BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Shortly after Maryland took down West Virginia in its NCAA Tournament opener Thursday, Terrapins guard Noah Batchelor had a message for Alabama guard Jaden Bradley.
“You’ve got to win this next game,” Batchelor told his former IMG Academy teammate, “so we can play on Saturday.”
The clash between close friends has been brewing since top-seeded Alabama and No. 8 seed Maryland were both placed in the South bracket. Following Maryland’s win over West Virginia, Bradley and the Crimson Tide took care of their half of the equation, cruising past Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to cement the bragging rights showdown.
“After they won, he called me and started talking a little smack,” Batchelor said of Bradley. “It’s all friendly talk. He was just saying how they are going to beat us, but I think otherwise.”
Friendships will be temporarily put on the back burner Saturday night as Batchelor and Bradley square off for a trip to the Sweet 16 at 8:40 p.m. CT inside Birmingham’s Legacy Arena. However, regardless of the outcome, the two friends share a healthy respect for one another.
“That’s my boy, we’re really close,” Bradley said of Batchelor. “We were together two years at IMG. We’ve been through a lot, so we still text and keep up with each other.”
Bradley and Batchelor communicate through an IMG Academy group text that also includes other stars in Houston forward Jarace Walker, Baylor guard Keyonte George and Michigan forward Jett Howard. Together, the former teammates have helped each other navigate through their freshman seasons at the college level.
“Whenever somebody needs something, we’re always there for each other,” Bradley said. “We’re always one call away, one text away. We’ve got each other’s back. We watch each other’s game, critique them, give each other advice, compliment each other.”
While Bradley and Batchleor’s roads are set to cross Saturday, they’ve started out on different paths to their college careers.
Bradley, a McDonald’s All-American, was named to the SEC’s all-freshman team earlier this month. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound point guard has started 22 games over 35 appearances for Alabama and is averaging 6.7 points and 3.7 assists per game.
“He’s a great facilitator, and he loves to find his teammates, even on transition or pick-and-roll,” Batchelor said. “He’s a really good player. He knows the game, has a really good IQ.”
Batchelor, on the other hand, has made just one start over 21 appearances for Maryland and is averaging a humble 1.7 points and 1.2 rebounds. Still, Bradley believes there’s more to come from his former teammate.
“His biggest thing for me is telling me to keep going,” Batchelor said. “My opportunity is going to come up soon enough, so he’s been telling me to be ready to step up to what comes next.”
Bradley’s rooting for that breakout but hopes it comes next season instead of Saturday against Alabama.
“He’s an elite shooter,” Bradley said of Batchelor. “He’s definitely a sniper. He’s athletic, can get to the hole and can also defend. I’ve watched some of his games this season and seen him out there. He’s a great player, and I’m looking forward to seeing him again on the court.”