Michael Bradshaw’s basketball season didn’t start exactly as he had planned.
“Coming into this year, I was hoping for a starting role, but they gave it to somebody else,” said Bradshaw, a junior guard at NAIA Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “It was a little disappointing.”
How Bradshaw handled the disappointment, and thrived in a different role, helped his team make an impressive run that ended with a No. 2 national ranking, a 34-4 record and advancement all the way to the NAIA Division II national championship game.
“The coaches decided they wanted me to be the sixth man,” said Bradshaw, a Prairie Ridge graduate. “I flipped (emotionally) right away. I wanted that role. I wanted to attack it the best I could. That was key for me, accepting my role and doing what I could with it.”
What Bradshaw did with it was become the team’s second-best 3-point shooter, making 51 3s at a 37.5 percent clip in less than 20 minutes a game.
Late in the season, Bradshaw was at his best, including at the national tournament in Missouri, where he helped the team advance to Tuesday’s title game, a 72-69 loss to top-ranked Union College from Kentucky.
“That run we had was amazing,” said Bradshaw, who averaged 6.6 points a game this season. “Going that far was a blast. Getting a lot more minutes and learning how to play in that kind of environment, it was fun. My shots started falling a little more at the end of the season and my confidence shot up.”
Over the season’s last 12 games, Bradshaw hit 43 percent of his 3s. He proved to be a valuable outlet when defenses smothered Cornerstone’s powerful front line of junior forward Kyle Steigenga, a first-team All-American, and sophomore center Sam Vander Sluis, who averaged 12.1 points and 10.3 rebounds.
“Being able to space the floor was key,” Bradshaw said. “Being on a team with a lot of great players, it made a lot of opportunities for me. I was trying to be that spark and contribute to the team the best I could. That was shooting the ball and putting points on the board.”
To get Cornerstone into last week’s Final Four, they needed a big night from Bradshaw.
With senior point guard Michael McLaughlin in foul trouble, Bradshaw played a season-high 28 minutes. In that time, he poured in 24 points to send the Golden Eagles to a 97-87, third-round victory against Indiana University East.
“Scoring the ball is always fun,” he said. “Having the confidence from my teammates, who were always encouraging me, has been great.”
Perhaps nothing was greater about Cornerstone’s postseason than its opening game at nationals, an 89-83 victory against California’s Pacific Union College.
The Pioneers made 63.3 percent of their first-half shots to build a 25-point halftime lead at 55-30.
Cornerstone chipped away in the second half, thanks in part to five points from Bradshaw and runs of 13-0 and 14-0.
“That was one of the best comebacks I’ve ever been a part of,” Bradshaw said. “That second half, we came out together and really worked as a team. After that, we felt like we could do whatever we wanted the rest of the tournament.”
In a raucous postgame locker room, players jubilantly celebrated the win before coach Kim Elders delivered a message.
“Our coach was ecstatic,” Bradshaw said. “We were all really pumped. Then he said, ‘We celebrate for two minutes, and then we put it behind us and focus on our next game.’
“It was a very quick turnaround, but we did really enjoy it for that little bit,” Bradshaw said with a laugh.