By Derrick Mahone
Before the start of the season, North Clayton guard Zach Bradley had a tough decision to make about his basketball future.
Bradley had the choice of signing early with nearby Clayton State, or bank on having a breakout season and attract some Div. I offers. The 6-foot-1 senior decided on taking the scholarship with the Div. II Lakers to concentrate on getting the Eagles back to the state playoffs.
It has seemed to work out for him and his North Clayton teammates as they are in sole possession of first place in Region 4-AAAA.
"I'm definitely satisfied in my choice," Bradley said. "Right now, I'm just trying to play the best I can and do what it takes to help this team win. Getting wins is what makes me happy."
With a capable supporting cast, Bradley has not had to carry this team as in the previous two years. Last season, he averaged 16 points, two assists and eight rebounds as the Eagles finished with a 15-10 record.
The scoring has been down through the first 17 games with Bradley averaging only 13.1 points, but the team has been winning more consistently. North Clayton sports a 15-2 overall record heading into Saturday's game against rival Riverdale.
Bradley's main goal is to get the Eagles back to the state playoffs, somewhere they haven't been since his freshmen season. He was apart of the Eagles team that reached the Class AAAA semifinals before losing 61-56 to Tucker during the 2005-06 season.
"This team is real hungry for the playoffs," Bradley said. "I haven't seen the playoffs in three years. I want to get back there."
Despite a slight decline in his offensive production, North Clayton coach Martisse Troup is pleased with Bradley's leadership. He said his standout guard has started to settle down, and has quit forcing things on the court.
"He is having a phenomenal year for us," Troup said. "It is not just him, but the whole team is playing well. In the previous years, he has been our go-to guy. Now, we have other guys that can step up and make shots. He is real patient this season. I think signing early has taken that pressure off of him."
He said he has no regrets in not waiting on bigger offers despite receiving overtures from Div. I mid major programs like College of Charleston and Jacksonville at the beginning of the season. College of Charleston is coached by former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, and a couple weeks ago defeated nationally-ranked and defending champions North Carolina.
"I have none (regrets) about my decision," Bradley said. "I will play for the school that was my first choice. I will get an opportunity to play right away and I won't have to sit and wait. I was happy for the College of Charleston, but I'm excited about next season at Clayton State."
And the Lakers are anticipating some quality minutes from Bradley, who will join former high school teammate Torin Greene.
"He will help us fill a void left when two of our seniors graduate after this season," Lakers coach Gordon Gibbons said in a statement after signing Bradley. "Zach is an outstanding student and team leader and will fit perfectly into our system at Clayton State."
Troup said his team's style is similar to the Lakers, who are one of the top teams in the Peach Belt Conference.
Bradley has scored double figures in 10 of the team's games. He had a season-high 23 in a 61-48 win over Mount Zion last month. He said his teammates have made the season more enjoyable.
"I trust those guys 110 percent," Bradley said. "We all trust each other because we know we can't do it by ourselves. All season they have been performing so it is no reason that I shouldn't trust their decisions on the court."