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Defense and confidence earn Brad Sall a shot
By Jeff Febus
Brad Sall
Brad Sall (Hudsonville, Mich.)

When asked if anyone had compared his style of play on the basketball floor to former Boston Celtics’ great John Havlicek, Calvin College senior Brad Sall turned bright red with embarrassment.

“I’m sorry. I don’t really know who that is,” said the 22-year old Sall.

While Sall may not be a basketball historian, he does possess several of the same characteristics that allowed Havlicek to be named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all time.

A look at an online biography of Havlicek reveals that the Hall-of-Fame player was a 6-4 swingman who, for years, sparked his Boston Celtics off the bench as a “sixth man.” Described as a perpetual motion machine, Havlicek was also known for his defensive intensity, boundless hustle and lack of regard for his body as he dove headfirst for loose balls. As his career progressed, Havlicek moved into the starting lineup and also developed a consistent outside shot — a skill originally considered a weakness.

Brad Sall can relate to all of the above.

Also a 6-4 swingman, Sall came to Calvin as a player without a true position. “My outside shot wasn’t really good enough for me to be a shooting guard, and I was a little undersized to play inside as a forward,” said Sall.

One thing he did have, however, was relentless hustle and a strong desire for defensive intensity. Sall attributes those traits to his basketball coach at Hudsonville Unity Christian High, Scott Soodsma.

“One of the big things that Coach Soodsma always stressed to us was tough, hard-nosed defense,” said Sall. “It’s something I picked up on and really enjoyed.”

Sall spent his first two years at Calvin on the junior varsity and began to wonder if he would ever get a chance to be a varsity player.

“It wasn’t easy playing JV as a sophomore,” said Sall. “I could have given up at that point, but I knew I would regret it if I did. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable years of basketball I have ever had and many of the guys that made my senior year so special were my teammates on that JV team.”

As a junior during the 2003-04 season, Sall earned a spot on the varsity and appeared in 18 games off the bench, averaging 1.9 points and 1.4 rebounds a game on a team that finished 19-10 overall, captured an MIAA tournament title and advanced to the NCAA III tournament.

One thing that remained a weakness for Sall, however, was his outside shooting as he connected on just 25 percent of his three-point field goal attempts.

Over the summer, Sall worked tirelessly on his perimeter skills and entered his senior year a changed player. “The practice paid off, but I think an even bigger thing was shooting with confidence,” said Sall. “Shooting with confidence is something I had struggled with and our coaching staff really helped me out through encouragement and positive reinforcement.”

Sall would connect on nearly 43 percent of his three-point field goals (27-of-63) this year while averaging 5.0 points and 3.3 rebounds a game. He appeared in all 34 of Calvin’s games and started in six games at — of all places — the shooting guard position.

“Brad is a testament to what hard work, desire and belief can achieve,” said Calvin assistant coach Aaron Winkle, at an alumni reception held at the NCAA III Final Four in Salem, Va. “He spent two years on our JV team and refused to give up hope of being a varsity player. As a senior, he became one of our most reliable shooters which is remarkable when you look back at where he started as a collegiate player.”

Sall’s three-point shooting was vital in Calvin’s final run as he shot 47 percent (8 of 17) from beyond the arc in Calvin’s last eight games. Perhaps his two biggest trifectas came in a second-half comeback in a first round NCAA III ournament game at Wheaton that helped the Knights pull out a memorable 75-74 victory.

“Brad Sall was a great asset for our team this year and those two three-pointers at Wheaton were just an example of what kind of contribution he made,” said Vande Streek. “His dedication and work ethic made him into a valuable player. He was a big part of our team’s success and will be sorely missed next year.”

Sall will now turn his attention to a teaching career. A secondary education major with an emphasis in biology, Sall is currently student teaching at Grand Rapids Christian High School and hopes to enter the teaching profession as a junior high or high school science teacher.

According to Sall, his professors at Calvin have prepared him well for what lies ahead. “The professors I have had at Calvin, particularly in the biology department, have been great,” he said. “Professor Blankespoor, Professor Bonnema and many others have helped me so much. My entire Calvin experience has been awesome and something I will never forget."