Eighth-grader following in his father's footsteps as a talented basketball player
By David Yarger
For many high school athletes, it's a privilege to be able to play just one or two years as a varsity athlete.
Niagara-Wheatfield's Jalen Bradberry could play up to five years as a varsity athlete.
As an eighth-grader, Jalen is a starting guard for coach Erik O'Bryan's Falcons squad.
Jalen has garnered a lot of hype not just within the Niagara Frontier League and Western New York, but nationally. Aside from the double-teams and intense physical defense he faces on a night-to-night basis, Jalen has drawn the attention of scouts and writers. He is ranked in the top 50 of various player polls for the Class of 2020, landing as high up as 36.
His father, Carlos Bradberry, said the recognition is great, but not everything.
"Rankings are all opinions and, at the middle school level, they are great to see, but the goal is to be ranked when you are a sophomore, junior and senior," he said. "So, I always tell Jalen, 'It's fun to see your name, but this is a marathon not a sprint.' "
Carlos, like Jalen, played varsity basketball at a young age. He began playing varsity as a freshman at LaSalle High School. In his junior year, he was on the All-Western New York First Team. He followed that by winning Western New York Player of the Year award in his senior year.
After high school, he went to Niagara University for one year, and then transferred to the University of New Hampshire, where he finished his career.
As an eighth grader, Jalen faces athletes that are four to five years older than him. The physical demand of facing a defender that much older, at times, could seem like a daunting task. But Jalen is up to facing the physicality, because he's seen it before. Jalen plays year-round in the Amateur Athletic Union, facing athletes in older age divisions.
"It's helped physically, because the teams I played and the strength at the AAU level is like the same that I'm playing now," Jalen said.
Carlos said Jalen has handled this situation well.
"I feel he's handling the situation great. I think his IQ and skill level helps him greatly. He is well ahead of the game mentally," Carlos said. "I think I was concerned with the physical part of the games where teams are going to try and rattle him and do things to get him off his game, but he has handled that great so far."
Carlos also said Jalen has played older competition his whole life and it's helped with his maturity as a basketball player. He said being in those situations prepared Jalen for the moment, and is a reason why he doesn't feel any added pressure as an eighth-grade starter.
In a recent game against Lewiston-Porter High School, Jalen showed his ability to stay calm when teams try to get him off his game. Bradberry was facing a physical Lancers defense that was giving him headaches in the first half, holding him to only 5 points.
O'Bryan said his team came together and calmed Jalen down, because the defense was so rough with him.
In the second half of the game, Jalen missed a 3-pointer early and began to hear chants from the Lew-Port student section. He stayed calm and collected, though, and, three 3-pointers later, the Falcons finished off a comeback win. Jalen finished with 19 points.
Jalen said his favorite player is Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, and his game is a model of Curry's. Jalen can step back behind the 3-point line and drill long-range shots. He also has good ball-handling skills that help create his shots, as well as drive to the basket.
The only way to get the skills he has is to work constantly in the gym.
Carlos said you can't get Jalen out of the gym.
"Jalen is a gym rat," Bradberry said. "When the season isn't going on, we are in the gym working on a part of his game at least six out of the seven days. During the season, we try to go to stay sharp or work on things he is struggling with."
Jalen is also a hard worker off the court in the classroom.
His advice to someone who is in his shoes, looking to make a name, is, "Work hard on and off the court and don't get distracted."
Carlos said he knows, down the road, his son will look to pursue an opportunity at Georgetown. He said his son hopes to one day make it to the NBA.
His advice for Jalen and other young basketball players is, "You only get this journey to do once. You never want to look back with regrets, so put your all into it and realize it's a process. Nothing happens overnight; you must consistently grind and work for your goals. Nothing worthwhile comes easy."
Jalen, who is averaging 17.5 points per game in his past four games, and the young Falcons have seven games remaining. Most of them are against tough Niagara Frontier League opponents such as Kenmore West, Grand Island, North Tonawanda and Niagara Falls. Amid a youth movement, the Falcons are currently 4-8 and need to end the year with some big wins. Their next contest is at home on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. versus Grand Island High School.