Team preview: Bradley

Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2006-07 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.

Updated: October 16, 2006, 12:24 PM ET
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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

COACH AND PROGRAM

The old saying "If it plays in Peoria, it will play anywhere," used to apply to stage productions tested in the Illinois city before they went to Broadway.

Last year, Jim Les put on his own production with the Bradley basketball team and it played to rave reviews in Peoria, and then later college basketball's biggest stage. The Braves -- with Marcellus Sommerville and Patrick O'Bryant in lead roles -- grabbed the national spotlight with its magical run to the Sweet 16.

"Alumni, people in the community ... everyone got caught up in the wave of excitement," Les said. The Braves are hoping to avoid being a one-season wonder, but in order to accomplish that they have to replace their two stars and some key supporting cast members.

O'Bryant (13.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.9 bpg) bypassed his final two years for the NBA, where he was selected ninth overall in the June draft by Golden State. Sommerville (15.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg) graduated along with forward Lawrence Wright (10.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and guard Tony Bennett (10.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg).

That's a lot of firepower.

"Obviously with Patrick being a top 10 pick, I couldn't be happier for him," said Les, who encouraged O'Bryant to leave early after pre-draft reports projected him to be a lottery pick. "The downside was losing Patrick, but on the upside now we can show people that Bradley can be a springboard [to the NBA]." The four departed players accounted for roughly 50 of the team's 71.5 points per night. The only player left from the core group is 5-10 junior point guard Daniel Ruffin (7.7 ppg, 5.2 apg), who's ability to distribute the ball allowed him to lead the Valley in assists (171).

"It's great to be able to coach him for two more years," Les said. "He has a chance to be one of the best point guards in the history of the school and he's right on course."

In addition to Ruffin's ability to run the offense, he became the Braves' leader on defense and finished second on the team with 53 steals.

"He's a defensive pest," Les said, "He sets the tone for us."

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