all of the best amateur players are thrown againsteach other in direct competition, without the support of familiar teammates,Bradley was the only undergraduate selected. Further, he had to make the teamas a guard, after playing almost exclusively as a forward for Princeton,because the coaches thought he was too small for the forecourt in thiscompetition. When they discovered they were wrong, he went back to forward andbecame the most valuable player on the winning U.S. team.

At Princeton,Bradley blends in easily though, basketball aside, he is still not a typicalundergraduate—he is more serious and less blasé than most. He plays basketballwith an air of nonchalance, however, and is treated with roughly that attitudeon campus. This delights him. He enjoys contrasting his reception after theOlympics with the full-blown parade that the town of Princeton gave itsgold-medal winner, Diver Leslie Bush. "I flew back." he says, "andtook a bus from New York and finally got to Princeton about 9 one morning.Thirty straight hours of travel. There was nobody to meet me. I just walkeddown to my room. A few people said hello or welcome back, but that was aboutit."

Actually,Princeton does take a prideful interest in its All-America—in its ownfashion—and Bradley has had something of a lasting effect on the school. Whenhe arrived, games at snug little Dillon Gym (2,600 roll-out seats) werecharacterized by the atmosphere of a public hanging. Students showed up mostlyto take out their wintertime frustrations on opponents. On one notable weekendthe visiting Harvard captain was driven into fighting with some of histormentors on Friday night, and on Saturday night the Dartmouth players werepelted with rubber-band-propelled paper clips. An appeal by the coach andcaptain during Bradley's sophomore year helped, but it was more his regalpresence on the floor that finally brought an urbane attitude to basketballwatching. "It's like—well. I don't think you could chuck garbage at anyoneon stage when Caruso's up there too." an undergraduate explains.

Sellouts at Dillonwere common enough, but after Bradley started playing, basketball seating hadto be restricted on the same basis as football. About 440 extra (and bad) seatswill be crammed in this year, but still only students, faculty, a few alumniand opponents will be able to get in. It is no coincidence that Princeton hasfinally become serious about building a much larger indoor athletic complex.Plans are being speeded for a new arena that will seat upward of 7,000.

But Princetonstudents hold Bradley's basketball skill less in awe than they do hisprodigious purpose. He studies in virtually all of his free time and seldomgets more than six hours' sleep. Before one game last winter, when he wascompleting an important history department paper on nativism in the U.S. afterWorld War I, he trained with four straight nights of about two hours' sleepeach. His teammates say that he plays so well on the road simply because travelkeeps him away from Firestone Library and obliges him to sleep more. Two hoursbefore every home game he goes back to his room in Dodge-Osborn Hall and isable to drift right off for a 40-minute nap. "Well, you know, I'm so tired,it's not hard," he says. He is so conscientious that he has been known toask roommates to wake him up from a nap at, say, 5:27 instead of 5:30. To saveother minutes he takes many of his meals at the student union, which is severalhundred yards closer to the library than his eating club, Cottage.

Bradleylives—after the library closes at midnight—with five roommates. The only otherbasketball player among them, Bill Kingston, is perhaps as close to him asanyone. "Getting to know Bill has been worth the four years here,"Kingston says. "But always, I just wish he could be more outgoing."Donald Mathews, a young instructor who was Bradley's advisor last year andbecame a friend as much as a teacher, says: "He comes to generalizationspainfully. I think Bill is becoming more mellow, but he will never shoot thebreeze, as it were, without having done some studying on the subject."

Bradley isrestrained intentionally because of the special pressures upon him—he saysthings like. "No one has to know my motives." and "I don't have towear my heart on my sleeve"—but he is also naturally reticent. "Ofcourse." teammate Ed Steube says, "it would be nice to have Bill loosenup, but then, you see. it wouldn't be Bill Bradley."

