Pat Bradley was 10 years old when his heart skipped a beat, and it wasn’t because a cute girl wanted to kiss him during recess.
Way back then in 1986 – 25 years ago – when college and high school basketball added a three-point shot, Bradley was starry-eyed the first time he saw the new three-point line on a court.
“When you see that line, you can’t help but run behind it and start shooting,” Pat says with a laugh. “That line was like a drug.”
It was also the perfect medicine for Pat’s playing career.
By the time Pat’s four-year run ended in 1999 as an All-SEC guard for the University of Arkansas, 366 made three-pointers transported a barely-recruited, pasty-skinned gym rat from the Boston, Mass., area into the SEC’s all-time leading three-point shooter.
Though Pat, now 35 and a radio sports talk show host for 103.7 The Buzz in Little Rock has since dropped to third on the league’s career threes list behind Tennessee’s Chris Lofton and Vanderbilt’s Shan Foster, it doesn’t diminish his accomplishments, including remaining the fourth leading scorer in U of A history.
It certainly doesn’t detract from his unlikely trek to Fayetteville where he still holds the SEC record for most consecutive games (60) with at least one made three-pointer.
Heading Pat’s senior year in 1994-95 at Everett (Mass.) High where he was a 6-2 guard who averaged 23 points as a junior, recruiting analyst Clark Francis of Louisville-based Hoop Scoop rated Pat between No. 100 and 250 among high school prospects in the class of ’95.
Arkansas was just a few months removed from winning the ’94 national championship when then-Hogs’ coach Nolan Richardson spotted Pat playing clutch ball at critical moments helping his New Bedford (Mass.) Buddies win three games in the AAU 17-and-under national championship tournament. At the time, Pat’s only scholarship offers were from mid-majors Boston University and St. Bonaventure.
Richardson’s standard recruiting tale is that he saw Pat rip seven three-pointers in one of those AAU tourney games, and that was all he needed to see.
“You know Coach Richardson – he loves to tell a good story and he never lets the actual facts get in the way of that story,” Pat says with a chuckle.
“I was playing point guard in that tournament and I didn’t shoot much, but it was one of my worst shooting weeks. But what tweaked Coach Richardson’s curiosity was we kept winning games and he wanted to know how. I did different things to help us win games late.”
When word began leaking that national champion Arkansas, a fast-breaking, hard-pressing team filled with long, strong, fast athletes, was recruiting Pat, the reaction was disbelief. Mr. “White Men Can’t Jump” was signing with one of college basketball’s best collection of athletes?
“The people that were most surprised were the other coaches that were recruiting me – Jim Baron of St. Bonaventure, and Dennis Wolff (who started his college playing career in the 70s at LSU under Dale Brown) of Boston University,” Pat says. “They couldn’t believe it.
“Fortunately, both of them said, `Hey, we want you to come here to our schools. But it would be a great decision for you to take a chance and go to Arkansas, because you never know what’s going to happen.’ Those coaches were great to me.”
Pat says he wasn’t surprised at the time that a basketball power like Arkansas would recruit him. It had been his goal since he was in the ninth grade to play for a major college program.
But Pat also recalls his first glimpse of the Razorbacks on TV in the early 90s, teams that featured sweet-shooting Todd Day, crafty Lee Mayberry and rotund but talented Oliver Miller.
“I couldn’t believe their size and their length, and how fast they played,” Pat says. “It was almost like they were playing a completely different game from the basketball I grew up playing.
“I’d go to Boston Garden to watch Larry Bird dive on the floor and shoot fadeaway threes for the Celtics. Next thing I know, I’m watching Arkansas with a 6-8, 6-9, 6-10 guys pressing and shooting threes. It was an eye-opening experience. It was different, but it was a beautiful style of basketball.”
And it was a style coached by someone Pat loved from the minute he met him.
“Something just stood out about Coach Richardson, and I connected with him immediately, because he was straightforward,” Pat says. “One of the first things he said to me was, `I don’t want to bring you down to Arkansas and sit you on the end of the bench as a token white guy.’ ”
Richardson knew that Pat wasn’t just a three-point shooter. He saw how Pat could ball fake, get into the lane, draw fouls and hit floating drives. Richardson realized Bradley was more than just a long-distance launcher.
Once Pat slipped on his No. 22 Razorbacks’ jersey and started playing for Richardson, he absolutely knew he’d made the right college choice.
For starters, Pat was able to play his entire career as the backcourt mate of Kareem Reid, a 5-11 point guard from Brooklyn, N.Y who could find a sliver in a defense, penetrate and make a play. More often than not, Reid, Arkansas’ all-time assists leader and still No. 2 in SEC history, somehow had radar lock on Bradley standing free for an open shot.
“Kareem was a special player who could get in the lane, twist his body completely around in mid-air and make a perfect pass right on the money,” Pat says. “Kareem was a scoring point guard who didn’t want to make the pass that led to the home run pass. He wanted to make the home run pass, and we trusted him with the ball in his hands.”
Pat also thrived because of Richardson’s unique coaching philosophy.
