EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 26, 2012

Tacoma has provided Boston fans with Lester — and Bradley

On Pro Basketball
Christopher Smith

BOSTON — In Beantown, Celtics shooting guard Avery Bradley isn't the most famous local athlete who was born in Tacoma, Wash.

Red Sox ace Jon Lester is, of course.

But if Bradley continues to play like he did yesterday, mark him down as another tremendous steal by a Hub sports team from Washington's third most populated city.

And also mark him down as another must-follow Boston athlete on Twitter. Bradley had 26,532 Twitter followers at 9:15 p.m. yesterday. That was 50,068 fewer followers than Lester had at that same time.

Ray Allen sat out with a right ankle injury vs. the Wizards last night.

Enter Bradley to start in place of the future Hall of Famer.

Bradley erupted for 15 points on 7-of-7 shooting from the field in the first 7:38 of the game. He finished with a career-high (and game-high) 23 points to help the Celtics win 88-76 over Washington here at the TD Garden.

Reporters barraged Bradley by his locker following the game. So much so point guard Rajon Rondo yelled over to him, telling him to tell the media to back up so Bradley had some breathing room.

"My main focus was to play hard," Bradley said. "Bring it on the defensive end."

Strong defense has been Bradley's specialty so far during his young career. He entered yesterday having averaged just 3.3 points per game in his first 76 professional contests.

But let's remember: This kid is just 21 years old and has some definite offensive potential.

No, Bradley, who was drafted 19th overall in 2010 out of Texas, isn't the second-coming of fellow ex-Longhorn star Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder strong forward who averages 27.9 points per game. (Although, it must be noted Bradley did throw down a powerful dunk against Durant in February).

Still, Bradley is a talented shooter. He was the ESPNRISE.com High School National Player of the Year his senior year of high school, ranked No. 1 on the 2009 ESPNU Top 50 high school shooting guards list and won the slam dunk contest at the McDonald's All-American game.

He then played one season at the University of Texas where he was second on his team in points per game (11.6) and shot 37.5 percent from 3-point range.

"One of the things I've said consistently all year is that he can shoot the ball and he was making me a liar for most of the year," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "It was great to see him go in. I thought there was point where it was clearly confidence because you see him in practice and he makes them, then he gets in the game and he just needed one to fall."

Some have said that Bradley should have stayed at Texas for one or two additional years to develop more as an overall player. In January of his pro rookie season, he was sent to work on his game with the Maine Red Claws, the Celtics' NBA Development League affiliate.

His choice to leave Texas after only one year is all done with now. He doesn't have a chance for a do-over obviously. So here he is in Boston, finishing off his development alongside three future Hall of Famers, Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

"Him (playing with three future Hall of Famers) does a lot," Celtics' Keyon Dooling said. "He learns how to conduct himself off the court and how to prepare himself for the rigors of the NBA schedule. He sees on a daily basis what it takes to be great. So the people who say he should have stayed in college, I disagree with them. He's developing into a great player. The sky is the limit for him. So he made the right decision and he should be happy with it."

Bradley actually has a bit of a connection with Lester, who will be the Red Sox' Opening Day starter April 5 in Detroit.

"Jon Lester actually went to the same high school I went to (Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma)," Bradley said. "He graduated in (2002). I graduated in '09. He played on the same AAU team as my brother. Yeah, he used to play basketball."

Bradley has no clue what type of basketball player Lester was.

"He was an athlete so I'm pretty sure he was pretty good," Bradley said.

Bradley actually played his freshman through junior year at Bellarmine Prep, leading the school to the Class 4A state semifinals and a 25-4 record as a junior.

Bradley finished his high school career at Findlay Prep in Nevada, where he helped the basketball team win the national title over Oak Hill Academy and post an incredible 33-0 record.