SDSU Men’s Basketball Season Preview: Matt Bradley

Credit: Garrison/ EVT

Credit: Paul Garrison/ EVT Sports

 

Before this season, the last Pac-12 player who chose to transfer to San Diego State was a familiar name to Aztec fans, Malachi Flynn.

During his time at Washington State, Flynn helped the Cougars defeat the Aztecs, 93-86 and win the 2017 Wooden Legacy championship by scoring 24 points and collecting six assists. As soon as Flynn announced his transfer commitment, Aztec fans quickly remembered that performance and envisioned similar performances against the opposition. 

While the newest Aztec transfer from the Pac-12 might not be as familiar to Aztec fans, he should be.

During the Aztecs game against California in 2018, then-freshman Matt Bradley tallied 11 points, four rebounds, three assists and made the game-winning three-pointer with 30 seconds remaining to break a tie score. 

Bradley went on to take an expanded role at Cal after his freshman year, averaging 18ppg and earning All-Pac-12 Second-Team honors in his sophomore and junior seasons. 

After three seasons at Cal, Bradley entered the transfer portal following the 2020-2021 season and was considered one of the top transfers in the country. Despite getting calls from some of the top blue blood schools, he committed to the Aztecs on April 12. 

In an exclusive interview with EVT, Bradley spoke about his decision to transfer to San Diego State. “[It was about] being able to come closer to home [San Bernardino] and be in an environment that has a winning culture and surrounded by a good group of guys,” Bradley said. 

“It’s a good environment, and when you have people that want to stay and want to be included, it’s just more than winning. It’s a family atmosphere.” 

Bradley contacted several former Aztecs players during his decision-making process, and all were highly complimentary about the program. Recent alumni Matt Mitchell, who Bradley knew from their AAU days, was one of those who spoke glowingly about San Diego State.

Aztec assistant coach, Chris Acker, spoke to EVT about Bradley’s decision to come to San Diego State. “(It) says a lot about the success of the program, starting with Coach Fisher and then with Coach Dutcher, the players that have come before him and the guys that have come from the same area he has come from and he has seen those guys have success here.” Acker added that Bradley “came here to play in the NCAA tournament and to win tournament games.” 

Bradley, a 6’4”, 230-lb shooting guard, is immediately eligible to play this season with two years of eligibility remaining. Bradley’s older brother played college basketball at UC Irvine, Idaho State, and Dixie State.

After missing most of his freshman season due to a broken foot at Rancho Cucamonga High, Bradley transferred to San Bernardino High before his sophomore year and played two seasons there. He set a school record in 2017 by scoring 72 points in one game and was named the CIF Division IV Player of the Year in his junior year, averaging 31 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, and four steals per game. 

He transferred to Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, UT for his senior season, the same school that recent San Diego State Class of 2022 commit Koren Johnson currently attends.

Credit: Paul Garrison/ EVT Sports

While the Aztecs heavily recruited Bradley out of high school, the 4-star and 53rd player in the Class of 2018 per Rivals.com, ultimately chose to play at a Power 5 school. 

During his recruitment, Eric Bossi, the National Basketball Director for 247Sports, called Bradley “Ronnie Lott in high tops,” alluding to the fact that he could easily be mistaken for a football player given his physique and build.  

Bradley set Cal’s freshman record by shooting 47.2% from 3-point range before elevating his role and the overall game starting in his sophomore season. He is only one of 12 players in the country to score at least 1,290 points in the last three seasons.

The college basketball media expects big things from Bradley this season. He was named on the initial watch list for the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award and selected as the Mountain West’s Newcomer of the Year in the preseason media poll. 

His Aztec coaches and teammates expect even more. While noting that Bradley’s track record at the Pac-12 level is impressive, coach Acker stated that he now has to figure out “how to duplicate that in a winning environment and a culture that is going to demand more of him on a day-to-day basis.” 

Assistant coach Dave Velasquez recently told XTRA 1360 in a radio interview that Bradley will make a significant impact on the program on both sides of the ball. “We want to make him a little more efficient and teach him more about spacing but are not trying to change his game offensively,” said Velasquez.  

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Bradley can score. Fellow teammate Lamont Butler called him “a bonafide bucket” and that Bradley “is getting more comfortable with us in our offense every day in practice.” Adam Seiko, arguably the Aztecs’ best perimeter defender,  mentioned that he guards Bradley every day in practice, and “he gives me fits sometimes.”   

“He definitely has the ability to be one of the best scorers in the conference,” Trey Pulliam said while noting that Bradley’s scoring will be needed after the departures of Jordan Schakel, Matt Mitchell, and Terrel Gomez.

Bradley can score at all three levels. He has the ability to catch and shoot 3-pointers, come off down screens, run pick and rolls, and operate out of the post. But, Bradley is focused on becoming more than just a scorer by making his teammates better and improving all facets of his game. “The big thing I’ve been working on is spacing, giving guys room to operate and in games where shots are not falling, getting to the foul line,” Bradley said. 

Credit: Paul Garrison/ EVT Sports

The biggest question mark for any new player in the Aztec program is whether they will pick up the defensive philosophies. “They told me straight up if I’m lacking on defense, then I won’t be on the court, and I have accepted that since day one,” Bradley said. “I’ve never played this caliber of defense before as far as not just relying on my individual defense but having everybody else’s back on the court.”

Bradley agrees that there is a stark difference in commitment and focus to defense here than in most other programs in the country. “Defense is what separates San Diego State from a lot of programs,” he said. “At San Diego State, I’ve seen games where the offense wasn’t on point necessarily, but the defense was. You can’t really control how many shots you make, but if you control the defensive side of things, you are most likely going to win more games.”

Pulliam agrees that the program’s defensive schemes are a lot to take in for newcomers. “Everybody who comes to the program has it rough early on, but the more you do it every day and the more you put into it, it gets easier.”

Butler noted Bradley is still trying to figure out the defensive schemes, but he is “a force of nature defensively due to his big body.” Keshad Johnson echoed Butler’s comment, telling EVT that “his physical build is going to be his best attribute on the defensive end, and if he can learn to use his strength to his advantage, he will be a nightmare on that end.”


Bradley is quick to point out that he is more than just an athlete and has future plans outside of the basketball court. “Berkeley opened me up to a lot of things. I’ve seen the world for more than just basketball. I’m really into my education and making network connections with people. I’m studying criminal justice and want to be a detective or a federal agent.”

In the only season that Flynn played on the Mesa, he led the Aztecs to a historic 30-2 season, a regular-season Mountain West Conference championship, and likely #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament before its cancelation. Flynn was also named the Mountain West Player and Defensive Player of the Year and was selected by the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the NBA Draft. 

If Bradley is able to duplicate the individual and team success that Flynn enjoyed as a Pac-12 transfer to San Diego State, his lofty non-basketball future plans may have to wait a little bit longer.

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Andre Haghverdian on Email
Andre Haghverdian
Avid sports fan and historian of basketball, baseball, football and soccer. UC San Diego and San Diego State alumni living in America's Finest City. Diverse team following across multiple sports leagues, but Aztecs come first in college athletics.

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