From Sideline to Hardwood: Walk-on Bradley Kitchen’s Unique D1 Basketball Journey
Bradley Kitchen has always felt at home inside a basketball gym. Ever since he was young, he constantly sought out opportunities as to how he could find himself near a hardwood floor.
Part of that fact stems from a memory when Kitchen was 10-years-old. Kitchen, along with his father Chris, held open gym every Saturday morning for local kids to come and play at the local high school in Springville, Utah. Kitchen remembers being informed one Saturday that the certain session of open gym that day was going to be special because there was an opportunity to meet an NBA player. Not only was an NBA player going to be at the open gym, but also a two-time world champion with the Los Angeles Lakers who had played with the likes of Shaquille O’neal and Kobe Bryant.
Kitchen attended the session, got a few pictures with the NBA champion and learned a little more about how to improve as a basketball player. However, little did Kitchen know at the time, that the player who showed up to help his younger self would later be his Division 1 basketball coach at Utah Valley University.
Kitchen used that memory, along with others spurred on from the love and support from his family, to foster a special relationship with basketball that he couldn’t find with any other sport.
“Basketball was my main priority and focus growing up,” said Kitchen. I wasn’t very good but I loved watching the NBA. I would go to all the BYU basketball games with my family. Growing up I played a bunch of different sports, like football, soccer, baseball. As time kind of went on, each of those dropped off because I fell more and more in love with basketball.”
Kitchen’s father was his coach all throughout his childhood, which is also something that propelled his love for the game and was a big reason as to why Kitchen fell in love with the game to begin with.
“(My dad) has been my coach my whole life,” said Kitchen. “My relationship with my father is that he’s my best friend. I remember one day I was so proud to show him this new move I had learned. I went to show him and he told me it was a double dribble. That was like the first time I had ever heard about rules in basketball and I kind of started to understand there are things that you can and can’t do. As soon as I started figuring out those things I kind of got obsessive about it and wanted to know every rule and every part of basketball. From that point on I just remember always wanting to become better and know everything about the sport as far as the game, the rules and how it’s played. I always count it as a blessing that I was able to have my dad as a coach because there were times I could go to him and ask him basketball questions because he was such a big part of that development in my life.”
By the time Kitchen was 12-years-old, he was only playing basketball and was focused on getting better day after day. Although he played one year of football in high school, basketball was the sport that resonated with him the most and it’s what he continued to focus on throughout his prep years at Springville High School.
Out of high school, Kitchen was recruited by a few different Division II colleges for basketball, but decided to serve a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints instead after receiving his high school diploma. After returning from the Mozambique Africa mission, rather than going out of state to play ball at a smaller college, he felt that he should stay close to home and attend UVU for his generals because of the logistics. It was close to home, tuition was cheap and he could save a few bucks before heading elsewhere for his undergrad.
While here at UVU he attempted walking on to the men’s basketball team both his freshman and sophomore year, but didn’t make it either time. Although they offered him to be a practice player his sophomore year, Kitchen decided he would rather coach the sophomore high school team at another local high school in Salem Hills. He felt that he might enjoy coaching a little more than being on the college’s practice squad for the one year he had remaining at UVU — or at least for what he thought would be the last year.
Kitchen is majoring academically in civil engineering, which is something UVU only recently acquired as one of its bachelor programs. Before then, Kitchen was planning on finishing up his generals his sophomore year and transferring to Utah State to complete his education in Logan, Utah. However, that plan changed when he found out UVU was going to be gaining a civil engineering class beginning in the fall.
So, with much thought and consideration, Kitchen decided to stay at UVU and continue his education here in Orem. The next semester the head manager position for the men’s basketball team at UVU became available. Kitchen was offered the position and gladly accepted. He spent between 6-10 hours a day that summer learning from the people in the program how things work and did anything and everything they needed him to. He was named head manager his fourth year as a Wolverine when the team set a record for wins in a single-season.
“As soon as I was in the gym I felt at home,” said Kitchen. “Just being in the gym felt right. I knew that this is where I belonged. God had me here for a reason.”
It was that next summer when things really started to change for Kitchen. It was what seemed like a normal day in the summer of 2019 and Kitchen, as the UVU men’s basketball head manager, was doing what he knew how to do: contribute in any way, shape or form in order to help the team he was apart of be successful. On this particular day at practice, the team didn’t have enough numbers to run 5-on-5. So, without hesitation, Kitchen trotted out onto the floor to join with the D1 athletes he had been so accustomed to watching in order to make numbers even.
