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Lobo women’s coach Bradbury: Intense, honest, driven

 

Christy Bradbury was first to make the discovery.

Unbeknownst to her husband, first-year University of New Mexico women’s basketball coach Mike Bradbury, the unmarked service street looping around the Pit’s south and west parking lots has a name: Bradbury Drive.

“You’ve already got a street named after you,” Christy said, pointing to video evidence on her cellphone’s screen.

“No,” Mike said shaking his head in disbelief. “No, no, no. That has absolutely nothing to do with me.”

In reality, Mike Bradbury has had little time even to personalize his Davalos Center office – much less have a street named in his honor. In the three months since he was hired on a five-year deal with a $250,000 first-year salary, Bradbury’s time has been directly focused on two things:

1. Getting his family (Christy and their children Alex, 11, and Sena, 7) relocated from Ohio to New Mexico.

2. Putting a personal imprint on UNM’s women’s basketball program.

Both tasks are progressing, though perhaps not as quickly as Bradbury would like. He made numerous long-distance commutes to Ohio before his family settled into its Rio Rancho home in late June. He’s also made numerous recruiting trips in hopes of filling Lobo roster holes for this season and beyond.

The latter task has barely begun.

In previous head-coaching stops at Morehead State and Wright State, Bradbury turned around struggling women’s programs by reshaping rosters to suit his up-tempo style.

“I learned right away the quickest way up the ladder is recruiting,” Bradbury said. “I was taught that early from my very first coach. That was what I tried to hang my hat on and become good at.”

Since late March, Bradbury has hired a new coaching staff and lured four new players to UNM, although three of the players will not be eligible until 2017-18. He’s still hoping to add a player or two for this season and has two scholarships available after three former Lobos (Whitney Johnson, Jannon Otto and Kenya Pye) opted to transfer to other schools.

Bradbury says he did not “chase away” those players. Johnson and Otto, in fact, informed him of plans to transfer before Bradbury’s first offseason workout at UNM .

That said, he makes no bones about his plans for New Mexico women’s basketball. They include stockpiling players who buy into his mindset.

“Basketball has to be important,” he said. “Basketball has to be their priority.”

Foundation set

In 25 years of head- and assistant-coaching, Bradbury has developed a formula for building successful programs. That doesn’t mean his own path was fully mapped out.

A former high school point guard, Bradbury started coaching women’s basketball through a random turn of events that began with a random college course.

“It was called ‘Coaching Basketball’ and it was taught by the (Chattanooga) women’s basketball coach, Craig Parrott,” Bradbury said. “The next year I had a speech class and decided to compare and contrast men’s and women’s basketball. So I borrowed some reference books from him and when I took them back, he asked if I wanted to help out as a student assistant. That’s really how it started.”

Bradbury made five stops as an assistant, meeting and ultimately marrying Christy during a five-year stint at Cincinnati. A multi-sport prep athlete, Christy had attended Pat Summitt’s basketball camps at Tennessee but said, “basketball was never my favorite.”

Mike, on the other hand, had come to love coaching by that time. He spent five seasons at Xavier under head coach and best friend Kevin McGuff ; he was ready when the head job at Morehead (Ky.) State came open in 2007.

His first Eagles team finished 11-19.

“After we practiced and played that first year, it was clear we had a talent void,” Bradbury said. “We needed to get that addressed quickly and we did. We signed 12 kids in that first class, got the roster flipped in one year and went from the worst to the best.”

Morehead State went 17-14 and 22-11, respectively, the next two seasons and advanced to the WBI in 2009-10. It was the Eagles’ best season in 38 years, and it helped Bradbury land a job at Wright State.

But more life changes were in store.

Star recruit

Alex was born during Bradbury’s time at Xavier and both Mike and Christy knew they wanted a second child.

Wright State head coach Mike Bradbury argues a call with officials during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Horizon League tournament championship against Green Bay on Sunday, March 16, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

Wright State head coach Mike Bradbury argues a call with officials during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Horizon League tournament championship against Green Bay on Sunday, March 16, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

Christy had a new direction in mind.

“I’d always wanted to adopt,” she said. “(Mike) thought I was crazy at first, but we thought about it and prayed about it and finally came to the conclusion that that’s what we’re supposed to do. We just asked ourselves, ‘Why have another child when there are so many children out there that need families?’ That’s really why we did it.”

The Bradburys worked with Celebrate Children International, and in roughly 6 months adopted Sena Nicole from Woliso, Ethiopia, where she had been abandoned at an orphanage.

