Really, there are no timeouts for Crystal Bradford.
When you’re on the field, the Atlanta Dream reserve guard struggles hard in attack and makes life difficult for opponents on the other end of the ground. On the sidelines, at team gatherings and during rehearsals, Bradford coaches her teammates and showers them with her enthusiasm and sense of humor.
Before matches, you’ll likely lead impromptu dances inside the tunnels – all of which helps keep players going through an already challenging season.
“I always try to involve my teammates, whether it’s emotionally or in some other way,” she said. “Even when I’m in court, I try to get them involved.”
Placing Bradford as Atlanta’s top scorer wasn’t what many witnessed for the 27-year-old, who debuted on the WNBA roster this summer for the first time since 2015, when she was drafted by Los. Angelis Sparks.
It seems to have come out of nowhere and, in this complete way, belies the years of work I put into both skills and personal development. It has been a long and winding road for the Detroit native, who has used unyielding resilience as a springboard for growth.
Bradford capped off an impressive team run in central Michigan as he scored the all-time program, rebounds, field goal and shots that topped. She was the first Chippewa to be drafted in the first round.
But knee problems that kept her out of play after the season ended required her to have surgery, and she didn’t join Sparks until midsummer. Played 15 matches. The following year, Bradford was interrupted by training camp, and so began her quest to return to the league.
Playing in Brazil and then in Finland before signing a contract in Israel, she said she felt at home. All along, Bradford had a unique goal.
“I’ve never given up being in the WNBA,” she said. “My friends and supporters didn’t either. Some summer it was in the back of my head, some summer I was ready. Some people give up as quickly as possible. I think that’s why I’m such a good player in the fourth quarter. There is never time to give up.” .
Bradford said she knew she needed to do some growing, so she worked on it.
“I focused on maturity and mastering my craft,” she said. “I stayed abroad, and I wanted to keep building there. A lot of times, what you do in the WNBA doesn’t transfer to playing abroad.”
When she arrived in Israel in 2017, Bradford said she felt the hunger to succeed in basketball like never before, as well as the confidence the experience generated. She did mental work and learned how to maintain her composure during matches, as she admitted that she was still accusing her.
“After the match, the adrenaline is really high,” Bradford said. “I had so many nights to think, and to reprogram my thinking if it was a loss.”
She was also aware that she had a reputation for having a sharp personality, so she set out to work on that as well.
“I was afraid,” Bradford said. “I am an inner-city kid who grew up with a lot of trauma, so I was afraid of being vulnerable. I think vulnerability has changed the rules of the game for me.”
Meditation has enabled her to be more calm and focused. A more in-depth approach to the game has increased its power on the field.
“I want to be a playmaker,” Bradford said. That’s also what’s changed in my game from L.A. to now: I’m smarter, stronger, faster. I am able to make plays. I truly am a mismatched nightmare for anyone.”
“It’s like a chef’s pick when I’m there. I don’t run like crazy. I know everything in my bag, and when to take it out.”
With the help of her agent, Bradford received an invitation to the Dream 2021 training camp through coach Nikki Cullen. Ten days before the final cuts, Colin took over as head coach at Baylor University, leaving assistant Mike Petersen as interim head coach. Bradford made a goal to impress him, and it didn’t take long.
Within six days, Petersen said, Bradford was contributing enough to every practice session that the squad she was in would win each time. When he and his assistant coach Darius Taylor began drafting the final roster, they decided it landed a spot.
“She has so much energy all the time,” Petersen said. “She’s light. She makes people laugh and she lightens the mood. She plays hard and she’s very confident. It was a really fun addition.”
Petersen admits he wasn’t expecting it.
“At the start of boot camp, there wasn’t a single person in America who thought she would make our final roster, but now she has established herself, she has a role on this team,” he said.
Bradford’s consistency was praised.
“Every day has a Crystal Bradford moment,” Petersen said. “It’s not like she had a really good day and then went two weeks – or two days – without doing anything.”
Veteran striker Elizabeth Williams said the team appreciate Bradford’s playing and personality.
“It’s really high energy,” Williams said. “Obviously when you have someone with a long career playing abroad who can stay with us, she has a different mindset, and she brings that into every practice.”
“We love the energy she brings on and off the ground. It’s so unexpected, so it’s really hard to protect. She can do so many things, and we love that about her.”
Heather Osterle, the long-time assistant at CMU who took over as head coach in 2019, watched almost every game in Atlanta. I went to Chicago a couple of weeks ago to see Bradford play in person, and I was so moved by what I saw.
“She was a wonderful classmate there, and I wouldn’t say that about her so early in college,” Oesterle said. “She’s accepted her role, she’s fantastic on the bench and incredible off the field, and that says a lot about how she has matured.”
Oesterle said she appreciates the work Bradford has done to get another chance in the WNBA.
“She told me it was her dream to play in the United States in front of family and friends, and that she appreciates the opportunity,” Osterle said.
By the time the league games end in the fall, Bradford will have played a season and a half in the WNBA. In the spirit of Going Beyond Her Limits, she will be heading to Poland to play this winter, for the first time. She will turn 28 in November.
Bradford is philosophical about her journey as being unique, and said it couldn’t have happened any other way.
“I am an experienced learner in that I learn by having experiences,” she said. “That’s exactly what it is – I might have to try a few things.”