Besta Beal has been intimately involved from the start with her son Bradley’s development as a basketball player.
A high school physical education teacher who played volleyball and basketball at Kentucky State, she taught the middle of her five boys – actually, she’s taught all of them – the fundamentals of how to shoot. She broke down videotape when Bradley struggled for the first time in his life at Florida last season. Once he turned his game around, she made it clear that even though she didn’t expect Bradley to turn pro this soon, she knew it was the right time.
But it wasn’t until Bradley took a seat in between Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld and coach Randy Wittman on Friday afternoon at Verizon Center, the day after he’d been drafted, that she and Bradley’s father, Bobby, both got caught up in the moment.
“I wanted to cry [at the draft],” Besta said. “But I didn’t feel it.”
Perhaps she understands what Bradley later said to the media scrum assembled around him, that getting to the NBA was just the start.
Beal’s official introduction by his new team, which included the unveiling of his No. 3 jersey and finished with a belated birthday cake, felt similar. After years of being plagued by character issues and poor behavior off the court, the Wizards can’t wait to talk about what guys like Beal – as well as recently acquired Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor – bring off the court as well as on it.-
“That’s what we’re trying to do here,” Wittman said. “It’s not only about talent, and talent does win. There’s no question about it, and [Beal] is talented. And he’s going to help us win a lot of games, but it’s also what we do in the locker room and what we’re trying to build together as a team, the people that we can trust not only on the basketball court but out in the community. He’s going to bring that to Washington, D.C.”
Of course, it’s the silky jumper, built on perfect balance and footwork, that got Beal to where he is. Besta seized upon its potential early and started taking Bradley and her other sons to the gym every night at a young age. Beal idolized Allen Iverson until he realized his game was different. When he hit eight 3-pointers in the first half of an AAU game in fifth grade, he didn’t get to play football anymore.
The shot didn’t go away until Beal reached Florida, where he felt the pressure of being away from home, of adjusting to the college game and the different role of playing small forward instead of shooting guard. In the end, the problem was confidence over mechanics, and the slump all but ended in a 70-48 rout of Georgia in January where Beal went 4-for-6 from beyond the arc, breaking out of a 2-for-16 slump in the previous four games.
“I just wasn’t making any shots, I went through a shooting slump, and I never had been through one before,” Bradley Beal said. “I didn’t know how to handle it. Now if it ever happens again, I know what to do. The way I fought through it is just having fun. I think I kind of lost sight of that. I was too busy focusing on trying to force the ball into the basket, and that was out of my control. Just basically doing other things to impact the game, rebounding and defense, and the rest of the stuff will take care of itself.”
Agents and scouts took notice. Beal said he went down to the wire with a difficult decision to leave Gainesville just as he was getting comfortable with a team and teammates who came within a sniff of the Final Four and could’ve been a national title favorite next season.
“I didn’t know he was going to go pro, not this soon,” Besta said. “I thought maybe with the third or fourth year that he was going to go. Once they started coming at him, I was like, ‘Oh. I think he’s going to go.’ It’s just so obvious, when the NBA calls you, you go. You don’t tell them no.”
Bradley’s life with the Wizards will take the next step on July 9 when the team opens minicamp ahead of the Las Vegas summer league. While Besta and Bobby will remain in St. Louis to attend to Bradley’s 17-year-old twin brothers, Bryon and Byron, his two older brothers, 26-year-old Brandon and 24-year-old Bruce, are going to live with him in Washington. Both are 230-pound plus former football players – that should be enough to keep the 19-year-old able to concentrate solely on his game.
And Bradley expects to be comfortable on the court, where he’ll play his natural position and begin his NBA career as Jordan Crawford’s backup. If the Wizards have it their way, their prized rookie will find that locker room culture will never be an issue.
“That’s just a team being all together as one,” Bradley said. “Things off the court also translate on the court so if guys aren’t in unison off the court, then it’s going to show on the court as well. Being a part in locker room and having all the guys in the locker room together and all the guys on the same page is what’s really going to transfer over to the court.”