Sena (pronounced See-na) arrived as a 10-month-old weighing 14 pounds and immediately turned on the charm.

“She was a super easy baby,” Christy said, “so happy, never scared. She was just part of family. It was meant to be from day one.”

Alex, who was 4 at the time, remembers his sister’s arrival.

“I got every single toy we had and put them in a pile for her,” he said. “She never even touched them.”

Sena grinned and added, “Maybe I was just sleepy.”

Mike’s heart was immediately captured by Sena, who adapted to her new surroundings quickly. But the timing of her arrival – 10 days after Bradbury was hired by Wright State – was difficult. It was a 3-hour commute from home to Wright State’s campus in Dayton, Ohio.

“That was tough,” Mike recalled. “Brand-new child, brand-new job and Alex was still little. I really needed to be in two places at once.”

Instead he came home on weekends until the family was able to relocate.

Wright move

Taking on Wright State’s women’s program was a significant challenge on its own.c01_jd_10july_bradbury The Raiders had enjoyed just one winning season in the previous 22 years.

“We were really irrelevant in women’s basketball,” Wright State athletic director Bob Grant said. “Mike picked us up off the pavement and breathed life into the program.”

Bradbury did not entirely overhaul Wright State’s roster, “but we flipped about half of it,” he said. “We sold recruits on the dream that we were going to the (NCAA) Tournament even though it had never been done.”

Valerie King, an assistant coach for Bradbury at Morehead State, Wright State and now at UNM, said Bradbury’s recruiting style resonates with most players.

“He recruited me to Cincinnati,” King said, “so I’ve known him since I was 14. I think he’s really personable and down to earth. Once kids get to know him, they like him and he brings out the best of players, including some really good ones.”

Bradbury believes in building around a star player, and the first one he landed at Wright State was Kim Demmings. She became a four-time All-Horizon League honoree, two-time player of the year and left as the league’s career scoring leader with 2,677 points.

“Kim Demmings was the first one to bite on the idea that we could win at Wright State,” Bradbury said. “Her junior year, we did.”

The Raiders went 26-9 in 2013-14, upset perennial Horizon League power Green Bay in the conference tournament and earned their first NCAA berth.

“The amount of talent he brought in was amazing,” Grant said, “and the change in our program while he was here was nothing short of miraculous.”

Starting again

Bradbury and family are now starting again and trying to absorb a little Southwest culture. They’ve visited some nearby cliff dwellings (enjoyed by Christy), took a ride up the Sandia Tram (enjoyed by Alex) and have begun to sample local cuisine (Sena, tried green chile).

“My mouth was on fire!” she said.

Bradbury also is starting with his third women’s basketball program and says, “the first year at each school is the hardest.”

Grant said it can take a while for players (and perhaps fans) to get used to Bradbury’s intense style. He doesn’t hesitate to call players out in practice, but he’ll also go to bat for them during games.

Exhibit A could be a 2012 contest at Butler, when Bradbury picked up two technicals and tossed his suit jacket into the seats. He was subsequently tossed by officials and received a reprimand from the Horizon League. Bradbury later apologized.

Did he get the jacket back?

“Yes,” he said with a laugh. “It just went behind our bench and landed on an empty seat. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t hit anybody, and it did give our team a spark.”

Bradbury feels the incident was “overblown,” and said he’s received only a few technicals in the past four seasons, all of them by design.

“If our players are not getting calls, someone has to defend them,” he said. “That’s my job.”

Intensity aside, Grant found Bradbury easy to work with.

“Mike’s very honest and direct,” he said, “and there’s a shock value to that sometimes. But once it wears off, I think people appreciate honesty. You always know where you stand with him.”

Bradbury lets UNM’s players know when he’s not satisfied with their effort. He concedes, “We’ve got to get better and put our footprint on things.”

He doesn’t anticipate as many roster changes as there have been at his previous stops but said it remains to be seen how well the returning Lobos will adapt to his dribble-drive, high-intensity system.

“The biggest thing is going to be changing the style of play,” Bradbury said. “We’re working on that and they’re progressing.”

Bradbury said he’s looking forward to coaching in front of UNM’s raucous crowds, which were part of what attracted him to the school. He does not, however, want a spotlight introduction on game days.

“They can do that stuff with the kids,” he said, “that’s fine. But when it’s game day, I’ll be dialed in and trying to win. It’s not a concert and it’s not about me. It’s a game and there’s only one goal.”

Nor does he care to have street signs installed along Bradbury Drive.

“I can’t believe it’s named that,” he said. “Maybe I was better off not knowing.”

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