Ray Allen calls the 2011-12 Huskies team one of the deepest he can remember. That has just about everything to do with the last piece to their roster puzzle, 6-10 freshman Andre Drummond, one of the best high school players in the country, and likely soon to be a dominating interior presence in college, too.
But for Drummond to join the Huskies, the program had to free up a scholarship for him. (UConn lost three scholarships to NCAA violations for both recruiting and academic shortcomings.) And that's where redshirt freshman Michael Bradley comes in. He was approached by the school about giving up his scholarship for a financial aid package, and that would make life easier for, well, everybody but Bradley.
Or so it seemed.
Apparently, the big man from Tennessee doesn't have any issue with the request. In fact, it sounds like he fully embraces it. The New Haven Register's David Borges spoke to Bob Smith, who along with his wife served as Bradley's host parents when he played AAU. Smith is also referred to as Bradley's "mentor," and is listed as Bradley's father in the UConn media guide.
“To be honest, (at first) I felt uneasy about [Bradley giving up his scholarship for Drummond],” Smith admitted to Borges. “But as Mike got to talking about it, you could tell real quick this is what Mike wanted to do. He wanted to do this. (They) won a national championship last year, and Mike wants to do that again so bad. He has a passion for it at this point.”
The first thought for many people (us included) was that the university must have lightly prodded Bradley in this direction because what kid would willingly want to give up a scholarship and the implication that goes with it: "You're good, just not as good as this other guy. But don't worry, you can still hang out with us, it'll just cost you." Turns out, that couldn't be further from the truth.
“I asked Mike, point-blank," Smith said. "He said, ‘I’m not being pressured, it’s not something I have to do, but it’s something I want to do.’” Smith even talked to Jim Calhoun about the situation.
“I felt like I could trust him,” Smith said. “He hasn’t lied to me. Everything he told Mike, he’s done so far. Mike would crawl across glass for that guy. He thinks the world of all the coaches. I hope they understand what they’ve got. They’ve got a guy willing to sacrifice for the team.”
And that's the rub. In the world of big-time college athletics, the line between player and commodity is sometimes blurred. To his credit, Calhoun seems to have the respect and admiration of his players, which is what you want from a man leading impressionable young minds.
Smith told Borges that Bradley will be off scholarship for just a year, and that he's not on the hook for the $38,000 tuition facing other out-of-state students.
“It’s not even close to ($38,000),” said Smith. “And even if it was, he’d still want to do it. Is he going to incur some expense? Sure. But it’s not something he can’t handle. Mike understands the numbers. A kid as poor as he was, he understands sacrifice. He has sacrificed all his life, and this time he has sacrificed for a cause he really, really believes in.”
Bradley might not be mentioned in the same breath as Drummond or Jeremy Lamb or Alex Oriakhi when it comes to on-court contributions, but he's as big a part of the success the Huskies have this season as any of those players.