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A Princeton boy who beat the pros
Frank Deford
December 17, 1962
Bill Bradley, the best Ivy League player in years, has already set a mark not even the NBA can match
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December 17, 1962

A Princeton Boy Who Beat The Pros

Bill Bradley, the best Ivy League player in years, has already set a mark not even the NBA can match

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There are two numbers that really mean something to the Princeton man. One is his class numeral, especially every fifth year, when the reunions are biggest. The other is more universal—42. It became famous on the back of All-America Tailback Dick Kazmaier some 11 years ago, and the wearer may be a little less hallowed at Princeton than such fellow gradutes as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Woodrow Wilson—but not much. Naturally, with the proper regard for tradition, 42 is no longer worn by Tiger football players. But now, according to Princeton enthusiasts and a lot of less biased observers, the orange and black 42 is likely to be retired from the basketball court, too. The prodigy who will be responsible for this is Bill Bradley, Princeton '65, a 6-foot-5�, 198-pound son of a bank president from Crystal City, Mo.

How good is Bill Bradley? "Listen," says Coach Harry Gallatin of the National Basketball Association's St. Louis Hawks, "I'd like to have him on my club right now."

"I thought I had him for Duke," says Blue Devil Coach Vic Bubas, pretending to stab himself in the chest. "Every time I hear his name I get a sharp pain right here."

In the Midwest, where they savor basketball players with all the critical attention that a gourmet gives a Chateaubriand, Bradley was considered the best high school player in the country. He promptly lived up to the rating, leading Princeton's freshmen to a 10-4 season and sinking 57 straight foul shots, a total that broke the record of 56 set by Bill Sharman in the professional NBA.

This month Bradley began his varsity career. He led Princeton to three straight victories, raised his foul-shot record to 58 straight before finally missing and made it obvious that the Ivy League has its best player in years—maybe ever.

Not that Bill Bradley wants any such notoriety. An introvert—"It was three months before I could talk to him," says a roommate, Chuck Berling—he has approached Princeton and basketball at the same studied pace. As a high school player he scored 3,066 points, probably a national record and reason enough for more than 75 colleges to pursue him. But he was also a straight A student, president of the Missouri Association of Student Councils and a member of the National Honor Society.

When asked why he settled on Princeton, he says, "What seems to count to them is character and personality. The one thing I don't want to be is typed. I don't want to end up as just old Satin Shorts Bradley."

Still, but for a broken foot, Bradley would be at Duke, not Princeton. In fact, his decision to matriculate there instead of at Duke was made at the last possible moment. In May of 1960 Bradley had made up his mind to go to Duke. Earlier, he had also made up his mind that once he made up his mind, he wouldn't change it. During the summer, however, he broke his foot playing baseball. Out of the boredom enforced by inactivity he took to reading the myriad old college catalogs lying around the house.

Considering a foreign service career, he found himself impressed by the dossier on Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs. Hesitantly, an earlier interest in Princeton was revived, and he finally selected the Ivy League school. Holding nothing against Duke, Bradley still feels somewhat guilty about the switch. He is not eagerly anticipating the Duke-Princeton game on December 28. "I guess it will be good to finally get it over," he says.

Bradley lives in Little Hall, the Princeton dormitory closest to the gymnasium. This is, however, a convenience pretty much wasted on him. His mailing address would better be 2-8J Firestone Library, a study room hidden away on the second floor, where he spends from eight to 12 hours every day. "There is a fan in there, and once I get used to its drone my concentration isn't broken by something like a pencil falling off the table," he says.

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