Shawn Bradley is truly the big man on campus. When his Emery High basketball team plays at home, half the people of Castle Dale, Utah—there are only about 2,000 of them—turn out to watch. Kids line up for his autograph and name their pets after him. And his fame has spread far beyond this coal mining-farming community: Bradley was offered scholarships by 107 colleges, making him one of the most highly sought after high school athletes in the nation. “Over the years, a lot of people have teased me because of my height,” says Shawn, who at 17 is 7’5″ and thinks he has stopped growing. “But I ignored them. I always figured, ‘Someday I’ll do something good with it.’ ”
Perhaps the tallest amateur hoopster in the country—in the pros, only 7’7″ Manute Bol tops him—Bradley is also agile. He is a .400 hitter in baseball, and in basketball he is equally adept at blocking, rebounding, passing and scoring (a 25-point average this season). The lithe center’s sneakers barely squeak as his stiltlike legs carry him the length of the court in half a dozen strides. His exploits have made Emery’s Spartans just about unstoppable. Last year Bradley led them to a 24-0 season and a stale championship. This year, once again, they have started out undefeated.
To the chagrin of North Carolina, UCLA and other roundball powerhouses, the home-loving Bradley finally chose to go to Brigham Young University, 105 miles away in Provo. That decision has made BYU coach Roger Reid, whose team usually finishes at or near the top of the Western Athletic Conference, a most happy man. “One of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had,” he says, “was when Shawn decided to come with us.”
Height is a Bradley trait. Shawn’s sister Adrianne, 9, is 4’10”. Tasha, 15, is 6′. Brother Justin, 13, is 6’3″ and already being eyed by scouts. Dad Reiner, 40, a medical lab technician, is 6’8″, and mom Teresa, 38, a substitute teacher, is 6′. But even in such company, Shawn stands out. “By the time he was 2, everybody was mistaking him for a 4-year-old,” recalls Reiner. “There was a steep hill where we lived. He’d charge down it, looking like he was going to fall flat on his nose. But he never did. He was coordinated even then.”
There are downsides to such heights. Shawn’s eight-foot-long bed had to be specially made, and his 42-inch trousers must be hand-sewn. He also has a weight problem: “I’m 210 now, and I’m aiming for 240 or 250 for college.” Eventually Bradley hopes for a pro career, but not before taking two years off for a Mormon church mission. “He’s like any normal kid, and he’s unselfish,” says coach Reid. “He could score 50 points a night if he wanted to, but he gives the other guy a chance. As good a basketball player as he is, Shawn is a better person.”