Rock Chalk Weekly: The Keys to Life
Written by Shelby Blankenbaker, Kansas Athletic Communications Student Assistant
At 6’9″ he may not blend in on the street. But on the basketball court, he fits right in, displaying his athleticism with his extensive wing span and hops. But isn’t that what all Division I basketball players are known for? So what makes this newcomer any different? Watching one game, fans can see it’s his attitude and the personality he brings to the court. Freshman Carlton Bragg Jr. is always outfitted with a beaming smile unlike any other player, and this, is what makes him stand out. Whether he just threw down a dunk from the free throw line or got pulled out of the game, Bragg is always smiling.
“I just have fun with it all the time. I know it’s a business but I just make it fun all the time,” Bragg said of playing college basketball.
Even in practice when Coach Self is on him about something, he is able to shake it off and smile. Bragg says he just laughs and tries not to take anything too personal. Teammate and suitemate, Lagerald Vick agrees that Bragg does a tremendous job letting things go in practice and displays a positive attitude that is contagious.
“Carlton is cool to be around. Everything about him is always positive. He’s got a mindset that he is going to smile no matter what you say,” Vick said of his teammate and friend.
Bragg not only has personality on the court, but off the court he and Vick have embraced their freshman year independence with style. When the two are not in class or at practice, they can be found hanging in their apartment, picking out each other’s outfits in the mornings, rolling to class together on their hover boards, fiddling around on the ivory keys in Murphy Hall, or roller skating on the weekends. There’s no doubt these rookies bring some zest to the Kansas basketball team.
Everything Bragg does, he does with personality. His charisma shines through the smile he regularly wears. He consistently has a positive attitude about everything he does. And that’s his key to how he got where he is now.
“When I have bad days, I still just manage to smile. I don’t let people see it. Everybody has bad days but I just think positively,” Bragg said.
This mindset must have originated from somewhere, and his personality must have developed into its thriving state somehow. Bragg traces it back to his roots, where he came from and how he was raised. Now, being away from home, Bragg understands where he comes from and continues to look for the best in every situation. Much of his mindset is due to the influence of his mom and granddad.
“Seeing how life is and how much it sucked at one time really made me appreciate everything that I have now,” Bragg shared. “Coming here and having more than what I had makes me appreciate everything.”
Growing up in a rough part of Cleveland, Ohio, it wasn’t always fun and games for Bragg. He was raised in a single-parent household where his mom took on the role of both his mother and his father. Bragg was the middle child of an older brother and a younger sister.
Bragg admits that his childhood wasn’t easy, with limited food in the house and a mother who was trying to provide for her kids. Bragg’s mother’s role played a vital part in who he is today. She encouraged him to always be himself and never let anyone change him. Bragg and his mother share a very close relationship. For Bragg, she instilled the importance of education at a young age. Bragg confessed he used to get mad at his mother for punishing him for not getting good grades, but understands why she preached then and thanks her now.
“My mom wasn’t really into sports, she was more into the books. She said basketball was cool, but she was focused more on grades,” Bragg emphasized.
Bragg’s granddad was another primary influencer throughout his childhood. Bragg’s grandad began taking him to the local recreation center when he was in sixth grade. Thurgood Marshall Recreation Center was located within walking distance from Bragg’s house and quickly turned into a second home for the youngster. The rec would not only be the site keeping Bragg off of the streets and out of trouble, but it would also serve as the catalyst for his love for sports.
Bragg’s love for sports developed at the recreation center as older kids showed him the ropes. Monday through Friday, after school and in between practices, Bragg would spend much of his free time at the rec. Basketball wasn’t Bragg’s initial first love though.
Bragg asserted, “Baseball was my passion. In eighth grade I wanted to be a baseball player. You could say I was really good. I was a first baseman and a pitcher and I kept earning MVP (most valuable player). People were telling me how good I was.”
However, as gifted as Bragg was at baseball, his growth spurt and neighborhood told him to explore other sports. Bragg was becoming one of the tallest kids and had the natural potential to excel at basketball. In Bragg’s neighborhood, not many kids were playing baseball either. Basketball was the major trade for kids his age. That next summer, Bragg was playing basketball. Bragg liked basketball so much that he tried out for his high school team.
“Coming into my freshman year, there were a lot of people better than me and bigger than me. A lot of people didn’t think I would make it to where I am at now. Coming in as a freshman, I didn’t play on the freshman team, I played on JV (junior varsity). I played JV for two years,” Bragg said.
Fortunate enough to go to a private college-preparatory high school in Cleveland, with alumni like Mike Golic, host of Mike & Mike on ESPN, and former Indiana Pacers player and current lead basketball analyst for CBS Sports, Clark Kellogg, Villa Angela-St. Joseph High school is where Bragg’s basketball career took off.
