Photo by Jerry Jackson
North Clayton’s Stafan Bradley is averaging just over 20 points per game this season. Bradley’s scoring ability will be the crucial in the Eagles’ attempt at another deep tournament run.
COLLEGE PARK — If Stafan Bradley gets another shot like he did last season, he promises things will be different.
Rewind to March 7, 2012. It’s the semifinals of the Class AAAA basketball tournament. After a magical and unexpected ride toward a Region 4-AAAA championship, North Clayton was riding the Marcus Hunt train through an equally surprising tournament run.
Dutchtown went down. Then Ware County and Alcovy. Only Southwest DeKalb stood in the way of the Eagles grabbing a spot in the championship game.
“If we could’ve just got 10 points from Stafan, we would’ve been in that game,” Eagles coach Martisse Troup said, sounding like the game just happened yesterday.
Then-senior and current Georgia Tech freshman Marcus Hunt poured in 40, but it wasn’t enough: Southwest DeKalb 74, North Clayton 67.
Give Bradley those 10 points and North Clayton perhaps wins by three. But on that evening, Bradley — the Eagle’s second leading scorer — couldn’t get on track. Both he and Troup will admit that the moment was a bit much for him.
“He just kind of froze up in the (semifinals),” Troup said. “It was the first time he had ever been on that kind of stage before.”
Bradley said as much.
“It was my first appearance and it was just crazy,” Bradley said. “There were a lot of eyes on me. I felt like I couldn’t be wrong.”
Though it could easily be considered a low point for Bradley personally, Troup said it could’ve been the best thing to happen to him as a basketball player.
“You could just see after that game, he got hungry,” Troup said. “He went to work in the weight room and got bigger and stronger. And his confidence level just shot up.”
And just in time too. After Hunt and several other key seniors departed, it became clear that the Eagles would become Bradley’s team.
So not only did Bradley’s confidence increase, so too did his worth to North Clayton’s chances at making another deep tournament run.
“Stafan’s just been a valuable asset to us this year,” Troup said. “He’s our scorer. To the point where we know we’ve got to get him six to eight touches a quarter in order for us to be successful.”
It’s an expectation that Bradley fully understands and embraces.
“I had to get more confident this year in scoring and not just leaning on our star player Marcus Hunt like last year,” Bradley said.
Instead Bradley is now the go-to guy. When a big shot needs to be made — when somebody needs to make a play, it’s all eyes on No. 5.
And just in case you’re wondering, yes, Bradley says that does add substantially to the urgency he feels on the basketball court.
“I mean I feel like I’ve performed well,” he said. “I’ve tried to score enough to help my team get to that edge to where we can get over to win. And there are some games where I do feel that extra pressure to score.”
But whatever pressure may arise, Bradley’s desire to win overrides it. North Clayton (14-14) will travel to Troup’s home town of Albany to face Westover (18-5) in the first round of the state tournament.
The Eagles go in a fourth seed, and perhaps an underdog. But Troup said that’s nothing new for his squad — nor is it a reason for them to think they can’t travel far into the postseason.
“You know many people don’t realize it, but last year we were a fourth seed also. Our record (14-10) was almost identical at this same point in the season,” Troup said. “And we had Marcus Hunt with us. We almost made it to the finals then, and I’m fully expecting us to make another deep run in this tournament.”
And if Bradley gets another shot in front of the bright lights of the semifinals, don’t expect a repeat performance from the last time.
“My confidence, especially in scoring, is really high,” Bradley said. “We believe we can go far again. This time those lights won’t matter anymore.”