In 1999, after two standout years at Compton Community College, Steffon Bradford — a native of Clewiston, Florida — had plenty of options to continue his collegiate playing career. He chose Nebraska. Why?
“Coach [Danny] Nee brought me to Nebraska,” Bradford told Hail Varsity. “Other than that, I would have gone to Kansas; that’s the truth.”
The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Bradford started 53 of his 60 career games in Lincoln and averaged 12.0 points and 8.1 rebounds playing alongside Kimani Ffriend in a tough Husker frontcourt. Though he was only in Lincoln for two years, Nebraska became a home for Bradford, and he’s kept coming back every offseason.
“Family and friends keep me coming back to Nebraska, and just the culture of Nebraska: kind people, warm,” Bradford said. “It’s a great place if you ever want to raise a family and stuff like that. Nebraska’s a good place for that, so you’ve got to look at the values of Nebraska.”
Bradford is one of many local hoopers or area college graduates who compete in the annual Omaha Metro Pro-Am Summer League. Even at 42 years old, gray beard and all, Bradford was out there every week getting buckets and helping his team — sponsored by Drexel Mechanical — win. On Wednesday, Drexel Mechanical clinched the 2020 league championship, knocking off Bimbo Pietro, DDS 120-94. Bradford has been competing in the league for years, and this summer he played alongside Omaha alumnus CJ Carter, another long-time Metro League standout.
“I think that’s the beautiful part: playing with the same guys, seeing everyone happy, seeing everyone competing and just having something to talk about afterwards like we’re about to do now,” Bradford said. “That’s what keeps me coming back.”
Bradford’s playing style is a bit unorthodox as a 6-foot-6 interior bruiser, but his game has allowed him to put together a professional career that has lasted nearly 20 years. He’s played in 10 different leagues across six countries during that time. Basketball has taken him from the United States to South Korea to Portugal to Poland to Israel to France.
“Very enriching,” Bradford said about his career. “It’s just a blessing, learning different cultures. If I had to sum my career up, I would truly sum my career up as ‘blessed.’”
Over the first half of his career, Bradford jumped from team to team and country to country, rarely spending more than one season with the same team.
“I was going for the money,” Bradford said. “Every club I’ve ever been on wanted to lock me into four-year, five-year contracts, but my agent never wanted that for me because he understood my talent level. He always knew, ‘hey, don’t lock yourself in because there will be other teams that come in and renegotiate everything.’ Every year, more money, more money, more money. So I just kept following the money.”
In 2010, however, Bradford finally found club he was comfortable sticking with: Lille Métropole Basket Clubs. LMBC plays in the LNB Pro B, the second division of professional basketball in France. He spent three seasons with LMBC.
“It’s like settling down with a woman,” Bradford said. “You have to make sure the woman is the right woman to settle down with. Once I found that right team to settle down with, it felt like home. It was just as passionate as me about winning. Once I found that home, I was like ‘This is home. This is where I’m at.’”
After that stretch that saw him average over 12 points per game all three seasons, Bradford moved down to the third division in France and played four more seasons with four different clubs and he continued to produce.
“The thing that drives me is the competition,” Bradford said about playing into his 40s. “Knowing that I’m 40 and I can go out there and I’m better than a lot of the young cats. And also too just to give back, be out there competing with younger cats. If they do something wrong I’m always like ‘No, you want to do this, do that,’ and they listen. So just to give back.”
Bradford has had a great career abroad, but he’s ready to settle down and focus on things back at home moving forward.
“It’s time to use focus on things in the States,” Bradford said. “I’ve been gone too long.”
He’s not quite ready to hang up the sneakers just yet, however. Bradford is among the 16 players who will compete in the American 3Baller series which will take place Aug. 15 and 16.
If you’re unfamiliar with 3X3 basketball, this is the description on American 3Baller’s website:
“3×3 is a much faster version of 3-on-3, and a lot more fun to watch. It was created in 2007 by FIBA (the International Basketball Federation that governs basketball around the world) in order to make basketball more accessible to more people and to add a new spectator- and mobile-friendly version of the game that would appeal to younger audiences. An additional goal was to get it added to the Olympic Games, which became official in June 2017. FIBA 3×3 will have its Olympic debut at the 2021 Tokyo Games next summer.”
Others who will compete in the event include former Husker Anton Gill, Bradford’s Metro League teammate Carter, former Omaha Central standouts Akoy Agau and Tre’Shawn Thurman and several other names that local basketball fans will recognize.
“Mike [Wranovics] talked me into it, the founder,” Bradford said. “He talked me into it, and I was like, ‘OK, I’ll look into that.’ When I started thinking about it, I’m like man, it’s very competitive it’s fast-paced, your IQ has to be clicking at all times, so I was like ‘Man, I love this game.’ Now, we have the opportunity to go and compete to make it to the Olympics, so that’s a beautiful thing.”
Players will change teams every two games and will get individual points based on how their teams do. At the end of the two days of competition, one team will win a $4,000 cash prize and one player who accumulates the most points throughall of the games will be named league MVP.
Bradford said he thinks his game fits the 3X3 style perfectly.
“Just leadership, being versatile, get to the basket, post up, rebound, pass,” Bradford said. “It fits perfect. And then physical; the game is physical and I can play defense.”
Because of the rise in COVID-19 cases in Omaha, the American 3Baller event will no longer be open to the public, but fans will still be able to watch the games on Twitch.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.