Women’s basketball legend Crystal Bradford returns to CMU in surprise fashion

Alumni Crystal Bradford and head coach Sue Guevara hug on the court after being reunited on Nov. 8 at McGuirk Arena.

When Crystal Bradford stepped on the court at McGuirk Arena a few hours prior to Central Michigan’s season-opener, the feeling of nostalgia kicked in.

She immediately thought of her game winning 3-pointer against Dayton as a junior.

Teammate Taylor Johnson tripped near half court with four seconds left and flung the ball as she was falling to Bradford, who launched the shot from the top of the key for a 94-91 victory. 

“We were down nine points with 1:30 left in the game,” Bradford remembered. “We came back, and I had the game-winner on Taylor’s trip.”

Bradford was back, and her return came as a surprise to coach Sue Guevara. Assistant coach Heather Oesterle was the only one who knew of the homecoming. She successfully kept the secret. 

Guevara was astonished, and she quickly embraced Bradford with a hug. 

Bradford is undoubtedly the best player to ever come from the CMU women’s basketball program. The 6-foot guard was selected No. 7 overall in the 2015 WNBA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks and is currently playing overseas in Israel for Bnot Hertzeliya.

“Overseas life is very tough,” Bradford explained. “It’s tough, but it’s fun. You can’t prepare for it. You’ll miss your family, but the most important thing is to stay mentally tough. If you’re a basketball player, it’s what you want to do.

“I went through every emotion, but I’m enjoying the ride.”

Freshman guard Crystal Bradford comes down with a rebound during the first half of Wednesday night's game against Toledo at McGuirk Arena in Mount Pleasant. Bradford finished the game with nine points, and six rebounds during the 80-62 loss to the Rockets. (Andrew Kuhn/Staff Photographer)

While playing for the Chippewas from 2011-15, Bradford did more than succeed; she created a legacy for herself and helped put CMU women’s basketball on a nationwide map. 

Bradford, 25, finished her CMU career as the all-time leader in points with 2,006, rebounds with 1,140, field goals made with 805 and blocks with 177. She was the first player in program history to be selected in the WNBA. 

“It was a family,” Bradford said of her time at CMU. “We ate together at the same table. It’s humbling to be back where I put in work. I remember running up and down this court.”

The Inkster High School product led the Chippewas in scoring and rebounds with 14.2 and 8.4, respectively, as a freshman. She averaged a career-high 20.3 points, 12.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game as a junior. She earned the 2014 MAC Player of the Year award and won a gold medal while representing Team USA at the 2013 World University Games in Kazan, Russia.

Led by Guevara, CMU taught Bradford consistency, discipline and work ethic. Guevara and Oesterle put in time at practice, in the film room and on recruiting trips, which motivated Bradford to do the same on the court. 

Bradford’s hard work first paid off when her 2012-13 Chippewas won the Mid-American Conference tournament title, earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament. 

The historic season was the first time since 1984 that CMU made the NCAA Tournament, and it set a precedent for future teams in Mount Pleasant – like CMU’s 2017-18 team that went 30-4 overall and appeared in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. 

“It’s a win for me that Team 50 won a championship,” Bradford said of CMU’s 2013 postseason run. “It shows we helped set that up with the culture. The culture continually brings good players here. It doesn’t matter the size of our school.”

Of all the memories and moments as a Chippewa, Bradford’s favorite was when Guevara won the MAC Tournament championship and let out a joyful scream.  

“She was finally yelling in excitement and not at me,” Bradford said with a laugh. “Seeing her cut down the net was my most memorable moment. It was a family.”

Unlike when she was in college, Bradford now takes the court to make money, and every game is a financial commodity. 

“I miss them taking care of us in college,” Bradford said. “You have to capitalize to make money (in the pros). Even the girls that went to UConn that are in the WNBA, they don’t get the privileges like private jets and stuff.”

Central Michigan is now entering its fifth season without Bradford on the roster, and the former superstar guard hopes for someone to shatter her historic statistics in the near future.

“Now that I’m older, the goal is for someone to come in and crunch my records,” Bradford said with a smile.