COLUMBIA — Britt Bradley slightly delayed the start of the game, jogging to the sideline while removing his earrings and placing them in the hands of his coach for safekeeping. Returning to the court, Bradley wasted no time getting started. He maneuvered through the lane, darting around defenders, caught a pass and kissed the ball off the glass and into the net to put his team up 2-0.
Bradley is a member of the Brooklyn Cats, the champions of the Show-Me State Games 11th to 12th-grade competitive boys basketball division. On Sunday, the Cats won their second consecutive Show-Me gold with a 70-62 victory over the Mineral Area Panthers. The Cats also won the division last year.
Individual statistics were not officially recorded during the game, but Bradley knew his as soon as he was off the court.
“I had nine assists and 26 points,” Bradley said.
Points can accumulate quickly for the Cats thanks to their style of play. In the final four minutes of the fourth quarter, the team scored six points to secure their win.
“We’ve got athletes, so we’ve got to keep the game fast,” coach Jesse Woolfork said.
Fast is an understatement. Bradley and his teammates showcase their speed on fast breaks, regularly knocking a ball out of an opponent’s hands or deflecting a pass and firing it the length of a court for an easy layup or rim-shaking dunk. Woolfork encourages his players to go with the flow of the game, and does not believe in calling plays.
“If you know basketball, you don’t have set plays,” Woolfork said. “We don’t have set plays. We just let them go. We take what they give us.”
Bradley considers the breakneck pace calm. He is the conductor of the chaos.
“I like to play slow, I’m not gonna do too much, ease into the game,” Bradley said.
He is as willing to dish out an assist as he is to take a shot. Defenders close in on him as he navigates toward the basket. If they come too close he finds the open teammate.
Players on the Cats roster go to different schools throughout the St. Louis area.
Only some, like Bradley, live in Brooklyn, but they all play under the name.
“I’m from Brooklyn. Everything I do is for my hometown,” Woolfork said.
Woolfork’s Brooklyn is not in New York, but Illinois. The small village in St. Clair County sits barely northeast of downtown St. Louis.
“I moved to St. Louis, but Brooklyn is right across the bridge from East St. Louis,” Woolfork said.
Woolfork said he started coaching in Brooklyn and kept the name to continue honoring his home after he moved to St. Louis.