Basketball soon claimed the center stage in his life. High school coaches told Bragg that he could be something special if he focused only on basketball. Unfortunately for Bragg, that meant he would give up his childhood passion of baseball.
“My coaches said I needed to focus on one sport, so I chose basketball,” Bragg said. “I really liked baseball. I didn’t want to quit, so that part was really hard.”
After playing junior varsity his first two years of high school, Bragg started for the varsity basketball squad his junior year. Bragg also played for one of Ohio’s club basketball teams through AAU (Amateur Athletic Union). AAU gave Bragg a lot of exposure since numerous college coaches come to watch talented, young athletes compete against one another.
Bragg traces his discovery as a highly-sought after recruit to an invitational camp in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania called Hoop Group. Bragg said Hoop Group introduced him to a level of competition he had never experienced. He was playing against some of the top-ranked players in his class from all over the country. Playing against some of the best athletes in the country allowed college coaches to evaluate Bragg and show interest in him. After the Hoop Group camp, Bragg said college offers started racking up.
Fast-forwarding to his choice to come to Kansas, Bragg said that Lawrence felt like a place he could call home, which was the main reason he chose to play in Allen Fieldhouse. He also liked the idea of being able to follow in the footsteps of some of basketball’s biggest legends who all started at Kansas.
All the hype that Bragg brings with his talents on the court may give people the wrong idea about his facade. However, Bragg isn’t your typical highly sought-after athlete. He isn’t afraid to strike up a conversation with anyone in class or walking around on campus. This derives from the type of person he is.
Vick agreed, “He smiles a lot. He is just friendly with everybody. It can take him a long way talking to different people and not just keeping to himself.”
His personality is evident by his willingness to talk to anyone, but Bragg also displays a wide array of eccentric talents off the court that proves he’s got quite the personality.
With his Late Night debut, it is no longer a secret that Bragg has a way with the grand piano. He stunned fans with his ability to stroke the ivory keys and stole the show with his smile. Bragg lives for showing off his talents off the court like playing piano because he believes it makes him more than just a basketball player.
“Playing the piano in front of all those people was awesome. I wasn’t thinking about it, I just went out there smiling. It was awesome. I’ll probably never do that again though,” Bragg recollected about his first Late Night experience.
It may come as a surprise, but Bragg didn’t start playing piano until his senior year of high school when he stumbled upon his newfound interest while taking a music class. Bragg said that the class began with simple songs with only a few different notes. However, when it came time for the test on the keys, Bragg missed a few. When his teacher allowed him to use the sheet music, he admitted that he couldn’t read any of it, and was just basing his playing off what it sounded like. From then on, Bragg began teaching himself popular songs by ear. To this day he still hasn’t learned to read music.
Vick supports his friend in his piano playing virtue. Occasionally Vick and Bragg can be found in Murphy Hall messing around on the keyboards. One thing that impresses Vick is Bragg’s ability to listen to the keys and learn any song as he goes. Bragg says that some-day he will learn to read music, but as for right now he seems to be figuring it out on his own.
Not only do Bragg and Vick spend their time off of the court making music, but they also dedicate every Sunday night roller skating on the hardwood. Bragg’s childhood recreation center not only birthed a McDonald’s All-American, but also an avid skater. Bragg remembers first wanting to learn how to skate at Thurgood Marshall Rec Center with all the other kids his age. It was just a coincidence that Vick loved tearing up the rink as well.
The two have made their rounds at Topeka roller skating rinks and have moved on to skating in Kansas City at Winnwood Skate Center. The duo enjoys their time off the court being able to showcase their talents in skates. Bragg mentioned he is quite skilled on skates. Vick acknowledged that Bragg can do a 360 on skates, and Vick is attempting to learn with the assistance of Bragg. Both freshman said they have tried to get the rest of the team to come out and join them, but their teammates have graciously declined.
Bragg enjoys his spare time off the court, but still manages to have fun on the court. His easy-going personality is showcased during games after a rim-rocking dunk and his unselfish assists. He is seen always laughing and showing off his smile.
After college, Bragg hopes to play in the NBA, but his ultimate goal and key to success would be to coach after he has expired his own time playing basketball. He wants to be able to give back and help people. Bragg displays a great deal of gratitude for the opportunities he has received throughout high school and college. He sees people who haven’t had the opportunities or things he has and immediately feels a sense of gratefulness. Bragg explained that is the reason why he wants the opportunity to give back.
“I want to help others; teach and guide people,” Bragg summed up. “I’d like to be able to teach little kids how to play basketball and how to respect the game. I want to be able to teach them what I know so they can pass it along.”
His talents and personality have gotten him this far, and for Carlton Bragg Jr., there is no stopping him from reaching what is next. His possibilities are endless, much like his smile.
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