Jim Les ’86 has amassed an 84-73 record in five years as the Bradley men’s basketball coach, producing the team’s first back-to-back 20-win seasons since a three-year run in the mid-1990s.
Les outlines Braves approach
by Justin Phelps ’05
A standing-room-only NCAA tournament selection party at the Michel Student Center and a 1,000-person crowd at the airport welcoming the team from a successful road trip were just two visions Jim Les ’86 verbalized when he became men’s basketball coach in 2002. When the Braves advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in 2006, it seemed he had accurately predicted the future.
“People say it was a prediction. It was more of a recall of my memory of Bradley basketball, having been a part of it as a player,” says Les, whose 2005-06 Sweet Sixteen team has many of the same memories. “Now as we move forward, we’re stepping into a little uncharted territory, or territory I can’t remember.”
After five years in the Les era, Bradley basketball is at a height it hasn’t seen in some respects since 1955 when the Braves advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament for two consecutive years. Les doesn’t have a prediction for the next five years, but the goals remain the same.
“The next step is a consistency of excellence,” Les says. “That consistency comes from year in and year out being in the top 25, year in and year out vying for a Valley championship, year in and year out knowing it’s a foregone conclusion that you’re getting into the NCAA tournament. Those are levels of consistency that we want to take our program to. The past success can help give us momentum to reach those levels.”
“These may be the toughest steps,” Les continues. “Now we’ve reached a level of success. We’ve reached a level where expectations are higher. Now we have another five-year plan to work as hard as we can to keep up the momentum and use the past success as a springboard to do bigger and better things.”
Les and the coaching staff are seeing the effects of the Sweet Sixteen run in recruiting. The 13 players on the 2007-08 team come from 10 states. “Bradley’s name has been out and about,” Les says. “Obviously the Sweet Sixteen exposure gave us an inroad to a lot of young men—not just in Illinois or the Midwest—but all over the country.”
In addition to outstanding athletes, Les and his staff continue to recruit top-notch students. During Les’ tenure, all 15 seniors he has coached have graduated, 12 players have been named to the honor roll, and the team has posted two of the highest grade-point averages in the last 20 years of the program. “We can be successful on the floor and still be successful in the classroom,” Les says. “We’re bringing in true student-athletes that Bradley can be proud of. We’re not taking shortcuts.”
Field House Memories
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