The Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame

Jim Bradley

2009

'We should have done more'
Jim Bradley was a great player at Harbor, but he says his teams could have been even better

By KARL PEARSON
Staff Writer

Ninth of a series...

Sometimes, despite one's best efforts, there is a sense that not everything that could have been achieved actually was.

Jim Bradley accomplished a great deal when he played basketball at Harbor High School before his graduation in 1975. His team at Seminole Junior College in Oklahoma was also quite successful. When he finished up his collegiate career with at the University of Hawaii-Hilo, the Vulcans also did well.

Still, when talking to the 52-year-old Bradley, who has maintained his residence in Hawaii, his thoughts eventually shift back to the notion that his teams didn't perform to the ability of which they were capable.

Even though his Harbor team of his junior year reached the Class AA regional tournament, Bradley felt it could have been better. He also felt the Mariners of his senior season of 1974-75, a year in which he shared Star Beacon Ashtabula County Player of the Year honors, should have gone farther.

"I totally think we underachieved my junior year," Bradley said. "I think we should have made it to the state tournament.

"We only lost John Coleman going into my senior year, so I didn't think we had lost very much that year. I think we should have gone to state that year, too."

Although Bradley had impressive high school credentials, having averaged 22.5 points per game as a senior, he had only mild interest from four-year colleges, so he opted for junior college ball. That got him to Seminole Junior College.

"I almost signed at Ohio University because (Ashtabula standout) Al Benton was there," he said. "But I mostly only had junior-college offers.

"I had the attitude that maybe I was better than that and should have had better offers. I decided to try junior college ball to build up my resume. I went to Seminole because it was the first school to show interest in me."

The 6-foot-31⁄2 Bradley gradually worked him way into a starting position at Seminole and earned all-conference honors as a freshman. The Trojans went 19-11 his first year and 23-9 his sophomore year.

But Bradley's hopes of landing with a Division I program were not realized. He ended up connecting with Hawaii-Hilo, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics school. The Vulcans made the NAIA nationals in his junior season there and fell short of the national tournament in his final season.

He had a brief tryout with a semipro team in Hawaii, but that didn't work out, either, and his basketball career ended in 1979.

Bradley may not have reached the goals he had in basketball, but that didn't detract from the perception of those he played with, for or against as a great player. His accomplishments at Harbor have led to his selection into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on March 29.

Ed Armstrong, Bradley's coach at Harbor for his junior and senior seasons, said he had all the attributes one would seek in a player of Hall of Fame caliber.

"Jim was a very consistent player," he said. "He's the closest player I ever had to averaging a double-double. He scored in double figures in all but one game he played his last two years. Jim was also a tremendous rebounder.

"I remember in his junior year having 26 points and 14 rebounds in the district final against (Warren) JFK. He played so well with (ACBF Hall of Famer) John Coleman in getting us to regional. And then he was the county MVP his senior year. And he used his skills to move on in the game to Hawaii."

Armstrong said he enjoyed working with Bradley as a person, too.

"Jim was a fine person," he said. "He was a very coachable kid."

Bradley is proud of his recognition.

"I think this is great," he said. "I definitely feel it's an honor.

"I really appreciate the people who took the time to nominate me. I've never had this kind of honor before."

He's proud of being in the company again of his old teammate, Coleman, and to share a similar distinction with his cousin, former Harbor football standout Kaiser Holman, who entered the Ashtabula County Football Hall of Fame last December.

"I found out there might be something like this when Kaiser went into the football hall of fame," Bradley said. "Having played with John Coleman, I'm really honored to be back together with him."

Starting out

Jim Bradley grew up in the neighborhood around West 5th and 6th Streets in the Harbor district. He is the ninth of 10 children and the sixth of seven sons of Iola Bradley, who still lives in Ashtabula, and the late Jesse James Bradley.

His sisters are Geraldine, the oldest child, Addie and Willie Ruth. His brothers are Jesse Jr., Ellis, Amos, William, who will accept his Hall of Fame award, Larry, who is deceased, and John, who teamed with Jim as a standout player at Harbor.

Bradley first started playing basketball in the fifth grade at Washington Elementary School.

"My coach was Richard Bryant," he said. "My older brother, Larry, played for him, too."

When he moved to Columbus Junior High, he played for Frank Knudsen, who would later become one of the right-hand men for Hall of Famer Frank Roskovics with the Harbor girls, in seventh grade. Robert Potts was his coach with the Raiders in the eighth grade.

"Our junior high team beat the freshmen," Bradley said.

While he was still in junior high, Bradley shot up from 5-6 to 6-2.

"I was 6-2 when I played on the freshmen team for Ron Chutas (the future Grand Valley girls coach)," he said. "I had aspirations of playing with the varsity when I was a freshman, but they wouldn't move us up."

To the Mariners

The "they" Bradley referred to was (retired Jefferson High School principal) Larry Bragga, who was still the Harbor varsity coach in Bradley's sophomore year. Bradley started out at the JV level for Bob Short.

"They actually moved Ray Henton and Al Ziegler up to the varsity before me," Bradley said. "I replaced (Ohio State football's offensive coordinator) Jim Bollman."

Bradley held Bragga in high regard.

"Bragga was probably the best coach I had had," he said. "He had great knowledge of the game and he demanded respect."

The Mariners, who included Coleman, Bradley, Henton and Jim Goodwin, finished 14-7, won the Northeastern Conference championship and earned a Class AA sectional title in an era when only 18 regular-season games were played.

So he had high hopes when his junior year rolled around. But Bragga left for Jefferson and Armstrong returned for his second coaching stint with the Mariners.

