The Shawn Bradley Era officially, or unofficially - however you want to look at it - got under way Friday night at the Marriott Center.
It was the Varsity Preview, the kind of event that usually draws flies. This time an estimated crowd of 14,000 was on hand, largely to get a first-hand look at the large Mr. Bradley, the 7-foot-6 highly recruited, highly touted freshman center from Castle Dale.Bradley's every good move brought cheers from the crowd, but on this night there weren't an awful lot to cheer about. Bradley finished with 13 points, second behind Nathan Call's game-high 16 and had his share of rebounds and blocked shots. But he wasn't the intimidating force many fans envisioned. This wasn't Lew Alcindor circa 1965.
"He did a nice job on defense and on the boards," said BYU Coach Roger Reid of Bradley, who has sat out part of fall practice with sore knees. "There were times he was knocked around and showed a weakness. But there are too many guys on the team to feature on any one player."
Bradley, who seemed clearly frustrated at times, said, "It wasn't one of my better nights. But I have to be satisfied because I had fun."
Perhaps his most impressive accomplishment of the night came at halftime when he finished third in the 3-point shooting contest with nine baskets in 30 seconds. He also showed off some nifty dunks in a halftime slam-dunk "demonstration."
Afterward Bradley's corner of the arena had the longest line for an autograph session and there was a near-riot of 12-year-old kids when they cut off the autograph-signing after 50 minutes.
While Bradley wasn't overly impressive, neither was the Cougar squad on the whole, which is to be expected this early in the season. There was some sloppy passing and a lot of missed shots (shooting percentages weren't kept), but Reid tried to be as positive as possible.
"We were a little tight, but overall I was happy," he said. "I thought the guys executed the way we wanted them to. We only used one offense and we'll have eight or 10 that we'll eventually use."
Although hardly anyone seemed to care about the score, for the record the White team won the first half 28-19 with fairly evenly mixed teams and the second half 43-20 with a lineup that featured BYU's top eight players.
The 5-11 Call, who returned from a mission this summer, got revved up in the second half, making some steals and leading the fast break. He also led the team with a pair of three-pointers.
"I was really happy with Nathan's first game," said Reid. "Everybody was wondering what we were going to do at point guard."
Returning lettermen Mark Heslop and Scott Moon, who will likely fight it out for the other starting guard spot, finished with 11 and 7 points, respectively. Keegan Kane, a 6-4 transfer from Ricks College, showed some flashes, and he nipped Heslop in the 3-point contest 11-10.
The front-line is where the Cougars are top-heavy this year with nine players 6-7 or taller. Besides Bradley and returning starter Steve Schreiner (7 points), the guys who impressed Friday were Jared Miller, a 6-8 forward from Ricks ("He's a horse on the boards" said Reid), Gary Trost (back from an LDS mission) and freshman Kenneth Roberts.
The ex-Bingham star scored just 6 points, but he looked the most polished of all the new big men. He also was our unofficial winner of the halftime slam dunk non-contest.
With just 11 days to go until the season opener against East Tennessee State (Nov. 14), BYU seems to have plenty of work on its hands.
"It's very frightening," said Reid. "They've got everybody back from a 27-7 team and some magazines have them in the top 20. We've got a bunch of guys just learning our offense."
Before meeting East Tennessee, the Cougars will play a foreign team Nov. 13 in the Marriott Center.