State of the Hogs:

Bradley enjoys Hogs' progress from afar

By: Clay Henry
Published: Friday, March 5, 2021
Pat Bradley provides color commentary on Thursday Dec. 1, 2016, during the men's basketball game between Arkansas and Stephen F. Austin in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
( Ben Goff)
Pat Bradley provides color commentary on Thursday Dec. 1, 2016, during the men's basketball game between Arkansas and Stephen F. Austin in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

There was a time that Pat Bradley’s shooting stroke was responsible for so many smiles across Razorback Nation.

Now when Bradley pops onto the screen during SEC Network basketball shows, it’s his smile that makes us all smile. No one has a better smile doing college basketball analyst work on nationwide TV.

It’s not forced, just the way Bradley has always been since the first time I met the Everett, Mass., dude who SEC Network studio host Dari Nowkhah calls “Shootah.”

Bradley made the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame for shooting three-pointers for the Razorbacks. But he’s got a hall of fame smile that never changed, even while becoming a caregiver for his sister, Sam, who died last year of brain cancer.

Helping his parents with Sam is the reason Bradley returned to the Boston area. It’s been a source of pride for Arkansas fans to still see Pat most nights doing analyst work on SEC Network studio shows.

It’s usually a split screen set with Bradley making the drive to Bristol, Conn., to be in a separate studio from Nowkhah. Because of covid-19 travel restrictions, Bradley hasn’t traveled to live games.

“This year, it’s been all studio work,” Bradley said. “Until this year, I always had a Saturday game so I wouldn’t see games that day because of travel and preparation.

“Until this year, my time was split between preparation for a deep dive into the two teams that I was assigned to do the telecast. You wipe out a day and miss games.

“If you are going to be the broadcaster on a game, you talk to the coaches and everyone around the program. I’m not doing that now. So I see more games.

“So it’s been different in that I might watch six or seven SEC games on a Saturday this year. I’ve seen many more games than in any other year and done much more work in the studio.”

The studio for Bradley is a small room in the depth of the ESPN campus, an all-blue room that plays well with his blue eyes.

“It is blue and it is small,” he said. “It’s the smallest studio room you can imagine and there is just me and a camera.”

There is a monitor so he can see Nowkhah in Charlotte. It’s a fun gig, especially since he gets to see almost every Arkansas game. He’s enjoyed the run the Hogs are on under second-year Arkansas coach Eric Musselman.

Bradley will be watching as the Hogs try to win their 11th straight SEC basketball game, which would tie the 1994 national championship team for Arkansas’ most in an SEC regular season. He becomes more impressed with Musselman every week.

“Initially, what I saw this year was his ability to draw on so many past experiences in how he constructs a team and then applies it to a new set of players,” Bradley said of Musselman’s coaching. “It can be the X’s and O’s, the way he builds a practice schedule for this set of players and the unique way you travel in today’s covid world.”

The recruiting was impressive.

“It sure was,” Bradley said. “He ID’d a lot of talent that fit in what he wanted to do. The character of the team is obvious. That takes work to blend those four great high school players with a handful of transfers and make sure they were going to fit on the same team.

“I think we take for granted that it’s just going to work out, but he did the research to make sure it was going to fit. It is impressive.”

Bradley loved Musselman’s work last year, too, when the Razorbacks were 20-12 at the time the season was called off.

“That was a strong team that was really coming together when covid shut things down,” Bradley said. “He had to overcome losing Isaiah Joe for a few games. I think they were going to make a run with the way they finished the season.

“I was amazed at how quickly Musselman figured out that things needed to flow through Mason Jones. Joe was a part of what they were doing, but how the plan was built around Mason was epic.

“I know that everything Musselman had done in the NBA and every other part of his training went into how he put things in place to utilize Mason’s talents.”

This year’s team took time to develop.

“It’s just the nature of blending so many new faces,” Bradley said. “He does it with such incredible energy. He’s 24/7 working to figure out how to attack the next team and to assemble this team into proper roles.

“With Musselman, there is no grey area with roles. He knows exactly how he wants it to fit together based on the talent that he brought in.”

Bradley compared Musselman to his coach, Nolan Richardson.

“Both are taskmasters and you better have that as your coach,” he said. “It’s so good for the players. They are never in limbo. The coach — both of them — don’t leave any room to wonder how you fit.

“They both have the ability to have that strong conversation: Here is what I envision for you in our system. It may not be what you think is your role, but here is the only way you will play for me.”

