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Geno Ford’s Bradley program in a better spot heading into year two

May 6, 2012, 9:27 PM EDT

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Upon taking over at Bradley last spring, head coach Geno Ford realized that there was a lot of work to be done with a program that hadn’t accomplished much since a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2006.

Sure enough that’s what happened as the Braves finished last in the Missouri Valley, going 7-25 (2-16 MVC) overall and losing 11 of their final 12 games.

But familiarity helps when it comes to building a program, and that seems to be the case with Bradley as they head into the summer.

“When you walked into our gym last spring, you knew we were going to struggle,” Ford said in an interview with Dave Reynolds of the Peoria Journal-Star. “That’s not the feeling I have this spring. Guys are starting to figure out the level of toughness they need to play with. The speed at which the workouts moved and the effort that was consistently given was much higher than (last year).

“We have freshmen who are now (going to be) sophomores and all took steps forward, which you would expect. Also, getting Will (Egolf) back and moving Shayok (Shayok) to the 4 means the bigs are working at a better rate. This spring was a step forward in the right direction.”

Leading scorer Taylor Brown departs but much of Bradley’s young nucleus that took so many beatings in 2011-12 is due back, and the return of forward Will Egolf will also help.

Egolf tore the ACL in his right knee in early June, cutting short his 2011-12 before it even began. And as Ford noted, Egolf’s return should put Shayok Shayok in a better spot.

Brown and Jordan Prosser led the way on the glass for Bradley last season, and a year of experience under his belt should help the 6-8 Shayok a great deal.

Ford and his staff will also be able to spend some time during the summer working with their players given the NCAA now allowing coaches two hours of on-court instruction during the week.

“It was a long time coming,” Ford said of the rule change. “Kids are on campus in the summer, anyway. The whole purpose is to get ’em acclimated. So having access to coaches seems like a good idea.

How much better will Bradley be in 2012-13? That remains to be seen, especially in a tough league like the MVC.

But unlike last spring it doesn’t seem as if the rest of the Valley is getting a head start.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.