Bradley's accident puts basketball in proper perspective

It's hard to understand why bad things happen to good people.

Last month, the Clayton State community was blindsided by an event that left them searching for answers.

Freshman basketball player Zach Bradley, who was destined to be one of the best ever at Clayton State, was involved in a freakish accident when a tree fell on, and crushed, the car he was driving near campus.

Bradley spent three weeks at Grady Hospital with an injury to his brain and spine. Now, he's at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, facing uncertainty, extensive rehabilitation and a long road to recovery.

I must admit I don't know Bradley well. What I do know is he had a tremendous gift for the game of basketball. Whenever I had the chance to interview him, I always came away impressed with the way he conducted himself.

I got to watch him play during his four-year career at North Clayton and then again last season coming off the bench for Gordon Gibbons' Lakers.

You knew Bradley was going to be special. He made the adjustment to the college game fast.

That's the only way to explain his expanded playing time with the Lakers as the season went on, because freshman, especially true freshman, just don't see much playing time in Gibson's rotation unless they are really good.

"He caught on very quickly," said Gibbons said.

The most refreshing thing about Bradley is basketball is just one of his priorities. The North Clayton graduate is a true student athlete. Bradley earned a perfect 4.0 in his first semester, and a 3.7 in his second semester.

Clayton State athletic director Mason Barfield and Gibbons are yet to come to terms with why this happened. Both have been involved in college athletics for decades, and this is the worst thing that has ever happened to them.

They are also helping Bradley's teammates try and deal with it.

"I think we are all numb," Gibbons said. "A number of his teammates were at the hospital when it occurred. I think they believe that one day we are going to wake up from this and it is all going to be a bad dream."

Several well-wishers have also posted words of encouragement on his Facebook account.

Both Barfield and Gibbons are staying in close contact with the family. They have made regular visits to see Bradley in an effort to show their support.

Barfield saw signs that Bradley hadn't lost his sense of humor during a recent visit. Barfield happened to mention something about Dallas beating Miami to win the NBA Championship, and Bradley, obviously a fan of the Heat, made a face, showing his displeasure with outcome.

Doctors aren't saying a whole lot about the extent of Bradley's injuries or his long-term prognoses in terms of walking. That's a family matter, and that's the way it should be. They are hoping he can soon return home and then continue his rehab as an outpatient.

When Bradley inked with the Lakers during the early signing period in the fall of his senior year at North Clayton, his father Nathan, made the comment that he expected Zach to leave his mark on Clayton State before his career was over.

Life has changed for Bradley and those around him.

But his dad is right. Zach is still going to leave his mark, not just on Clayton State, but the entire world.

Because those who know him much better than I do are convinced Zach is going to use this tragedy to inspire others.

That is just the type of guy he is.

"This is much bigger than basketball," Barfield said. "We know he's going to do great things with his life."

One thing is for sure, the accident certainly puts the game of basketball in its proper perspective.

Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at dgorman@news-daily.com.