"It was nothing against Armstrong, but we wanted Bragga," he said. "We knew we had a good team.

"I had a hard time adjusting to the different coaching style. I don't think we had quite the relationship with Armstrong that we had with Bragga."

Yet the Mariners performed at a high level. They finished with a 19-4 record, claiming the NEC championship and winning Class AA sectional and district championships.

Bradley had a great deal to do with those achievements, averaging 16.6 points per game. He scored 19 points in the Mariners' district-semifinal win over LaBrae, then followed it up with his won game against JFK in the district-title game.

"One game that I really recall was from my junior year against Geneva," Bradley said. "We were down by seven points with less than a minute to go and came back to win."

Following that season, the Mariners still seemed to have the elements of a fine team despite Coleman's graduation. One of the replacements for Coleman was John Bradley.

"I felt John should have been a starter," he said. "It was the politics of the times."

But the Mariners struggled to a 10-9 record and lost in the sectional tournament. That didn't keep Jim Bradley from having a great season, as he averaged 22.5 points per game, sharing the county Player of the Year honor with Conneaut's Denny Sabo.

Despite being a prolific scorer, Bradley took pride in his defense, too.

"I had that attitude that I could score on anybody and I could hold anybody down," he said. "I took a lot of pride in playing well at both ends of the court."

What he classified as underachievement left Bradley with a deep sense of disappointment.

"I had a lot of anger at the end of my senior year," he said. "We had great records, but I still think we underachieved."

Much of that feeling was born of a feeling that racism ran throughout much of the decision-making in Ashtabula.

"There was a real sense of racism in the community," Bradley said. "I don't necessarily think that applied to Armstrong. But we as kids didn't understand what was going on in the community.

"I have always been against racism in any way. Racism still bothers me even today. That's one of the reasons I got away from Ashtabula as quickly as possible when I graduated from high school. When I had the opportunity to get away from it, I did."

Bradley acknowledges he did not handle the circumstances well at the time.

"I think I overcame a bad attitude with talent," he said.

Armstrong is surprised by Bradley's comments.

"If there was any racism, I was not aware of it," he said.

To Seminole country

Getting to Oklahoma really wasn't as big a change for Bradley as one might assume.

"Seminole is about 45 minutes from Norman (home of the University of Oklahoma) and an hour from Oklahoma City (the capital)," he said. "I really don't consider Ashtabula a city, so going to Seminole wasn't a big deal. Most all of my teammates were people from big cities."

But Bradley felt his time there was one of personal growth. He had also grown in stature to 6-31⁄2.

"I developed so much confidence at Seminole," he said. "I was really shy off the court. I think I really blossomed out there. I became a totally different person.

"I really opened up. It was good for me to get away."

But it took him a while to make his mark on the team.

"I sat behind a couple other guys at first, but I worked my way into the lineup eventually," he said. "I made all-conference my first year."

But the Vulcans never made the junior college national tournament, despite very respectable records.

"I thought we underachieved there, too," Bradley said.

He felt racism played a part in all the decisions made by the Seminole coaching staff.

"Everybody on the team was black," Bradley said. "Things didn't go well at Seminole. I came out of there not getting any Division I offers. The closest thing to it was Southwest Missouri State."

Aloha, Hawaii

Through some connections he made while at Seminole, Bradley got his opportunity to go to Hawaii. The only thing was, he had hoped to hook on at Division I Hawaii-Manoa. Instead, he got the call from Hawaii-Hilo.

"I had a tryout back at the University of Akron, but in the late summer, I decided to go to Hilo instead," Bradley said.

As it turns out, he found a home with the Trojans and, ultimately, a permanent home in the 50th state.

"Being out there, I lost any shot at really going farther in basketball, but school was good at Hilo," Bradley said. "My junior year, we made it to the NAIA nationals in Kansas. We lost to Grand Canyon University, which was the eventual champion, in the second round.

"The end of my career was pretty disappointing. We lost in the regional championship game to go to nationals my senior year."

Bradley had a tryout the next year with the Hawaii Volcanos, who had come to the island of Oahu, the next year.

"I got to try out, but they had a bunch of Division I players they brought in, too, and I really didn't have much of a chance," he said. "My basketball days ended in 1979."

But he stayed the course and finished his education at Hilo.


Jim Bradley, a former star at Harbor High School,
hammers home a dunk for Hawaii-Hilo at the
collegiate level. Bradley will be inducted into
the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation
Hall of Fame on March 29 at the Conneaut Human
Resource Center.

"I finished my degree in 1982 with a major in sociology and psychology," Bradley said.

While he was still finishing his education and for a while after he got his degree, Bradley worked in two other industries.

"I worked at a sugar cane factory, which was the biggest employer on the island at the time, for three years," he said. "Then I worked for Mid-Pacific Airlines, a small independent airline, for about 21⁄2 years."

But he wanted to put his education to good use. He found the answer at the Hawaii Department of Public Safety's Kulani Correctional Facility.

"I was trying to use my degree for social work," Bradley said. "They offered me the job as their recreation specialist. It's kind of like being an athletic director. I've been doing it for 22 years now."

Living in the tranquil environment of Hawaii for so long and the passage of time has put matters in a somewhat different perspective for Bradley.

"I had to mellow a bit," he said. "I hold no grudges against (Armstrong), even though at the time, I felt things were wrong.

"I was looking at things from a kid's standpoint. And I wasn't stopped from getting anywhere in life."

The principles of basketball still resonate for Bradley.

"Basketball has meant a lot to me," he said. "I think every kid should be involved in a team sport. It teaches you how to get along with people and how to work together.

"You have to get some direction in life."

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