When Charles Bradley was a child, his mother called him "Tub" because he was wider than he was high. Today the tub holds a full load: 6'5", 215 pounds of muscle upon rippling muscle. Bradley's short bulldog nose, dark mustache and furrowed brow give him a game face that clearly says, "Don't mess with me." If Bradley were a football player, the announcer would say he was "looking for someone to hit."
But because Bradley's game is basketball—he is a guard for the University of Wyoming—the chances are the hurt will be laid on the backboard. "I've shattered two backboards and torn down I don't know how many rims," he says. "I tell myself, 'Don't throw it down so hard,' but it doesn't seem hard to me. I don't think I'm mean, I just like to establish my physicalness quickly."
And woe to the man who gets in his way. "We have a couple of plays where we lob it up to the basket and he jams that sucker right in there," says Cowboys Coach Jim Brandenburg. "One time somebody's going to go up with him to try and stop it, and Charles will break the guy's arm and slam it through the rim with the ball."
Aggressive play—he had 14 slam dunks in unbeaten Wyoming's first four games—has helped make Bradley a two-time All-Western Athletic Conference performer. Last season he outpolled some far more publicized players like Brigham Young's Danny Ainge and Utah's Danny Vranes.
For all his pugnacity on the court, Bradley is a peaceable man off it. He even wears glasses and plays chess, for goodness sake. Polite and respectful, he says "Sir" and "Ma'am" to adults. Kids love him. His major is elementary education and he serves as a teacher's aide in two Laramie schools. "I've never worked with a star athlete before so I was worried about how he'd fit in," says Mrs. Ruth Wilson, a teacher. "But with these kids he's only been kind and gentle." Says Glenna Barrett, a 9-year-old pupil, "He's nice. I like him. We have fun." Bradley's affinity for kids has made him something of a Pied Piper, attracting smiles and waves in stores and supermarkets and mobs of little friends after games.
Returning from Nebraska on Nov. 29, after a game in which he contributed 14 points to a 62-59 overtime victory, Bradley took the sons of the coaching staff to his apartment to spend the night. "They cooked popcorn and watched television and he brought them to practice the next day," says Brandenburg. "He's truly a class person, a son to me and my family."
"I feel a responsibility to children, and fortunately I'm in a position where they listen to me and care about what I have to say," Bradley says. One of six brothers and sisters, Bradley, 21, grew up in Edgewood, Md., about 15 miles northeast of Baltimore. Although his father died when he was two, Charles found role models in his three older brothers, William, Carl and Dudley. In 1974-75, Charles, Carl and Dudley all started on an Edgewood High team that won a state championship. Tragically, barely a month later Carl died of a heart attack during a recreation league game. Dudley went on to star at North Carolina and now plays for the Indiana Pacers. William, a graduate of Towson (Md.) State, is applying to law school.
When it was time for Charles to choose a college, he rejected North Carolina because "I had always been 'Dudley's little brother,' and that was his school. I needed to go somewhere I could grow up on my own."
He found it some 1,600 miles away from home, at the foot of the Snowy Range in Wyoming. After the spring break in his freshman year, Bradley discovered that the coach who recruited him, Don DeVoe, had moved on to Tennessee. And he was still trying to adjust to Western life in Laramie.
"After my freshman year I just wanted to get out," Bradley recalls. "There was no downtown, no social life and the program was down in the dirt. Then Coach Brandenburg came in."