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Bradley does find the time for an occasional party, to stomp out a little rock 'n' roll and to see some musical comedies. He is socially popular, not through wit or special grace, but because he is genuinely interested in others. Conversely, the vast amount of public interest in Bill Bradley often confuses and disconcerts him, especially the talk that he "made good on his own" despite family affluence. Filling out Princeton's standard athletic forms in his freshman year, he identified his father as "banker." On the same form, as a sophomore, he changed that to read, "works in bank." As a junior, he just left the "Parent's Occupation" entry blank.
Bradley toured Europe after his senior year in high school, so he was not exactly fresh off the Midwest front porch when he arrived at Princeton. He is not naive about the challenges he faces, but neither have his schoolboy precepts been altered very much. In his room at Princeton a few days ago, he said: "If the time ever comes when I can't cry sometimes or can't jump up and down and get really excited or get moved to the point of chills, then I've changed and I'll know it. But just because I am an All-America, that doesn't mean my opinions have changed. 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 in Missouri."
Coming from a small town named Crystal City seems almost too perfect for an All-America, and the fact that Bradley is not already being called the Crystal City Kid or something similar is a pretty good indication that he is not colorful. He sure isn't. And because he is so uniformly excellent that no facet of his game stands 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 big shooter, and he has averaged 30 points per game in college. Yet when he played an exhibition game against Baltimore with the Olympic team, the Bullets' Bailey Howell qualified his praise to say: "He didn't seem to even look for shots." Only once—when he scored 51 against Dartmouth last winter—has he ever deliberately tried to push his own point total. He had tied his Ivy record of 49 in the game, and the fans cried for more. "I just took three shots to make two points," he says, "so I could get out of there." It is a good guess that he will not score as much this year for Princeton, since the team has picked up more talent.
On the Olympic team, where scorers abounded, he was content to be more of a playmaker, though with his diverse skills he was actually an all-court catalyst, sparking every phase 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 it done," says Alex Hannum, the San Francisco Warrior coach.
Bradley was the only U.S. player smart and flexible enough to convert his style to take advantage of the international rules, which so favor an aggressive offense. He drew many more fouls than his teammates by driving far more than he normally does. And his foul-shooting is already legendary; once he hit 58 in a row. With meticulous practice he has developed just about every shot. He can hook as well as jump-shoot or drive. He is equally adept at going to his left or right and shoots with either hand. Cincinnati Royal Coach Jack McMahon recalls when Bradley was a high school junior: "He went to Ed Macauley's basketball camp. 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 throws left-handed."
Bradley is not a spectacular jumper, but he gets good position. He is not exceptionally fast either, 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 accuracy from a distance, and he probably will if he decides to turn pro. At Princeton, his dedication to scholarship has restricted his basketball practice, but he has been almost fanatically faithful to the game ever since he was reprimanded for missing a session when he was 12 years old. This was hardly the result of even minor delinquency, however—he had passed up the practice for a boy-scout meeting. (Similarly, the story goes, the only time he was heard to curse was when he muttered "damn it" as he rushed from his room—late—to teach Sunday school.)
But of all his accomplishments, it is most typical that Bradley has now vastly improved the two elements of his game once considered weakest. Princeton Coach Bill van Breda Kolff noted immediately upon his star's return from Japan that he was much 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 a block on you, he lets you know it," says Tom Hawkins of the Royals.
Even more significant is Bradley's spectacular improvement on defense. When he came to Princeton he was like many high school stars whose coaches have shielded them from heavy defensive chores in order to keep them out of foul trouble. Van Breda Kolff schooled him thoroughly and made him guard the opponents' toughest men. Jack McMahon says, "I knew about Bradley's offense, and I knew his versatility. I know at Princeton he has to score. But what impressed me when he played against the Royals was that he was so aggressive on defense." The highest accolade of all, however, comes from Hank Iba, the Olympic coach who is a fanatic on this aspect of the game. He names Bradley as the U.S. team's best defender.
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 in every honor this side of Miss Teenage America. His own highest sports goal was to make the Olympics, and having played so magnificently in Tokyo, he may indeed 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 his reputation. 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. Louisan who has known Bradley since high school, "I think Bill will have to be a guard in the pros, and if he is, he will have to make a major adjustment. He can do everything—shoot, pass, dribble and play defense. But until he does make the adjustment in style there must be at least some reservations about him."
Harry Gallatin, on the other hand, has hardly any doubts about Bradley's future. The St. Louis Hawks coach feels that he can star as a swing man, playing the way John Havlicek has done. "Bill probably will spend a majority of his time as a guard and he will have his problems," Gallatin says, "but his assets will more than make up for any trouble he might have with the smaller backcourt men."