Emerging from his last final exam of the spring semester at the University of Connecticut on Thursday, Michael Bradley was ready to take even more weight off his broad shoulders.
Granted a release from his UConn scholarship in early April, Bradley originally intended to announce his future college home on Saturday. Instead, he got it out of the way. The Chattanooga native and Tyner Academy graduate typed area code 270 into the fax machine.
Signed paperwork and an academic transcript were sent off to Western Kentucky University.
Bradley is going from Husky to Hilltopper.
“They make it to the tournament a lot, and when you’re a college basketball player, that’s all you want to go to,” Bradley told Nooga.com of his decision to choose WKU.
The Hilltoppers rebounded from a 5-11 start last season after a midseason coaching change handed the reins to former assistant Ray Harper. WKU stormed to the Sun Belt Conference title and made its sixth NCAA tournament appearance since 2001.
Bradley, a 6-foot-10 power forward, spent the last two years in Storrs, Conn., but never played a minute. He redshirted his freshman year to develop his game and suffered a fractured ankle early in the 2011-12 preseason that kept him out for the season.
After his grandmother in Chattanooga was recently diagnosed with cancer, Bradley sought a transfer from UConn to move closer to home.
Bradley, whom UConn coach Jim Calhoun ardently tried to persuade to stay, said his recent recruitment was far different from two years ago, when he picked UConn over Drake, VCU and Georgia.
“When you’re younger you want to wooed, you want to be catered to,” Bradley said. “That’s not what I wanted this time around. I wanted to see exactly how it was.
“There was really nothing that a college coach could tell me because I’ve heard it all before. Anything that I needed to know about a school, I could get from a website. I was just trying to limit the phone calls and limit the media trying to talk to me, things like that. The only hard part of the process was trying to keep it from getting hectic."
Western Kentucky was the only school Bradley visited after deciding to transfer from UConn.
“It was just a different situation, and this time I was looking for different things,” he said. “A couple years ago, (Western Kentucky) probably wouldn’t have stood out as much. But this year, with my current situation, the thing they really have is a family atmosphere. You don’t really understand the value of a family atmosphere of hard-working people until you go through a little bit in life.”
WKU officials declined comment on Thursday.
Bradley, 19, hopes to gain instant eligibility with the Hilltoppers next season. The NCAA mandates transfers sit out one season, but two loopholes may allow him to play immediately.
Bradley said officials at WKU think he will qualify for the NCAA’s hardship waiver because he’s leaving UConn to move closer to his ailing grandmother. Bowling Green, Ky., is a three-hour drive from Chattanooga.
If that doesn’t work, Bradley could still gain eligibility because UConn is facing a 2012-13 postseason ban for poor Academic Progress Rate scores. Players transferring from the program, such as Alex Oriakhi, a recent Missouri commitment, might not be forced to sit out the 2012-13 season.
UConn coaches recently attempted to salvage Bradley’s career as a Husky. Calhoun mapped out a proposal that would allow Bradley to frequently visit his grandmother while remaining in Storrs. He considered it, then declined.
“The plan could have worked, but with everything I’ve seen in my life experience, I know that everything doesn’t always go to plan,” said Bradley, who will major in economics at WKU. “I wasn’t really willing to take any chances with my grandmother, because you only get one of those.
“There were other factors, but the tipping point was my grandmother. At the end of the day, I don’t regret coming to UConn. If I could get it worked out, I would have, but I tried and it didn’t work out.”
Western Kentucky finished the 2011-12 season with a 16-19 record, including a 7-9 mark in the Sun Belt Conference. The Hilltoppers beat North Texas in the Sun Belt tournament championship game and advanced to the NCAA tournament. WKU won an NCAA play-in game over Mississippi Valley State before bowing out to top-seeded Kentucky in the second round.