His national rise began inauspiciously. As a rising junior at the Nike Elite 100 event last summer, Tony Bradley proved that he could compete against the best big men in the 2016 class.
Still, his travel circuit appearances that summer typically resulted in modest production. He was a high-major target, just not someone many scouts or college coaches uttered as a top priority for blueblood programs.
But North Carolina scouted him astutely and aggressively entered the recruitment, taking a clear lead during Bradley’s junior season. Again, he didn’t always stand out but by now his ability to play for an elite program had become clear.
His next step was to suit up for Each 1 Teach 1 on Nike’s EYBL circuit. He showcased improved skills the very first weekend of the travel season, impressing multitudes of coaches at the Hampton EYBL event. He built on that early success and carried it into summer, including at individual events such as the NBPA Top 100 Camp.
He punctuated his summer in mid-July at the Peach Jam. He led E1T1 to several key victories and a berth in the playoff rounds, something few Nike squads are able to accomplish.
The Tar Heels stood as the presumed leader for many months, but over the past several weeks some had begun to speculate that the program’s off-court issues might enable hard-charging Alabama or someone else to prevail.
Bradley himself opted to end his recruitment this week, however, noting that there was no need to progress through the visitation process given that he already knew where he wanted to go.
Bradley is a true big man and increasingly has embraced his stature and identity as a post scorer. He stands 6-9, 230 pounds and thus — in a recent rarity for UNC — should be physically ready for the rigors of ACC competition his freshman season.
He has a wide body type and hips that could be classified as weapons. His self-awareness pertaining to his hips enabled him to compensate for lacking vertical leap (more on that below) progressively during the travel season. His E1T1 scoring averages were unspectacular, but 12 points per game on 60 percent field goals showcased his efficiency and understanding of how he can be most effective.
He isn’t a battering ram but does employ nuanced power to create angles for short-range attempts, and he has large, sure hands to snare the ball in traffic. He utilizes the glass well and quickly advances from catch to shot inside. His high shoulders and long arms are additional factors that augur in his favor.
For perspective, current Tar Heel center Kennedy Meeks has been measured with a 7-0 wingspan; Bradley’s has tested at 7-4. That’s a significant difference and partially explains why he has enjoyed such efficiency against elite opponents.
Bradley raised his numbers to 14 points per outing on an exceptional 71 percent from the floor at the Peach Jam, the culmination of his work. He doesn’t do much that’s flashy but stays within himself and utilizes craft and intelligence to take the shots that he wants to take, not those that defenders attempt to coax him into taking.
He also does possess effective jump shooting range to 15 feet, albeit with a low release point that needs a mechanical tweak. His positional defense should be solid, as should his rebounding, as he hauled down eight boards per contest in his 23 EYBL games. He also blocks some shots thanks to his length and good timing.
Straight-up leaping ability is critical for a 6-9 post player, and Bradley struggles in that capacity. He rarely dunks the ball, can eat some shots inside and generally may be susceptible to the rangiest of athletes at the high college and professional levels.
To his credit, he appears to understand his bread and butter — which explains his efficiency — but to develop into an all-conference or better type player, he’ll simply have to develop a way to take more shots than he does presently.
He also doesn’t possess quick feet laterally and ideally will guard the biggest opponent on the floor at all times.
Bradley should provide immediate scoring punch for Roy Williams’ program. Most players need time to fashion an identity, but he’ll arrive much more invested in his own style and with an innate ability to detect dangerous situations. Even if he doesn’t attempt multiple shots per game as a freshman, he should become a reliable threat and someone the Tar Heels can use to punish smaller, finesse teams.
Over time, as his role and playing time expands, he should thrive both as a primary scoring option and as a trailing shooter and passer in secondary break. He’s also a fine outlet passer who can initiate the primary break following a rebound, a staple of UNC big men.
Although I could be wrong, Bradley strikes me as a potential three-year player in college and thus he could benefit the program for multiple seasons, starting as early as his freshman year if junior center Meeks opts for the pros following this season.
Evaluating the longer term, he’ll need to maximize his jump shot and interior polish in order to become a mainstay in the NBA. He certainly holds the potential to play at the level, however, even if he never projects as a superstar.
Bradley ranks No. 31 nationally in an extremely strong class and is one of America’s top five centers.