Making His Dream A Reality
Dec. 21, 2000
By Wendie Jackson
UO Media Services
At the first assessment of him, you might not want to meet him in a dark alley. A large six-foot-seven frame, with the facial capacity and body language that could either scare away the meanest bully or be inviting to anybody. Coined, by his fans, as having a 'thuggish appeal,' he would rather characterize himself as a 'big teddy bear.' Calm and gentle like a teddy bear? One can only catch a glimpse of that side of him as he releases a charismatic smile, matched with the simultaneous sparkle of his eyes. Engaged in conversation, his bashfulness and quiet nature is quickly shelved and replaced with an ambiance of confidence about life.
Senior Bryan Bracey has experienced growth on and off the court over the past year. Quickly taking a dominating role on team, Bracey has led his team in total points four out of the seven games played. On this particular night of the interview, Bracey is sitting in a chair outside the Portland Trail Blazers' locker room, waiting for his team to get on the charter bus. Bryan is particularly happy after earning the 'co-player of the game' award with teammate Freddie Jones in a late (victorious) game against the UMass Minutemen at the Pape Jam. To enhance the award, Bracey has also just logged his career high of 24 points, while grabbing seven rebounds.
In comparison to his first season with Oregon, Bracey's shooting capacity has expanded from the typical post-position power plays, to include a graceful jump-shot from any range. This improvement in shooting is adding to Bracey's resume of competency of his overall game. Bracey also leads the team in rebounds, with 38 (7.8 per game). After asking Bracey about his 'attempt' to become a perimeter shooter, his confidence is quickly evident.'I am a perimeter player,' said Bracey as he leaned forward in his chair, grinning as he finished his statement. 'I hit three three-pointers at Denver,' he laughs. 'Where were you?' He slouches back in his chair again and continues, 'I have the green light to shoot anywhere on the court when there is a place for me to shoot the ball.'
Bracey's extended shot capability has increased his chances of reaching his ultimate goal of being a 'three-man' in the NBA.
'I am a three-man in the NBA,' projects Bracey about his future career. 'No doubt about it. I played against all the NBA players. I play with them every summer. The prototype for a three-man in the NBA is my size and has my quickness.'
Rather than kicking back and enjoying the summer break, or even staying in Eugene to take some summer session courses, Bracey put himself in the presence of many skilled tutors in his hometown of Chicago. Spending a summer successfully playing against NBA caliber players has been a major factor in Bracey's soaring confidence level, both on and off the court.
'A lot of [the NBA players] are slower than me,' continues Bracey with a grin. 'For example, Steve Smith is one of the slowest guys I have ever played against. He's a good shooter, he's 6-8, and can handle the ball. That's the thing about the NBA. It's different than college. It's not about being little and quick and being able to roll by guys and all that. I will be a three-man in the NBA.
'Most of all, this summer taught me how realistic it is for me to reach my ultimate goal. You know, when you watch games on TV, you just think everyone is so great and that there is no way you can compete with those guys and it's really intimidating when you first see them in person. I actually went and played and Coach Kent came down to watch me play. He thought that I was the best player in the gym. Now, we're talking about guys like Michael Finley, Antoine Walker, Juwan Howard, all them guys, and I was just dominating everybody. I feel more confident that I can compete with those guys at the next level. While I was there, they taught me offensive moves, ways to get open, things like that. I learned a lot. It was a very productive summer for me.'
Not only has his own game improved, but also Bracey's leadership role on the team has grown, particularly with four true freshmen playing on the squad looking to him, and the other seniors, for guidance and direction. Bracey takes this role very seriously.
'I'm not a great vocal leader,' said Bracey. 'It's not really my personality. It's not really what I do. I believe I am a leader on the court as far as showing the guys how much I care about the team and how much I want to win and how hard I want to play. I am definitely willing to take responsibility for my team to get me the ball every time. I want you to give me the ball every time, because I am going to be the man who is not scared to go up against anybody and I am going to try and score for our team. I like that role, where they have that confidence in me, where I am the 'go to' guy.'
In addition to his high percentage of shooting 82%, logging a 17.4 points per game average so far this season, Bracey is playing in an unselfish manor, giving his teammates opportunities to score and experience their own growth.
'I like my team to know that I'm unselfish,' said Bracey. 'I want them to do well, too. It makes our team better when we all play as a team. My goal for our team this season is to maximize our potential. We have recruited great freshmen that are going to help us build this program. They are helping us right away and that is a very positive thing for this team. We recruited people who are not going to be 'projects.' They're going to contributing right away. We keep getting better, but the sky's the limit. We have the weapons, and the potential. to be a lot better team than we were last year.'
With his full attention directed at his current situation and his prospective future in the NBA, it's easy to forget that Bracey is also a student at the University of Oregon, looking forward to graduating next spring. Upon graduation, Bracey will have a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. If basketball were not such an integral part of Bracey's life, he surely knows that his education is important.
'I am majoring in Sociology, but I am not going to use it,' stated Bracey. 'But, I definitely want to come back to school. I want to teach, or coach, maybe. And if I do make it to the NBA, I want to stay involved with the NBA after I play. There are a lot of jobs in the NBA. It's like a family. Once you get there, you are always connected. But, teaching is an interest of mine, maybe high school, maybe little kids, I haven't yet decided on all that. I think I've got some time.'
You might not know it by the way he performs on the court, but the road toward his current success has been anything but easy.
After a bump along the road that began with a lack of confidence from his high school basketball coach, Bracey's chances of playing basketball on a division-one college team were slowly decreasing.
'My high school coach didn't want to give me a chance,' said Bracey. 'He didn't want to help me get a scholarship to play basketball, and that's what I wanted. We just had a difference of opinion.'
As his path to Oregon continued, Bracey took an open position at Malcolm X Junior College, where he was content to play for his first two collegiate years of basketball. Oregon assistant men's basketball coach Don Newman (now with the Milwaukee Bucks), started the recruiting process.'The trip out to Oregon was good,' remembers Bracey. 'I liked the players and I really like the coaches. I love the situation I am in right now. It's just my dream come true. I mean, it's my last year here, we've got great uniforms, a great crowd, a great arena, great fans and a great coach. I love my coach. I love my teammates. I am going to do everything I can do to help them win and to be the best team we can possibly be and they're going to do everything they can to help me become the best player I can be. I need them. They need me. And together, we can try to reach the top, in all aspects.
'I wanted to play division one basketball and it wasn't even realistic for me to play D-1 ball in the situation I came from,' says Bracey seriously. 'My dream has come true. Me playing out here tonight, in an NBA arena, for Oregon, with the lights out and them introducing my name in the starting line-up, is a dream come true. If I never do anything else, if I never do make it, I still feel that my dreams have come true and that I have been blessed. I am going to keep going and keep trying because the sky is the limit because of how hard I work.'