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Former Gators standout Bradley Beal led Washington to a first-round playoff series win over Chicago.

Friday May 2, 2014Real Deal Beal: Former Gator On Fast Track to NBA Stardom

Former Gators standout Bradley Beal led Washington to a first-round playoff series win over Chicago.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- You just know it pained Joakim Noah to be ousted from the first round of the NBA playoffs.

The Chicago Bulls were big favorites in their opening series against the Washington Wizards, and the league’s 2014 Defensive Player of the Year was still processing his team’s third loss in as many games on the home court against one of the youngest teams in the league.

A team with a fellow former Florida Gator playing a big-time role in Washington’s 4-1 series upset. 

“Bradley Beal. He’s a beast, man,” Noah gushed. “He’s one of the better players in our league and to be that young and do the things that he can do, it’s very impressive.”

Beal, the second-year pro who doesn’t turn 21 until late next month, led all scorers in the Washington-Chicago series, averaging 19.8 points and hitting 45.5 percent from 3-point range. Along the way, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound guard became just the sixth player in NBA history to score at least 25 points in two playoff games before turning 21. That list includes Magic Johnson, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Harrison Barnes and Brandon Jennings.

And now Beal has a chance to continue his incredible maturation when the Wizards face either Atlanta or Indiana in the Eastern Conference semifinals, set to begin Monday night. That means the spotlight will be even brighter on both Beal, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft, and backcourt mate John Wall, the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, as they move deeper into the postseason.

"It's been a long journey we've been on," Beal said Tuesday night in Chicago after scoring 17 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing four assists in Washington’s 75-69 clincher. "John's journey has been longer than mine. This is my second year, and for us to make the playoffs and win a tough series against a great team means a lot. At the same time, it's a humbling experience because a lot of people doubted us. Now we know what we are capable of doing."

Everybody does.

Together, the rocketing stardom of Wall and Beal have turned into one of the sexy story lines of these playoffs.

It’s certainly got the attention of the folks of the UF basketball complex, where Coach Billy Donovan and his staff are nearly a month into the offseason, having turned their attention to what the roster will look like for 2014-15 -- Note: The deadline to place down a deposit for Gators season tickets is Monday -- but with an eye on the NBA playoffs, where a half-dozen former Gators remain alive.

Beal is the one the talking heads in the ESPN and TNT studios are starting to take notice of.

“For those of us who had a chance to recruit him, spend time with him, coach him, nothing Brad Beal will do on the basketball court -- or in life -- would surprise us,” UF assistant coach John Pelphrey said. “He is blessed with lot of God-given ability, but even more impressive than that is his mind, his demeanor and ability to go into situations -- AAU, college, NBA -- and plug himself in right away. The guy’s learning curve is so small. Some guys need a week, a month, a semester, maybe a year to figure some things out. Brad Beal needs you tell him something once.”

When Beal came to Florida, Pelphrey pointed out, the Gators already had scorers in place: Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Mike Rosario. Nine months later, Beal became just the second one-and-done player in Coach Billy’s Donovan’s 18 years after a first-team All-Southeastern Conference freshman season.

“He got here in the summer [of 2011], assessed, worked, got the guys’ respect and by the end of the season he was our best player,” Pelphrey said. “He didn’t need to tell anybody that. He just let it happen.”

The scenario in Washington wasn't that different.

Beal, with all those Ray Allen comparisons, went to the Wizards with high expectations and the franchise envisioning Wall and Beal becoming a youthful and electrifying backcourt tandem for the future.

There were growing pains. Normal pains, too. Both Wall and Beal missed significant stretches due to injuries the last two seasons.

Once Wall started to figure out the nuances of playing point guard in the NBA, the other half of that guard duo began to find his rhythm, too.

“I was thrown into the fire right away, especially with John and [power forward] Nene being injured at the beginning of last year,” Beal told reporters. “I had to come in and be the man and I wasn’t sure I was ready to do that. I knew I had to grow up fast, I was only 19. The game was moving fast for me, but eventually it slowed down, and I began to gain a lot of confidence. My game just came together and I have to continue to grow and grow and grow. Nothing in my game is perfect and whatever it takes for us to win, I’m going to do.”

Said Pelphrey: “Again, there’s Brad being able to assess a situation and not just going in there and saying, ‘My star needs to shine brighter.’ He just takes care of Brad Beal. I’m telling you, he’s special.”

On Wednesday, Gators assistant coach Matt McCall went back and forth via text message with the Wizards’ shooting star. McCall told Beal how proud he was of him before eventually getting in a dig courtesy of Donovan, who took notice of Beal’s mini-mohawk haircut that showed up for Game 5 Tuesday.

“Billy D wants to know when you started going to Will Yeguete’s barber?” McCall texted.

Beal took it in stride. Like he did another one of McCall's questions.

"Who'd you rather play? Hawks or Pacers," he asked. 

“Doesn’t matter," Beal shot back. "All that matters is scoring and getting stops.”

Always assessing the situation.

That's Beal being Beal.

 

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