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The Glue Guys

Tennessee's Bradshaw captains eighth annual team

Posted: Tuesday February 20, 2007 11:13AM; Updated: Wednesday February 21, 2007 3:42PM
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Dane Bradshaw's contributions don't always show up in the box score, but they have been an immeasurable part of Tennessee's success.
Dane Bradshaw's contributions don't always show up in the box score, but they have been an immeasurable part of Tennessee's success.
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On the morning of Tennessee's home game against Oklahoma State on Dec. 18, Volunteers senior forward Dane Bradshaw was in so much pain from tendonitis in both his shoulders that he could barely lift his arms over his head. Yet, there was Bradshaw, all 6-foot-4, 205 pounds of him, fighting amongst the giants to tip in teammate Ramar Smith's miss with 1.9 seconds remaining to give UT a 79-77 win. It was the kind of play Bradshaw has made throughout his career, during which he has compiled far more memorable moments than eye-popping statistics.

"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.

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