Evan Bradds, a third-generation college basketball player, has picked up where he left off last season when he led the nation in field goal percentage and helped Belmont reach its seventh NCAA Tournament.
Bradds made 22 consecutive baskets over a three-game stretch earlier this season and led the Bruins to victories over Big East power Marquette and Western Kentucky. He also was named tourney MVP after capturing the Legends Classic subregional. Belmont (7-4) has only lost close road games at Arizona State, BUY, Evansville and Valparaiso heading into Thursday’s game on ASN at Middle Tennessee.
“He did it against 6-10, 6-11 guys; he’s done it against undersized guys,” Bruins Coach Rick Byrd said. “He’s just a kid that has a feel for the game that you don’t really coach.
“He’s just crafty … He’s a crafty back-to-the-basket player. He’s also been knocking down some 3’s lately, which really makes a hard guard for somebody. He’s a competitor, he’s tough, he’s almost always getting beat up because of the attention he’s getting, and he’s still playing 30-plus minutes.”
Evansville coach Marty Simmons called Bradds’ basketball IQ “off the charts” after his perfect shooting night that included 14 rebounds.
“I don’t know what he weighs, I don’t know how tall he is, but he plays against bigger, stronger, more athletic guys most nights and he comes out with numbers like that,” Simmons said.
The 6-7, 205-pounder also drew a charge that helped seal the win at Marquette for the Bruins, who nearly knocked off Virginia in the NCAA Tournament last spring. He went 10 of 13 in the season-opening victory in Milwaukee.
“Going up to Marquette, a Big East team and a team with so much tradition and history and getting a win like that, especially with the way we won it, it was just awesome and it kind of sets a tone for our season,” he said.
Last year Bradds’ field goal accuracy (.688) was tops in NCAA Division I, and his percentage in league games set a new Ohio Valley Conference mark (.756). He leads the nation again this season (.739).
“I have great teammates … They just get me the ball, and half the time I’m right in front of the rim,” Bradds said. “My teammates do an awesome job, and I don’t think people give them enough credit. They add so much value to that percentage.”
OVC preseason player of the year Craig Bradshaw, a gritty guard whose high motor sparks the Bruins, is among those unselfishly throwing the ball to Bradds, Byrd said. Austin Luke is averaging eight assists.
But Bradds almost ended up following his Buckeye college basketball lineage instead, committing early to home-state Ohio University before Illinois hired away John Groce.
Grandfather Gary Bradds was selected 1964 national player of the year at Ohio State where his college teammates included John Havlicek, Jerry Lucas, and Bobby Knight; was the third NBA draft pick; and won an ABA title. Evan’s dad David played for the University of Dayton.
Bradds only had heard of Belmont from its trips to the Big Dance the past decade, and then fell in love with Belmont and Nashville at first sight.
“I know they were always good,” Bradds said. “But, not until I really got down to campus for the first time and talked to Coach Byrd, I didn’t realize actually how really, really good they were.”
Byrd says catching Bradds “on the rebound obviously helped our program in a big way.”
The Bruins face a difficult schedule out of the gate with only four home games in the first 16. After visiting Middle Tennessee State they travel to Cleveland State before conference play.
“We want to play teams that will make us better,” Bradds said. “We’ve gotten so much better than the beginning of the season already, and it’s only the third week.”
Above: Belmont’s Evan Bradds comes from a long line of top basketball players, including his grandfather who was the 1964 player of the year. (Courtesy Belmont Athletics)