Not everyone knew their role from the start of the season. J.D. Notae struggled with a little too much one-on-one play and not enough defense, but he has been strong on both ends of late.

“With J.D., it helped that he was with the right players,” Bradley said. “He can look at Moses Moody and see how he bought in and played defense, too. When your best player is handling everything the right way, the others realize it’s the only way.

“You see Moses play and never says a word to the referee and just nods his head when the coach talks, that is a great example for the others. When you recruit high-character guys like Moses, Justin Smith and Jalen Tate, everything becomes easy.

“They play unselfish basketball. They share the ball. It starts with Musselman demanding that, but it sure helps when you have high-character guys on the team. That’s how you have such great chemistry.”

Still, the bulk of the team has higher aspirations than just playing for championships in college.

“They’ve bought in for the team goals,” Bradley said. “You see that in how they play.

“But there has to be something in it for them as individuals, too. That’s where Musselman is so strong. He’s convinced them that what they are doing is going to help their chances at the next level.

“Not all of them are going to play in the NBA, but they may play overseas. They may play more basketball.

“So it’s a win-win for the coach and for the players. They see the win-win in what he is coaching them to do that fits into the team concept. What they are learning about basketball is going to benefit them for the next five to 10 seasons, at least for several of them.”

What Bradley sees Musselman do with the Hogs is the same thing Richardson did with his own style of coaching.

“It’s decision making,” Bradley said. “This team makes good decisions with the ball. They are great passers. Nolan always preached decision-making.

“I saw the decisions become much better after the losses to Alabama and LSU. I’ve heard there was a very tough practice after that LSU game where shot selection and defensive presence changed and the decisions became better.

“The team I saw play at Tennessee was much different. They didn’t win the game, but the tone was set for the rest of the season. Toughness and decision-making was much better. Shot selection was different. Roles were defined. That’s what Nolan always did, define roles.”

Bradley said the team has turned the page, in part, due to understanding good and bad shot selection. He said defense also became important.

“The ball was in the right places and in the right hands,” Bradley said. “You could tell players began to understand the game through the eyes of the coach. The coach got the point across that defensive rebounds were important.

“They could execute different game plans. They went from shooting threes to playing Alabama that second time by only taking layups, dunks and free throws. That’s where 60% of the shots came.

“The team was thinking as one. Very rarely do you see that. You take 10 guys and they all play the same way. That’s coaching.”

Bradley said he watches other teams go a different direction for weeks at a time before the coach can snap them back to attention.

“I call it veering off to the la-la lane,” Bradley said. “Musselman keeps them focused. It’s really, really impressive to watch.

“It’s beautiful to watch. Basketball — and many sports — is a game of mistakes. The team that makes the fewest mistakes wins more often than not. They are not making many mistakes now.

“I think this team likes each other. They share the ball the best since the 1994 Razorbacks. They understand the game. I see a high basketball IQ when they play.

“As far as great passers, in my mind, you have the ’94 team and any one of the last three teams with Lee Mayberry, Todd Day and Oliver Miller. With this Arkansas team, I see the same kind of ball movement. They pass at the next level.”

Bradley sounds excited. He’s not sure how far the Hogs can go in the postseason, but he thinks there may be some hardware on the stage when he returns to Fayetteville at the end of April.

“I’m going to emcee the Hogspys Awards with Danyelle Musselman,” Bradley said. “I’m hoping that travel restrictions ease and I make it. I look forward to being in Fayetteville.”

He’s been in Boston for almost all of the last 12 months since covid-19 changed lives.

“Boston got hit hard early on, but only in some neighborhoods,” he said. “Really close, they were devastated, but not so bad in my little neighborhood. But I had to stop traveling and I haven’t been back to Arkansas in the last year.

“It’s going to be fun and it will be good to say things like ‘fixing’ and ‘wash the clothes’ and people don’t look at me funny.”

Yes, the man who told Arkansas recruiting reporters in 1995 that he played “shooting God” has baffled Bostonians with his Arkansas sayings.

“It is funny,” Bradley said. “I had to learn a new vocabulary when I was doing Arkansas radio (with The Buzz) because no one got it when I said car or yard. The words with ‘R’s’ just didn’t come out right. I learned not to say ‘car,’ just sub ‘vehicle.’”

A misunderstood word is never a problem for long with Bradley. Everyone understands that massive beautiful smile.

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