What happened at UConn just before the start of the academic year can only be described as a gesture of friendship and teamwork. Coach Jim Calhoun says he has never witnessed anything quite like it in 40 years of coaching.
And after crossing the finish line of the annual Husky Run at Gampel Pavilion Wednesday, both the redshirt freshman who gave up his scholarship, and the elite freshman who drastically altered the outlook for this UConn season with a single tweet, talked about their unique link for the first time.
"If you really want [success], you're willing to sacrifice anything," said Bradley, who gave up his scholarship to make room on the roster for Drummond.
The Huskies, the defending NCAA national champions, have only 10 scholarships to offer this season – three fewer than the maximum allowed. One was taken away because of NCAA sanctions in the Nate Miles recruiting case. Two more were removed as a result of UConn's poor academic performance rating.
When Calhoun told the team in late August that Drummond, a 6-10 center from Middletown, was ready to commit to the Huskies, Bradley realized he had an opportunity to solve the scholarship dilemma. Bradley, raised as a foster child in a home for children from troubled families, was a qualifier for other financial aid and now will play this season as a walk-on.
"It was a chance to first, better myself, by going against a more competitive person each day," Bradley said when asked to explain his decision. "And it was a chance for our team to get better. I felt like that was a great opportunity. Sometimes you've got to make a sacrifice if you really want to get better."
Bradley said that through grants and other financial aid, he should have minimal expense out of his own pocket this year. Calhoun said UConn would provide a more detailed explanation of the situation in the coming weeks.
"Michael did a lot for the team," Calhoun said. "Suffice to say, Michael stepped up when he didn't have to. He did a great job. He utilized his disadvantages into an advantage for us.
"Michael wasn't the only one who offered, but he was the only one, tangibly, who was in the best position to do that. It happens on teams, it happens within good families. Someone stepped forward for someone else."
Drummond, who is 275 pounds but runs the floor and handles the ball like guard, is not only appreciative but he's also very enthusiastic about the upcoming season.
"I'm thankful about everything he gave me," Drummond said. "Me and Mike have a great relationship. I've known him since I was a sophomore. I'm really thankful for what he did for me."
Drummond will be one of the best players nationally in the freshman class. He is projected as a NBA lottery pick – if not the top pick – whenever he decides to enter the draft. He had been a recruiting priority at UConn for a long time and Calhoun said Drummond's name had been mentioned every day at UConn "for a good three-year period."
After graduating from St. Thomas More School in June, Drummond announced Aug. 10 he would spend a post-graduate year at Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Wilbraham, Mass. After narrowing his choices to UConn, Georgetown, Kentucky, Louisville and West Virginia – and saying he wouldn't decide until next spring – Drummond pleasantly surprised UConn fans with a tweet announcing his decision to enroll at UConn.
"I had a meeting with my family and we all discussed what we wanted to do and we came to a sole decision we wanted to be at UConn this year," Drummond said. "Why UConn? I mean, hometown. I had to come back. Coach Calhoun has been recruiting me since about the eighth grade. I mean, I kind of owe it to him."
Drummond said he couldn't have made that decision last winter.
"I didn't know what I was doing," he said. "My plan was to be back at prep school again. Then me and my family had a little meeting a couple of days before school. We decided I would come to UConn and be a Husky this year."
That decision quickly elevated the Huskies to national title contenders again this season. Drummond will be a force at center. Even though Bradley redshirted last year, the coaching staff believes he can become a regular contributor. And that was part of Bradley's motivation as well.
"[Drummond] is supposed to be a top 10 draft pick," Bradley said. "You want to go against that every day if you really want to get better."
Bradley already is a good student with a 1380 score on his college boards. He said he wants to major in economics, and he understands tackling difficulties in life. Nothing has ever come easy for Bradley. He grew up in a poor neighborhood of Chattanooga and his teen years were spent in the Tennessee Baptist Children's Home because of a strained relationship with his mother.
"I don't want anyone to pity me," he said. "That's the one thing I don't want. But I'd say I've made a lot of sacrifices just growing up. They were kind of forced on me. It was kind of hard, but it wasn't too bad."
Bradley will likely become a fan favorite for the sacrifice he made. Calhoun believes this UConn team is more talented than the one that brought home the NCAA trophy last season. Calhoun says that, in large part, because of Drummond's presence.
And Drummond seems to be thinking the same way.
"I think we have all the pieces to the puzzle to make another run for the national championship," Drummond said. "We're going to be a great team. And it's going to be a great year."