When Ron Bradley went back to the University of Maryland's Cole Field House earlier this week, it was a chance to visit with old friends in his new job as basketball coach at Radford University.
Fortunately for him, it was only to practice for today's game at Morgan State and not to play Maryland, where Bradley spent eight seasons as an assistant coach and one year in limbo, as an assistant athletic director.
"We couldn't get the gym at Morgan to practice," Bradley said. "I've been back a few times since I left, but it's nice to come back this way."
Bradley, 40, has waited a long time for his chance to be a Division I head coach. He came to Maryland as a volunteer assistant at Maryland under Lefty Driesell in 1981 and left in 1990, a year after Bob Wade was forced out.
After spending his first year out of organized basketball, Bradley went to Radford as an assistant under former Maryland assistant Oliver Purnell. When Purnell left to become head coach at Old Dominion, Bradley was promoted.
"Ron did a great job helping Oliver turn things around last season," Radford athletic director Chuck Taylor said when he hired Bradley last spring. "It was just a logical move to make to keep the continuity going."
Bradley still is looking forward to his first victory as a Division I coach. A successful coach at his alma mater -- NAIA member Eastern Nazarene in Quincy, Mass. -- Bradley's unofficial debut came at the 1989 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
When Wade took ill and was hospitalized after the Terps' opening-round upset of top seed North Carolina State, Bradley was told by then-athletic director Lew Perkins to coach the team in its second-round game against North Carolina.
It was a rude introduction: Maryland was trounced by 30 points, the largest margin of defeat in ACC Tournament history. "I don't think people realize the emotional state of that team," Bradley said. "It wasn't by any means a normal coaching situation."
But, he said jokingly, "How many coaches can say that Dean Smith was the only one to beat them?"
Alas, now add another Smith to the list -- Sonny Smith of Virginia Commonwealth. Radford lost its opener Tuesday night, 97-83.
Despite having been with the Highlanders for a year, Bradley still is making the transition from big-time college basketball to small-time, from the ACC to the Big South, and from being a longtime assistant to suddenly being the boss.
"We've only been Division I for eight years," said Bradley, whose team is coming off its best season ever (22-7). "It was and is a huge adjustment. It's more in your planning. You don't plan a whole lot of alley-oop passes."
Because of an injury to 6-foot-6 forward Pete Reese, and academic problems for 6-7 forward Tyrone Travis, Bradley is starting four guards. Radford's all-time leading scorer, 6-7 center Ron Shelburn, has graduated.
Repeating last season's success might be difficult, but Bradley knows a lot about patience. "I believe in that things work out for the best," he said. "I am an idealist and an optimist."