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The Bradley Braves went from snubs to champs at Arch Madness

Darrell Brown, in particular, was on a mission this week.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri Valley Conference Tournament-Bradley vs Valparaiso
Tournament MVP Bradley guard Darrell Brown
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

ST. LOUIS — Bradley guard Darrell Brown has a chip on his shoulder. He’s carried it since his days growing up in the basketball hotbed of Memphis. Bradley’s leading scorer was outspoken about his displeasure with being left off the Missouri Valley’s all-conference team.

Now, he is a two-time Missouri Valley champion. Bradley defeated Valparaiso, 80-66, to win its second straight Arch Madness crown.

After leading the Braves (23-11) in scoring for four straight years, Brown has never been a first-team honoree and it rubs him the wrong way. He landed on the Valley’s all-freshman team in 2017, was a third-team member in 2018 and now a two-time second-teamer.

He didn’t receive one first-team vote and he was determined to prove his doubters wrong.

“I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder, but no votes for first team that put an even bigger chip on my shoulder,” Brown said. “I think I proved to the conference and everybody else why I should have been a first-team selection.”

The 5’10 senior was named as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. As he stepped to the free-throw line late in Sunday’s championship game, the Enterprise Center was filled with chants of ‘M-V-P, M-V-P’.

Brown says that was a special moment.

“It’s something you see on 2K,” he said. “I don’t know if you play 2K or not. When you’re a player going off, you get the MVP chants. It’s something special you see on TV growing up. The fan base at Bradley and Peoria had supported me from day one.”

The disrespect was felt far and wide in the Bradley program. Forward Elijah Childs, a second-team member himself, says the disrespect fueled the Braves’ passions.

“We didn’t get any awards,” Childs said. “People were getting awards and I feel like we got disrespected and that put extra fire in our engine.”

Head coach Brian Wardle says people have been doubting his entire team.

“A lot of people thought we got lucky last year, and we knew that wasn’t the case,” Wardle said. “We knew our high-level of play can play with anyone. [Our three seniors] were on a mission to come out this weekend to prove that, and we were able to do that.”

Bradley won eight of its final 10 games, but Wardle was privately irritated by Brown’s snubbing. To help keep his team’s leader sharp, he called Brown “Second Team” at last week’s practices.

Wardle and Brown are close and their embrace once the game was decided was a special moment for the coach and player. Wardle says Brown was the team’s definitive leader and was on a mission.

“Just know this: Darrell and I have been through some ups and downs,” Wardle said. “But our relationship got stronger and stronger and stronger, and we have a real true relationship. A lot of coaches, they just talk to their players once in a while, and they go to practice. Me and him, we know each other inside and out.”

Brown scored 65 points and handed out 21 assists during his three days in St. Louis.

For his career, Brown has scored 1,860 career points and has delivered 491 assists. Now he has led the Braves to three straight 20-win seasons, two Arch Madness titles and now two NCAA Tournament appearances.

He’s been snubbed, but he’s the one with the last laugh.