Chicago native Rus Bradburd likes to make light of his career path from college coach to professor and writer.
It’s not the usual change in occupation.
“Coaching has an anti-intellectual bent to it,” Bradburd said. “People like Phil Jackson and Dick Versace are actually oddities. You do something other than play golf and watch games on ESPN, you’re considered a weirdo. I wasn’t interested in that narrow of life anymore. The world is richer than that.”
Bradburd especially enjoys pointing out he and Tim Floyd were once aligned on the same track as assistants together under Don Haskins at UTEP in the 1980s.
“(Floyd) was my peer at UTEP,” said Bradburd, who also coached under Lou Henson. “He ended up coaching in the NBA and in college. I ended up with the Tralee Tigers (coaching in Ireland) and writing. You couldn’t get guys who ended up any differently working for the same head coach.”
Bradburd, who attended Von Steuben High School and North Park College in Chicago, did have a run of success as an assistant in college before making the move. He was the lead recruiter behind convincing Tim Hardaway to leave Chicago and create the “UTEP 2 Step.” He also went to eight NCAA tournaments while an assistant at UTEP and New Mexico State
But one day in 2000 at 41 years of age, Bradburd opted to give up coaching to pursue a writing career. Since then, he’s written three books and has become a writing professor at New Mexico State. His first two books were “Paddy on the Hardwood” and “Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson.”
Bradburd’s latest book “Make It, Take It” is a fictional novel about the inside working of a college basketball program. While the characters, school and stories have been created by Bradburd, there’s plenty of reality in his words.
“I think it gets to a large truth of what it’s like to be involved in a Division I basketball program,” said Bradburd, whose weekend readings in Chicago can be found at facebook.com/rusbradburd. “It’s professional sports for the coaches and amateur sports for the players. It makes for an odd and interesting world.
“I can go through the stories and point to 30-40 things that really happened. But it’s also an important step for a fiction writer to step away from reality and twist and bend facts.”
Bradburd got into coaching initially because he loved the sport and to teach players. As time passed, he found college basketball to be a lot more than that, and eventually it became too much for him.
“I think on a daily basis you’re faced with ethical and moral decisions,” Bradburd said. “The entire situation is really unethical. Those kids are going to school for free and being treated like heroes because they play basketball. It’s not exactly why universities exist.
“What I found is no one is totally innocent and no one is totally guilty. Even the most vile and most egotistical coaches have been empowered by college administrations and been revered by fans. To me, it was exhausting.”
Bradburd has been away from coaching for nearly 13 years. He sometimes wishes his career played out like Floyd’s, but he often just misses coaching and recruiting inner-city players. Once a Chicagoan, always a Chicagoan.
“What I really miss is being around city kids,” said Bradburd, who lives in Chicago during summers. “I went to Von Steuben High School. It was very urban and a mixed school racially. This was on the cusp of the 60s’ peace-and-love movement. Everyone was great at Von Steuben. It’s not the type of people I’m around now. I got bored with coaches. I missed the players.”