Heading into his freshman season, declaring for the 2017 NBA Draft wasn't on Tony Bradley's radar. He and his family knew his role on the 2016-17 Tar Heels was to backup seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.
"Two years," Tony Bradley Sr. said. "That was our plan the whole time."
Then, the season started and Bradley performed well off the bench. The 6-11 Bartow, Fla. native showed great touch around the basket, proved to be one of the country's best offensive rebounders and surprised many with his agility and ability to run the court. His steady play, coupled with a national championship, made the decision easier.
The turning point, according to Bradley Sr., was actually Bradley's performance in Hawaii.
In four games - including at a stop at Honolulu - during UNC's island trip for the Maui Invitational, Bradley scored a combined 43 points and grabbed 26 rebounds while shooting 75 percent from the field.
"(Declaring for the NBA Draft) is always something we wanted to do, to see where we're at," Bradley Sr. said. "I think things came on a little faster than we expected. He did well out there and that's where a lot of inquiring minds of NBA people started talking about him. That made me start doing homework on it, since they're inquiring and there's a buzz in the air, let me start researching this to see if it might be an option."
On the season, Bradley averaged 7.1 points and 5.1 points per game. He played in 38 of UNC's 40 games, missing two in January because of a concussion.
"They key thing here is that this is his opportunity to be able to explore something that was a dream of Tony's," said Bradley Sr. "Sometimes you have to realize...he's not in a hurry, but if an opportunity comes and you have a chance to test the process, you have to do it because it's a small window. If the window opens, it might not be open long. And it's not about Tony needing to take care of his family or anything like that. He very much enjoyed his first year at Carolina. This isn't about either of those things. He's just like any other player that has a dream and wants to fulfill it."
Bradley Sr. and Bradley met with Roy Williams in Chapel Hill last Thursday. The conversation was "great" according to Bradley Sr. The school officially announced the decision on Monday.
"We're all on the same page," said Bradley Sr. "We're embracing the process with this new rule and he was thinking something similar to what we were."
Bradley Sr. said the information Williams gathered was similar to what the family had heard - that Tony is likely a first-round pick. Ultimately, his father said, Bradley's final decision will be heavily based on his post-combine evaluation. While he hasn't received a combine invitation yet - all invites will be announced by April 30 - he expects to receive one.
"I don't think there's a (draft position) number - 28 or 25 or what have you - that will determine what we do," Bradley Sr. explained. "It's a situation where we definitely want to be in the first round where there is a guarantee. With the information we got back from the NBA committee, and that Coach Williams got back, they already said he's likely a first-round pick. Now, he can work to either sustain that or even move up. If he doesn't do well or doesn't have good feedback, then he can come back to school."