It wasn’t long into Bradley Beal’s freshman year at Florida this past season that his parents realized something was wrong with him. For the first time they could remember, he did not resemble the player who hit eight three-pointers in one half at a fifth grade AAU tournament.
During one four-game stretch in December and January, Beal went a combined 2 for 16 from three-point range, unheard of for the St. Louis kid with a shot so good his father refers to it as a “deadly weapon.”
Beal’s concerned mother, former Kentucky State basketball player Besta Beal, who taught Bradley the silky smooth shooting motion that has drawn comparisons to Ray Allen, would dial up his games on TiVo at home, watching each shot in slow motion for any hint of flaws in his mechanics or footwork.
“He was always calling us, wanting us to go to the games. I knew then we’d better get out there to see him,” said his father, Bobby Beal, after his son accepted his No. 3 Wizards jersey during an introductory news conference Friday afternoon at Verizon Center.
Looking back on those struggles, Bradley Beal called it the first and only shooting slump of his life. But that visit from his parents ultimately led to Beal being selected with the No. 3 pick in the NBA draft Thursday night.
Shortly after his parents went to Gainesville, Fla., Beal knocked down four three-pointers in the first half during a home game against Georgia. That game, a 70-48 victory for Florida, was the catalyst for an end-of-the-season surge that showed the country why Beal was named the Gatorade national player of the year as a high school senior.
The problem, his mother figured out, had nothing to do with his shot, something the Wizards hope remains true now that Beal will be John Wall’s back-court mate for years to come.
“I think it was just basically having fun. It was all just within myself,” Beal said. “It was just my inner strength and persevering through all the struggles, just putting the team on my back basically. All my coaches and teammates had been coaching me to be more assertive and I started doing that toward the end of the year.
“That was the first time I’d really been through [a slump], so I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how to handle it. Now that I’ve been through it, if it ever happens again, I know what to do. The way I got through it was just having fun. I think I lost sight of that. I was too busy trying to force the ball in the basket.”
Beal finished his lone college season strong. A 6-foot-3 guard, Beal earned first team all-SEC honors after averaging 14.8 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds while shooting close to 34 percent from three-point range.
Before long, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld had focused on Beal as the perfect sharp-shooting complement to Wall during the draft process.
The feeling was mutual once Beal worked out for Washington earlier this month and asked Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman to guarantee they would select him with the No. 3 pick. Neither would make that promise, which led to some anxious moments on draft night.
“There was a long couple days reading in the media, his name coming up all the time and all these teams trying to come up to get him,” Wittman said. “I was a little scared he might not be there. But this was the guy we wanted all along.”
When Beal moves to Washington, two of his older brothers will live with him and will try to help him avoid the issues he went through as a college freshman.
He also didn’t shy away when asked about owner Ted Leonsis’s comments Thursday that it would be “unacceptable” for the Wizards to be in the draft lottery again next year. “I agree with him,” Beal said. “We can contend next year.”
But Wittman and Grunfeld were careful not to put too much on Beal’s plate just yet.
Wittman emphasized that since Beal just turned 19 Thursday, “ups and downs” are inevitable, “but the thing that just stood out for me is he played his best basketball as the season went on.”
That Beal has come this far, this quickly, is still a shock to his family. His mother assumed he’d be in college for three or four years before turning pro. All of a sudden, he’s being asked to help turn around a franchise.
“When the NBA calls,” Besta Beal said, “you don’t say no.”