Bradley does findthe time for an occasional party, to stomp out a little rock 'n' roll and tosee some musical comedies. He is socially popular, not through wit or specialgrace, but because he is genuinely interested in others. Conversely, the vastamount of public interest in Bill Bradley often confuses and disconcerts him,especially the talk that he "made good on his own" despite familyaffluence. Filling out Princeton's standard athletic forms in his freshmanyear, he identified his father as "banker." On the same form, as asophomore, he changed that to read, "works in bank." As a junior, hejust left the "Parent's Occupation" entry blank.

Bradley touredEurope after his senior year in high school, so he was not exactly fresh offthe Midwest front porch when he arrived at Princeton. He is not naive about thechallenges he faces, but neither have his schoolboy precepts been altered verymuch. In his room at Princeton a few days ago, he said: "If the time evercomes when I can't cry sometimes or can't jump up and down and get reallyexcited or get moved to the point of chills, then I've changed and I'll knowit. But just because I am an All-America, that doesn't mean my opinions havechanged. I hope I have matured but—and I don't mean this literally, of course;not out of context—but I guess I'm still the same boy from a small town inMissouri."

Coming from asmall town named Crystal City seems almost too perfect for an All-America, andthe fact that Bradley is not already being called the Crystal City Kid orsomething similar is a pretty good indication that he is not colorful. He sureisn't. And because he is so uniformly excellent that no facet of his gamestands out, it is even difficult at first to tell how good he is on the court.In high school and at Princeton, for instance, he has had to be the bigshooter, and he has averaged 30 points per game in college. Yet when he playedan exhibition game against Baltimore with the Olympic team, the Bullets' BaileyHowell qualified his praise to say: "He didn't seem to even look forshots." Only once—when he scored 51 against Dartmouth last winter—has heever deliberately tried to push his own point total. He had tied his Ivy recordof 49 in the game, and the fans cried for more. "I just took three shots tomake two points," he says, "so I could get out of there." It is agood guess that he will not score as much this year for Princeton, since theteam has picked up more talent.

On the Olympicteam, where scorers abounded, he was content to be more of a playmaker, thoughwith his diverse skills he was actually an all-court catalyst, sparking everyphase of team play. Significantly, he played much more than any other American."He just seems to know what to do, when to do it and how to get itdone," says Alex Hannum, the San Francisco Warrior coach.

Bradley was theonly U.S. player smart and flexible enough to convert his style to takeadvantage of the international rules, which so favor an aggressive offense. Hedrew many more fouls than his teammates by driving far more than he normallydoes. And his foul-shooting is already legendary; once he hit 58 in a row. Withmeticulous practice he has developed just about every shot. He can hook as wellas jump-shoot or drive. He is equally adept at going to his left or right andshoots with either hand. Cincinnati Royal Coach Jack McMahon recalls whenBradley was a high school junior: "He went to Ed Macauley's basketballcamp. He had hurt his right arm, but he went down there anyway, and Ed said,'Just practice with your left hand.' So he hit nine of 10 free throwsleft-handed."

Bradley is not aspectacular jumper, but he gets good position. He is not exceptionally fasteither, but he has quick hands, and when he gets loose on a break, his loping,cutting strides make him appear as fast as anyone. He can improve his accuracyfrom a distance, and he probably will if he decides to turn pro. At Princeton,his dedication to scholarship has restricted his basketball practice, but hehas been almost fanatically faithful to the game ever since he was reprimandedfor missing a session when he was 12 years old. This was hardly the result ofeven minor delinquency, however—he had passed up the practice for a boy-scoutmeeting. (Similarly, the story goes, the only time he was heard to curse waswhen he muttered "damn it" as he rushed from his room—late—to teachSunday school.)

But of all hisaccomplishments, it is most typical that Bradley has now vastly improved thetwo elements of his game once considered weakest. Princeton Coach Bill vanBreda Kolff noted immediately upon his star's return from Japan that he wasmuch better off the boards—"He's no longer an Ivy League rebounder."Some observers have insisted that he was not sufficiently aggressive overall;but the pros he played against as an Olympian do not agree. "When he puts ablock on you, he lets you know it," says Tom Hawkins of the Royals.

