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New women’s basketball coach Gloria Bradley talks experience and challenges

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Gloria Bradley was named the new women’s basketball coach at Beloit College in August 2016. Prior to Beloit, Bradley spent 11 seasons at Wayne State University, leading them to the NCAA tournament in 2003. Before to that, she coached at Montclair State University for 7 seasons. Under her lead, the program went to the conference championships four times, also advancing to the second round in the NCAA in 1995. Bradley was also a pheonom on the court at Seaton Hall University, as a four-year letter winner, First Team All-Big East Conference player, and all-time leader in field goal leader.

The Round Table: How did you first become interested in coaching?
Gloria Bradley: Coaching wasn’t something that was originally in my plan as a student athlete. I majored in secondary education [at Seton Hall University], and my intention at the time was to graduate and go teach. However, I was drafted to play basketball, so that’s what I did the year immediately after college. I really enjoyed doing that, and once the league folded I questioned whether or not I wanted to teach. I was fortunate enough to get a call from my coach, who was stepping down. She asked me if I had ever thought about coaching, and whether or not I would be willing to work as an assistant coach. I jumped at the chance, and I think I’ve had the bug ever since.

RT: Given the fact that you’re working on a dissertation to become a Doctor of Education, how significant of a role do you think athletics plays in education – either in your personal experience, or in general?
GB: All coaches are teachers. Coaching is a different classroom. We’re not exactly the same as schoolteachers, given that they have their own certification process and have different qualifications, skills, backgrounds, etc., but we do teach our student athletes certain skill sets. Coaches are also lifelong learners. We always continue to learn by looking at film, speaking with other coaches, making mistakes, going to conferences and seminars, and so on. For me personally, what I’m doing now is a continuation of being a student athlete. The doctoral degree [I’m pursuing] is in education because that’s been the body of my work: my undergrad degree was in education, my Master’s degree is in Education, and it’s only a normal progression that my doctoral degree will be in Education. However, athletics teaches you to have that determination and persistence that you definitely need if you’re going to pursue a terminal degree or Masters degree. It’s not a process that you can go into thinking “I think it’s something that I might want to do, let’s just see how it goes.” You really have to commit to it. Just like in athletics, there has to be a high level of commitment, persistence, and determination.

RT: You’ve experienced long, successful tenures at multiple institutions throughout your career. What do you think are the ‘secrets’ and/or best practices for building a program that will have long-term success?
GB: Vision, communication, relationships, and hard work. Just as players grow and develop, coaches also grow in the profession. You start with what you think your vision is going to be, and it develops over the years. You take a little bit from your own experiences, and you also reach out to people who are veterans in the profession. You look at what they do, and find aspects of it that will be successful for you as you’re developing your vision. You have to have a vision, and you must be able to communicate that vision to not just your athletes and staff, but also the people in the community. They have to believe in the product that you’re trying to develop.

You also have to build relationships: with your players, with other people in your profession, with high school coaches for recruiting purposes. You have to bring athletes to the door in order to have the opportunity to develop their skills. If you’re not recruiting, someone else is. If you’re not developing your players, they aren’t going to grow.

And at the end of the day, it’s also just about hard work. In the offseason and off the court, you’re always working on something. You have to tailor what you’re doing and when you’re doing it to fit your specific program. I think that over the years I’ve been able to develop those things and have great relationships within the athletic department. I’ve had great support from the administrators, which is critical to a program’s success, and I think I’ll have a lot of that here.

RT: You’ve worked at institutions like Montclair State University, Wayne State University, and Chicago State University, all of which have a significantly larger student body than Beloit College. What has it been like to transition into an institution with only 1,300 students?
GB: For me, it’s like coming full circle. As an undergrad, I chose to go to Seton Hall University, which at the time had roughly 7,500 students, because it was not as large as some other institutions I was considering. I came from a very small high school with 500 students. So when I say coming back full circle, I’m talking about being from a small private high school, venturing out to some bigger institutions, and now coming back to a smaller private institution. It’s almost like coming back home. It’s something that I’m very familiar with and very comfortable with.

RT: What are your first impressions about Beloit College? What has surprised you or stood out to you?
GB: The first moment I stepped on campus, I was pleasantly surprised by the welcoming mentality and attitude, the sense of community, and the pride and unity on this campus. I think everyone has an idea of what the institution’s mission is, everyone’s working to achieve that, and everyone’s willing to help. You can kind of judge a school by the people who have been there a while. Usually, when people have been at a place for 10, 15, 20 years, and you talk to them, they’re looking at what their exit plan is. I don’t think I’ve spoken to a single person here who’s said “I’m looking to move on.” They’ve been at Beloit 10, 15, 20 years and they speak about it with pride and with fond memories. That says a lot about Beloit to me.

RT: Are there any moments, experiences, or memories that are particularly significant to you as a coach?
GB: When I was at Montclair State, I developed a great friendship with the track coach at the time. He had come from a Division I school, and his goal every year was to get his team to Nationals. When I left, he said to me, “wouldn’t it be nice if I made it to nationals and you made it to the NCAA tournament at the same time?” Ironically, in 2003 Wayne State made it to the NCAA tournament in the same year that he made it to Nationals at Montclair State. We ended up not only at national competitions in the same year, but in the same city, at the same time. It goes back to the importance of relationships – being excited and happy for someone’s success, and them being happy for yours.

That moment was also significant for me because that particular team had overcome so many obstacles and so much adversity. We were extremely shorthanded due to injury, and literally limped into the NCAA tournament with to seven players in the biggest game of the season. But those ladies on that team still went and performed to the best of their ability. There was a young lady on that team who was probably one of the hardest working players I’ve ever coached. I literally had to kick out of the gym to make her go home and take a breather. She is now the head coach at Lake Superior State University. That to me is what it is all about – seeing players that you work with go on to be successful in whatever their field is. We’re in the profession of developing young people and providing opportunities, and I think that’s one of my fondest memories.

RT: What’s one fact about you that people might not guess?
GB: I’m an extremely good baker. I love to bake. It’s often a surprise to people — many athletes cannot imagine their coaches being in the kitchen at all. Certainly not putting on an apron and baking. But it’s something that I’ve always enjoyed doing, have become very good at, and will continue to do.

RT: Any last thoughts?
GB: I’m really excited to be here. I think we have a great group of young ladies, who I’ve had the opportunity to meet already. I think they’re excited. I’m looking forward to working with all of them, and hopefully helping them to meet their goals.

Best of luck to Coach Bradley and the Beloit Women’s Basketball team as they work towards the beginning of their season! Go Bucs!

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