Bradberry picks mighty Park for rest of HS career

Paul Battson/contributorIn this Dec. 8, 2018 file photo, former NFHS Wolverines' guard Jalen Bradberry goes up for a shot in last season' Cataract Classic against his new team, the Park Pioneers.

You would hope family and education would matter in any big decision. For Jalen Bradberry, that means joining a fourth school as many years.

The former Niagara Falls High School guard will be joining the Park School of Buffalo entering his junior year, he announced back on July 4. After beginning his varsity career as an eighth grader at Niagara Wheatfield, becoming the Class B Manhattan Cup Most Valuable Player at now defunct Niagara Catholic and helping Niagara Falls win its fourth straight Section VI Class AA championship, Bradberry seems to have found his home.

His father, Carlos, feels the same way about the move. The elder Bradberry, a former a Niagara Falls assistant coach and Division I basketball player at Niagara University and the University of New Hampshire, did not want this move to be an indictment of NFHS. The former All-Western New York basketball star just felt his son was being presented with a grand opportunity, on and off the court.

"Jalen will definitely graduate from Park," Carlos said. "... We think Park provides what he needs academically and educationally there is no need to leave. No knock on NFHS, but we just felt Jalen needed to be back at a private school. Our plans were always for Jalen to attend a private school, but when NC closed, Jalen really wanted to go to school with kids he grew up with, so he (chose) to stay home."

The 2018-19 season was one to remember for not only Jalen, but for the Wolverines as well. After knocking off Williamsville North in the sectional title game, NFHS made its first run to the state semifinal in a decade before falling to Section III's West Genesee.

Bradberry was a huge part of that success, leading the team in scoring with 19.3 points, adding 3.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds. The second team All-WNY guard left his mark with the greatest 3-point shooting effort in school history, knocking down 11 in a 40-point performance against Kenmore East on Jan. 8.

For Bradberry, the move came down to a couple of simple principles that mattered the most to him.

"The biggest factor was my family," Bradberry said. "And looking at a school that we feel will help me be ready for college in two years."

It's tough to beat Niagara Falls in terms of WNY basketball prestige, but Bradberry walks into a program that has been exceptional in recent years. The Pioneers won the 2015 and 2018 state Class A federation championships and have won back-to-back Manhattan Cups and state Class A Catholic titles.

Park will be losing four seniors from last year's team, including the leading scorers Noah Hutchins and Ebuka Quentin Nnagbo. The most notable loss will be Hutchins; the four-year starter and first team All-State point guard announced he will be prepping next season for the defending national champion IMG Academy in Florida.

Bradberry will have the opportunity to take over for Hutchins not only as a fellow All-WNY player, but in the lead guard role. He was relegated to being more of an off-ball shooter and wing scorer with the emergence of Wolverines point guard and Niagara Gazette co-player of the year Willie Lightfoot.

"I'm really excited to be able to play point (guard) again and to take more control of the game and show I can do more (than) just score," Bradberry said. "Get my teammates better and lead the young guys."

Park head coach Richard Jacob has the luxury of losing one All-WNY guard and replacing him with another with two full seasons left to play. Jacob, a Niagara Falls native, knows losing a star like Hutchins means more than just losing a great player, but he is hopeful that Bradberry is the right person to fill his shoes.

"A player like Noah Hutchins, clearly he's been a great leader, a high level performer and has been an integral part of our success," Jacob said. "So I'm really happy for him and what he's done and where he's going and just looking forward to (seeing) his bright future. And as with all programs, we must continue on and carry on with our core group. To have a student-athlete like Jalen make a decision that he's made will only strengthen our situation."

Jacob knows what Bradberry brings to the table as a player and sees the type of young man he is developing into.

"Certainly with Jalen's track record of success and his hard work ethic, it is clear that he continues to grow as a person and a player," Jacob said. "And we're looking forward to him joining our strong junior class, which I know he's very familiar with. And together, I feel like there's great potential to develop as a competitive team."

One thing that Jacob will try to focus on is helping Bradberry become a "consummate combo guard" who can dominate either spot in the backcourt.

"I think as he gets stronger and continues to assume his role as a leader and learns the combo guard position very well, it would only enhance his game for the next level," Jacob said. "And certainly every team requires a great leadership and combo guard ability. So I think that the strength of a person that has multiple skills like Jalen is only gonna improve as he continues to understand the role of a combo guard, a true combo guard."

Jacob wanted to make sure that new Niagara Falls head coach Brent Gadacz was acknowledged in this decision, too. He understands how tough it is for a new head coach to be taking over a highly successful program, especially when one of its best players transfers before the season.

"Coming from a great program like Niagara Falls, I have much respect for the coaches there, including Coach Brent," Jacob said. "... He's earned his opportunity to lead Niagara Falls' great program. Again, with great respect to their program, I'm certain that the Bradberry family has done everything they could to make the best decision for Jalen and we wish the best for all parties."

Gadacz was not surprised at the move, saying he completely understood and respected the Bradberry's decision. Even in leaving, Gadacz had nothing but high praises to speak of about Jalen, as he tows a new path in his basketball career.

"I wish Jalen the best of luck at his new school. He is a great kid and will be very successful," Gadacz said.

"His father expressed to me before Sal (Constantino) stepped down that he wanted Jalen to handle the ball more and play what he thinks is his natural position at point guard. ... I have always been a fan of Jalen since he was young and will continue to watch his progress this upcoming year and in the future. Again, I wish him well and I hope he continues to improve on his weaknesses, as well as strengthening his strengths even further. I have no doubt that he will have a bright future." 

Bradberry will have a natural chemistry once he joins the Pioneer this year — back in fifth grade, he played on a team that won an invite-only national tournament that included Lightfoot, fellow Gazette co-player of the year Roddy Gayle, rising Wolverines junior Aarien Robinson and current Park wingman Caleb Hutchins. Caleb is the younger brother of Noah and son of Park assistant coach and athletic director Marcus Hutchins.

Looking ahead to the next two years, Bradberry has the chance to become WNY's all-time leading scorer, trailing Cheektowaga's Dom Welch by just 1,050 points. He currently has 1,326 career points in three seasons of varsity play.

Bradberry seems eager for the chance to play under one of WNY's best coaches and feels that Jacob has the ability to help him get to the next level.

"I expect that he will push me and help me become a better lead guard," he said. "He helped the best player in the area, Noah Hutchins, develop over the last few years and he has coached at the college and professional level. I think he will challenge me and help me grow to be a better leader and player."

For more from sports reporter Khari Demos, follow on Twitter @riri_demos.

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