Even moresignificant is Bradley's spectacular improvement on defense. When he came toPrinceton he was like many high school stars whose coaches have shielded themfrom heavy defensive chores in order to keep them out of foul trouble. VanBreda Kolff schooled him thoroughly and made him guard the opponents' toughestmen. Jack McMahon says, "I knew about Bradley's offense, and I knew hisversatility. I know at Princeton he has to score. But what impressed me when heplayed against the Royals was that he was so aggressive on defense." Thehighest accolade of all, however, comes from Hank Iba, the Olympic coach who isa fanatic on this aspect of the game. He names Bradley as the U.S. team's bestdefender.

Bradley is, then,a complete player. And a winner, too. He has led Princeton to two Ivy titles,and this year the Tigers should breeze to a third. He has already gathered inevery honor this side of Miss Teenage America. His own highest sports goal wasto make the Olympics, and having played so magnificently in Tokyo, he mayindeed find it difficult to be stimulated in his last college season. As a pro,though, Bradley would have much more of a challenge than just living up to hisreputation. At his height, in the NBA, he is pegged as too small for a forward,and too big—or, rather, too slow—for a guard. Says Ed Macauley, a St. Louisanwho has known Bradley since high school, "I think Bill will have to be aguard in the pros, and if he is, he will have to make a major adjustment. Hecan do everything—shoot, pass, dribble and play defense. But until he does makethe adjustment in style there must be at least some reservations abouthim."

Harry Gallatin, onthe other hand, has hardly any doubts about Bradley's future. The St. LouisHawks coach feels that he can star as a swing man, playing the way JohnHavlicek has done. "Bill probably will spend a majority of his time as aguard and he will have his problems," Gallatin says, "but his assetswill more than make up for any trouble he might have with the smaller backcourtmen."

Speculation aboutBradley's ability to play pro basketball is, however, somewhat moot. He is notso sure that he will try it. "If I wanted to prove myself and I knew I hadthe desire to continue, I'm sure I would," he says. "But right now,there are too many alternatives. I don't need basketball competition. Theattitude is what is important, and I've gotten that out of the game already. Ilove the game. It's part of me. I don't think, however, that it's aninseparable—there ought to be a better word—oh, well, an inseparable part ofme. At one time I thought I couldn't live unless I played baseball, and I gavethat up."

Bradley isconsidering six alternatives to the pros. Some of them are admittedly smokescreens—"I say some of this to confuse people; it's still mybusiness"—but he is obviously interested in both law school and studyabroad. The other possibilities are the ministry, government work, business andthe Air Force. His future is likely to remain indefinite for a while becauseBradley, right now, is more concerned with the present, and particularly withhis thesis, which is a major part of a Princeton senior's grade. His topic is"The 1940 Senatorial Campaign in Missouri," and he did a great deal ofwork on it over the summer at the Library of Congress when he was inWashington. (He split the rest of his time between helping in GovernorScranton's campaign and practicing for the Olympics.) Bradley has personallyinterviewed one of the losers of that 1940 campaign and hopes to meet with thewinner when he gets a Christmas break from basketball. The winner maintains alibrary in Independence, Mo. Bradley is also an eager public speaker—hevirtually solicits engagements from youth groups—and because of his forensicaptitude and his qualities of leadership, it has been suggested that he alreadyhas his dark eyes on that Senate seat he is now writing about.

One usuallylevelheaded New York journalist has asked Bradley—seriously—if he would like tobe President. Bill dismisses such talk as foolishness and insists it would bepresumptuous even to answer the question. But they are going to be writingabout this young man for years to come—and not just about the way he dribbles abasketball.

"He is aChristian the best way he can be, through the rigors of Calvinism," DonaldMathews says, trying to explain him. "He's never going to lose. Bill isalways going to come back. Do you know?" He smiled and paused. "Do youknow just how hard it is to defeat a 16th century Puritan?"

PHOTOMARK KAUFFMAN PHOTOBradley (No. 5) defends against Russia's Korneyev in Olympic finale.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)