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Role Model On A Roll Guard Jamel Bradley is leading South Carolina in scoring while inspiring hearing-impaired kids


Those who have met South Carolina guard Jamel Bradley in the
last few years may be surprised to learn that he was quite an
introvert when he was young. Having lost 80% of his hearing when
he was 18 months old as the result of a 106 [degrees] fever,
Bradley says he often "felt like I didn't really belong in this
world," and he spent hours alone in his room just listening to
the quiet. His diffidence lifted, however, after his older
brother, J.T., started taking him to the YMCA in their hometown
of Beckley, W.Va., to play basketball. "My brother's friends
were all five years older than me, so he'd tell me to stand in
the corner and shoot," Bradley says. "That was my thing,
shooting when I was open."

Taking the open shot is still Bradley's metier. A 6'2" senior,
he was averaging 14.0 points through last Wednesday to lead the
Gamecocks (10-3) in scoring for the second straight year. He was
also converting 46.5% of his three-pointers and 85.7% of his
free throws. More important, he's scoring points with dozens of
hearing-impaired youngsters who have written or visited him
since he started playing college basketball. His message travels
well: Last season, before South Carolina played at Kentucky,
Bradley met with students from the Kentucky School for the Deaf.
"It's amazing how many people want me to talk to their child,"
he says. "I'm the type of guy who's willing to talk to anyone
whenever I get the time."

Bradley's life changed dramatically during his first semester at
South Carolina, when the school outfitted him with
state-of-the-art digital hearing aids, which permit him to hear
noises coming from all directions. Upon donning them, Bradley
for the first time heard the sound of birds chirping. When he
returned to his dormitory, he rummaged through his room for
several minutes to unearth the source of a ticking sound. It was
his clock.

With Bradley's hearing restored to around 85% of normal, his
disability isn't much of a factor when he plays, though coach
Dave Odom checks with him after every timeout to make sure
Bradley understood what Odom said in the Gamecocks' huddle. It
wasn't until last summer, when he led the U.S. to the gold medal
at the 19th Deaflympics in Rome, that Bradley had to learn to
compensate for hearing loss during a game--because all his
teammates were deaf. "I couldn't use my vocal leadership, so I
had to rely more on sign language," he says. Bradley was the
leading American scorer, with a 20.2 average, and went for 33
points against Slovakia in the gold medal game.

Bradley stays in close contact with a number of the kids he has
met during his travels. Whatever his chosen profession--he's on
track to receive his degree in administrative information
management later this year--Bradley plans to continue reaching
out to young people who are hearing impaired. "That's something
I never had when I was young," he says. "A deaf role model. I
went through what they're going through. So they can look at me
and think, If he can overcome this, I can do it too."