CHAMPAIGN — Cory Bradford’s basketball career has taken him around the world. Literally.
The former Illinois All-American guard has played in a dozen different countries outside the United States in his 18-year career.
Where basketball hadn’t taken Bradford was The Basketball Tournament.
Mostly because the timing never worked. The Basketball Tournament has been scheduled for late July and early August since 2014, and that’s when Bradford was always headed back overseas.
Especially the seasons he played in an earlier, shorter season league in Colombia from August to November before heading to the Middle East when those seasons began in mid-December.
Bradford is scheduled to make his debut in The Basketball Tournament this July after being added to the Illinois alum House of ‘Paign roster Tuesday.
“It just came out the blue, shockingly,” Bradford said about his invitation to play for House of ‘Paign. “I definitely couldn’t turn it down, especially with my last season being cut short anyway because of everything that’s been going on.”
The Basketball Tournament will look a little different this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tournament officials announced Wednesday the typical 64-team field played at eight regional sites will be trimmed to 24 teams playing for 10 days at one still-to-be determined site to crown the $2 million champion.
The Basketball Tournament will also be Bradford’s last run as a pro. Bradford started the 2019-20 season with Macau Wolf Warriors in the ASEAN Basketball League before the league in southeast Asia halted play because of the pandemic. A quick move to Pioneros de Los Mochis in Circuito de Baloncesto de la Costa del Pacífico (The Basketball Circuit of the Pacific Coast) in Mexico to play for a former coach followed.
The lone game Bradford played for Los Mochis on March 13 wound up being the final game of his career. He started, played 34 minutes and finished with 11 points, two assists and one rebound in a 88-72 loss. Then that league was canceled, and Bradford officially retired — even though he didn’t get to go out on his own terms.
“I was in the best shape,” Bradford said. “I was looking at it as my last run. I wanted to go out with a bang. I was in tip top shape, and then they called it quits. I was like, ‘I’m about to go home and eat like crazy and get lazy.’”
Bradford hasn’t really had the opportunity to be lazy since he returned home to Orlando, Fla. For the same reason he decided this season was going to be his last as a pro.
Bradford and his wife, Rina, are expecting their first child in August.
“It was always a dream to be a dad, and for it to happen at the end of my career couldn’t be any better,” Bradford said. “I couldn’t imagine traveling and being away or trying to play another two years. Being away from them would be a challenge. I’ve seen it happen with some teammates, and it’s never easy.
“I’m just kind of glad and fortunate and looking forward to it. What makes it so cool is my son is supposed to be born Aug. 21, which was (former Illinois teammate Robert) Archibald’s jersey number. I’m big on numbers. I kind of find that as a sign. That would be pretty cool if that does happen. It would be pretty special.”
Bradford’s retirement puts an end to the longest-running professional career for any former Illini. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound guard said his goal was to always play until he was 40, and the Memphis, Tenn., native turned 41 this past December with some thoughts he’d keep going two or three more years. The combination of a global pandemic and the upcoming birth of his son changed his plan.
“The support and then teams just wanting me, I think that’s what it was,” Bradford said about what kept his career going nearly two full decades. “Plus, I love the preparation. The reason why I say that is because a lot of guys that retire they’ll tell you, ‘Man, I don’t like the preparation. I don’t like to get in shape and then the training and practices.’ I love that. I love the feeling of being exhausted or being sore after a game. I think that the grind of it, the preparation, is what I’m going to miss the most.”
Nearly all of Bradford’s career played out overseas. His lone two seasons in the U.S. came in 2002-03 with the Dakota Wizards of what was then the NBA D-League and then in 2016-17 in the semi-pro Universal Basketball Association for GIE Maile Matrix in Morrow, Georgia.
The rest of Bradford’s career took him, again, around the world. He played in Hungary, France, Cyprus, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Jordan, Bosnia and Herzegovina and China.
Bradford called Colombia his “second home.” He played on six different Colombian teams between 2009 and 2019.
“You definitely can’t go wrong with the food and the happy culture that they have,” Bradford said about his time in Colombia. “I think that’s just the Latin culture in general — the positive attitudes. It was a fun league, competitive league.”
Bradford ultimately got to experience almost every part of the world. He started his career in Europe and then split time among Central America, South America and the Middle East for nearly a decade with one more season in Europe and a final one in China for good measure.
“I always say I was extremely lucky,” Bradford said. “I always believed that the amount of work you put into basketball, it’s going to give it right back to you. It’s taken me to parts of the world I’ve only dreamed of going. It just comes from hard work and the time and effort I put in.
“I got exposed to so many things and learned so many things. I’m glad I was so open-minded to so many different awesome cultures. Without basketball, I never would have got to see these places and meet the people that I’ve met and had some of the most talented and coolest teammates.”
Cory Bradford’s lengthy professional career saw him play in 13 different countries. The full breakdown from beat writer SCOTT RICHEY:
Year Team Country
2002-03 Dakota Wizards United States
2003-04 Kecskeméti Univer KSE Hungary
2006-07 Besançon Basket Compté Doubs France
2007 JDA Dijon Basket France
2007-08 Alba Fehérvár Hungary
2008-09 Achilleas Cyprus
2009 Toros de Aragua Venezuela
2009 Búcaros de Bucaramanga Colombia
2009-10 Ángeles de Puebla Mexico
2009-10 Al Rayyan Qatar
2010-11 Al Sharjah United Arab Emirates
2011-12 Al Moutahed Tripoli Lebanon
2011-12 Al Ahli Sports Club Qatar
2012 Búcaros de Bucaramanga Colombia
2013 Caribbean Heat de Cartagena Colombia
2013-14 Guerreros de Bogotá Colombia
2014 Applied Science University Jordan
2015 Cafeteros de Armenia Colombia
2016 Sabios de Manizales Colombia
2016-17 GIE Maile Matrix United States
2017-18 KK Bosna-Royal Sarajevo Bosnia and Herzegovina
2018-19 Warriors de San Andrés Colombia
2019-20 Macau Wolf Warriors China
2020 Pioneros de Los Mochis Mexico