Except this day was different. Coach Mark Pope had just wrapped up a season a month prior where he had led his UVU team to a school-best 25-10 record and had recently accepted the vacant head coach position at Brigham Young University. Replacing coach Pope was former NBA player and two-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, Mark “Mad Dog” Madsen. Madsen and Kitchen had briefly met each other a few weeks before when Madsen arrived, but Madsen had never seen Kitchen play ball until now.
On this occasion, Madsen looked over practice and saw one player who stood out to him that was actually holding his own, even competing, with those already on the team. After the session wrapped up, Madsen approached Kitchen and asked if he had ever considered walking on the team and actually suiting up for the Wolverines. After Kitchen expressed that he had a few years prior and never quite made it, Madsen offered him a walk-on position on the team.
“I told (coach Madsen) I wouldn’t have a way to pay for school if I were to walk on…I just didn’t think I could do it,” said Kitchen.
Kitchen seemingly had everything he wanted. He was able to be around and travel with the team, contribute and had his school paid for while doing so. Although the thought of being a part of a D1 school riveted him, he turned coach Madsen down and declined the offer.
But, coach Madsen is someone who is very diligent and doesn’t take no for an answer without putting forth an effort. Later that same summer, Madsen, along with his coaching staff this time, approached Kitchen and offered him a walk-on position again. Kitchen, a little more hesitant this time, still declined the offer and maintained his notion that he was happy with what he had and where he was.
This time, instead of the coaching staff harping on Kitchen, it was teammates Brandon Averette and Casdon Jardine doing the persuading. Every chance they got they nagged Kitchen, telling him that he would regret the decision to not play 30 years down the line. The decision kept eating at Kitchen, so he finally approached coach Madsen and accepted the walk-on position to change from manager to actual team member.
“(Coach Madsen) is the type of person that works his butt off and he is probably the nicest, most charismatic person I know,” said Kitchen. “He wants to get better and he and his coaching staff that’s all they do. I love coach Madsen.”
Due to budget limitations, in addition to actually suiting up and having an opportunity each game to get on the floor, Kitchen still does a good amount of managerial stuff for the team on the road. Kitchen doesn’t think his life has been altered too much from the change, but rather still sticks to his goal of helping the team in any way possible while still having the possibility of showcasing his talents against other DI athletes.
“My skill and talent level, even though it may not be as high as my teammates and those around me, I can still showcase what talents and skills I do have to people around the world and around the country,” said Kitchen. “Whatever (I) can do to help the team, that’s really all that matters. When I get to step out on the court, that’s my goal and my vision is how I can help my team be more successful.”
There are a couple of aspects of Kitchen’s story that makes it unique. He had his dad as a high school coach, served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rather than chasing his dream to play ball right after high school and was the team manager for UVU before walking on and getting on the actual roster — after declining coach Madsen twice, of course. Perhaps the best part of it all, as of January 2020, Kitchen got offered a full-ride scholarship for his last season as a Wolverine.
“I never thought UVU was ever an option,” said Kitchen. “For me, the idea that I’m a Division I basketball player at Utah Valley University that was the closest university to me, it is really surreal … I’ve loved every moment of it.”
In March, Kitchen will have the opportunity to play on one of the biggest stages of DI basketball play when UVU travels to Las Vegas to play in the WAC tournament for a potential birth in the NCAA tournament.
“We’re a really good team,” said Kitchen. “We’re a dangerous team that other teams might look past. We’re fine-tuning and doing everything we need to do to prepare for a WAC Championship. The way we’re trending right now is that we’re a team that people may look past but I think we have a legitimate shot at winning the WAC tournament.”
There are many takeaways one can get from reading about Kitchen’s journey. However, perhaps the most important is that of never giving up on your goals and helping others along the way.
“My story is unique and it’s cool,” said Kitchen. “But the bigger story is that I just care about this team’s success. I have a unique perspective because last year I was a manager and these guys put so much time and effort into perfecting their craft and becoming better basketball players. I’m not playing professionally…but [my teammates] have a chance to have a career in basketball…the players and my teammates are the people I care about the most because my story here is going to end, but their stories are going to keep going on for years and years down the road. I just want to see us win and be successful and see my teammates go on and have professional careers playing basketball. At the end of the day I know I’m in the right place. I’m where I’m supposed to be, which is here at Utah Valley University contributing in any way I can.”
Photo courtesy of the Kitchen family