Shawn Bradley hasn't played a minute in an official NCAA basketball game yet, and he already owns the Marriott Center crowd.
Making his game debut Tuesday night - along with the rest of the Cougars - in a 94-77 win over a touring Belgian team, Bradley had the 10,000 fans present cheering his every move.Whether he was taking off from the foul line on a one-step, one-dribble hammer dunk, soft-touching a fall-away follow shot off the glass, diving on the floor after a loose ball, or extending a hand to an opponent who had just shoved him in anger, Bradley could do no wrong.
The 7-foot-6 center finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, two blocked shots and four assists, primarily playing a high post from which he showed a deft passing touch. And he played just 19 minutes as Coach Roger Reid got a look at every player on the 14-man squad (freshman forward Shane Knight will redshirt this season).
Perhaps most impressive (yes, even more than Bradley) among the Cougars was junior forward Jared Miller, who in 18 minutes scored 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds, four on the offensive end.
"I thought we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish, which was trying different offenses and defenses and different players without tiring anyone," Reid said. "Tomorrow (Wednesday) night will be the first major test."
That "test" is a Preseason National Invitation Tournament game against East Tennessee State, 7:30 p.m. in the Marriott Center. East Tennessee may sound like one of those no-name, early-season pushovers that teams invite home each year, but that's not the case. The Buccaneers posted a 27-7 record last season and have been to the NCAA tourney the past two years.
One advantage BYU has over East Tennessee is height. The Cougars exploited their size against the Belgians (four of whom were Americans who played college ball in the U.S.), scoring most of their points within about five feet of the basket while shooting 51.5 percent from the field. They took only three three-point shots the entire game, missing them all.
The Buccaneers' starting forwards are 6-3 and 6-4, and their guards are 5-7 and 6-1. BYU's starting lineup of Bradley, Kenneth Roberts, Steve Schreiner, Mark Heslop and Nathan Call is taller to a man, but is also far more inexperienced. East Tennessee starts three seniors and two juniors; BYU opened Tuesday night with a senior, two juniors and two freshmen.
Bradley, especially, should get his first real test as he goes up against 6-11 center Greg Dennis, a four-year starter for the Bucs.