By Pilar Barrio Sanchez
When Mattoon center Samuel Bradbury dunked Friday night against Tolono Unity, the high school gym erupted with screams and cheers from both fans and teammates.
The slam by the 6-foot-8 sophomore punctuated a second-half run by the Green Wave that essentially put the game away and enabled Mattoon to gain a 71-53 victory.
“When Sam does good, we do good,” Mattoon’s sophomore Jaylen Middleton said. “When Sam dunks the ball, we all get excited to get the ball back to get him another one.”
Bradbury just missed on another dunk attempt a minute later.
Bradbury, averaging 10 points per game, is essential to the Green Wave’s ability to move the ball around the court. Against Tolono Unity, he scored 10 points in the first half, forcing them to put two players on him in the second half, changing his role from getting the ball under the rim and scoring to attracting players inside so his teammates could score from wide positions.
“He is huge for us,” Mattoon coach Ryan Ghere said. “He makes them commit to the middle and then he opens up to our perimeter guys when we get the ball inside.”
Unity had been so worried about Bradbury that it assigned one player, Karson Ewerks, to mark him throughout the game. After watching video on Bradbury, Ewerks said he and others practiced how to best defend him during the past week.
“It is difficult to defend him,” Ewerks said. “He is strong, he is big, and he is quicker than he looks so trying to stay in front of him and trying to be as physical as him is tough.”
Ewerks, a 6-foot-3 senior who plays offensive tackle and defensive end for the football team, did not make things easy for Bradbury. The two played physically against each other during the game. But Bradbury still scored 15 points.
“When they push or shove me, I just want to go harder,” Bradbury said. “Because every time they push or shove me, they are going to get the foul on them.”
Bradbury also contributed on the bench. When he was in the game, his teammates yelled for Bradbury to get the ball. Whenever he subbed out, Bradbury reversed roles, constantly encouraging his teammates .
“The teammates and our crowd: You could just tell that they love him,” Ghere said. “He is kind of the soft-spoken giant for us. They love him because he is so quiet and soft-spoken that everyone wants him to do well.”
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