“Coach Richardson preached reaction, so he gave you freedom to think the game,” Pat explains. “In practice, he never told you A goes to B, B goes to C and C goes to D. He’d teach you that if you can go from A to D, then go do it. He allowed each of us to figure out a way.
“If he told you to run a play and you ran it a bit differently and scored, he was fine with it. I think a lot of coaches say, `We’re going to do it my way until we die, I don’t care.’
“I think I appreciated the fact Coach Richardson let you think outside the box so much, because I had to play that way for me to succeed. I obviously had my limits. If I just laced up my shoes and went head-to-head with somebody, I probably was going to lose.”
Bradley played on three NCAA tournament teams, advancing to the Sweet 16 as a freshman, and to the second round as a junior and senior. When he was a sophomore, the Hogs were a NIT Final Four squad.
There were some learning experiences along the way for Pat, such as the night in his junior year against North Texas. He made 10 three-pointers, which remains tied for third in SEC history for the most threes in a game.
That was the good news.
The bad news was for Bradley to hit 10 threes, he attempted 24 threes, which is still the SEC record. Since the end of Bradley’s college career, only one SEC player (Tennessee’s Lofton in 2008) attempted as many as 20 threes in a game.
Twenty-four three-point jacks in one game? How could Richardson sit there and allow that to happen?
"Coach Richardson had gotten kicked out of the game, so he was back in the locker room,” Pat says. “North Texas played a 2-3 zone defense the entire game. I wasn’t feeling my shot and I wanted to penetrate for some pull-up jumpers to get my rhythm going.
“But they gave me wide open shots I had to take and I kept missing. I kept telling myself, `I’m going to shoot myself out of it,’ but it was the worst shooting night of my life.
“When we got to the locker room after the game, Coach Richardson yelled at me. He said, `Son, you couldn’t make shots and you kept shooting. What’s wrong with you?’ Coach wasn’t happy about my performance and probably not many guys on the team were, too.
“You don’t know how many times I lay awake at night wanting to have that game back, wondering what if I’d been on that night and hit 22-of-24.”
Pat’s career high of 33 points against South Carolina as a junior was the result of Richardson getting in Pat’s head.
“We went to South Carolina the year before and they whipped us good (78-65),” Pat says. “They had BJ Mckie and Melvin Watson at guard. They were physical and they just pushed Kareem and me around.
“So the next year, we get them back in Fayetteville. The whole week everyday in practice leading to the game, Coach Richardson gave Kareem and me the business. He’d say, `BJ McKie and Melvin Watson are the best two guards in the country. I was reading the other day how they are going to whip you again.’ Coach killed us the whole week, but he had our attention. We went out and played one of our best games (in a 96-88 win).
“That’s one thing about playing at home in Bud Walton Arena. If our team plays well from the start and the crowd gets into it, it just crushes the opponent’s spirit. I seemed to find a lot of open shots when Bud Walton got rockin’ and I think that had to do with opponents being affected by it.”
Pat’s biggest transition from high school to college had nothing to do with basketball. It was all about sticking an East Coast urban teenager with a Baaaaahs-ton accent into a rural Southern setting filled with drawls, fried catfish and crawfish boils. Pat’s geography-challenged high school friends “wished me well at Arizona or wherever it is you’re going to,” he recalls when he told them he was signing with the Razorbacks.
“I had never even seen a cow, or a live chicken, until I took my official visit to Fayetteville and went to Coach Richardson’s ranch on the outskirts of town,” Pat says. “He had all this different livestock and animals walking around, and it was bizarre.
“It was just a different world to me. The air smelled different. Communicating with people was different. I had to develop a fake Southern accent just so I could communicate with a guy working at a convenience store. He couldn’t understand what I was saying, so I had to pull out my best fake Fayetteville accent to get my point across.”
Funny thing is, though, that after Pat’s post-Razorbacks’ pro hoops career that featured stops in Demark, France and in the now-defunct International Basketball Association (“I played for a North Dakota team and Darryl `Chocolate Thunder’ Dawkins split my lip open one night – he could have killed me and they wouldn’t have called a foul on him,” Pat says), he returned to Arkansas and not home to Boston.
Pat played briefly for the Arkansas RimRockers of the re-organized American Basketball Association, moved into player development and then became an assistant coach with the team in 2006 when it joined the NBDL.
When the RimRockers folded after one season, Pat was approached about doing a daily sportstalk radio show, putting his communications degree to work.
Pat still can’t say whether he’ll be in Arkansas forever “until I officially find a lady and get married,” he says. But it’s going to take a lot to pry him away from the laid-back Southern lifestyle he has come to appreciate.
“The last thing on my mind here in Little Rock is finding a parking spot or worrying about rush hour traffic, like in Boston,” Pat says. “Every time I go home to Boston and I come back here, I feel spoiled. It’s those little things you take for granted.
“Arkansas is a big small town. Everybody doesn’t know each other, but they certainly act like they do.”
They definitely know Pat. You never forget a shoot-aaaaah, especially one from Baaaaahs-ton.