TORONTO For elite college basketball players, March Madness is often followed by April Agony with many unsure whether to take their talents to the NBA or stay in college.
Avery Bradley has been there, done that.
He left the University of Texas after one season, a decision that at the time was viewed as questionable.
Even after the Boston Celtics took him in the first round of the 2010 NBA draft, there were still questions about whether he left too soon.
Those questions today?
Nowhere to be found, with Bradley establishing himself as one of the emerging talents in the NBA whose play has been one of the keys to the Celtics' surge to the top of the Atlantic Division.
Injuries, more than anything else, buried him on the C's bench as a rookie.
But in this his first healthy season, Bradley is proving that he belongs in the NBA now - something he was confident about when he decided to leave school early.
"I feel it was more so about my family," Bradley told CSNNE.com. "Not only that, I was ready to take my game to the next level. I feel one-year, two years, three years, if you feel like you're ready to go, you should go. That's what it was for me. I was ready."
Bradley fully expected to have his ups and downs as an NBA rookie, but trouble began before he was drafted when he suffered a chipped bone in his ankle during a pre-draft workout.
"Oh, I was nervous," Bradley said when he learned of the injury. "But I still had confidence in myself. Like I said, it really doesn't matter what anybody else thinks. It's up to you and your family. You need to make the best decision for you and your family, nobody else. "
Far removed from his days leading up to the draft, Bradley still has vivid memories of being drafted by the Celtics as well as his first days inside the C's locker room.
"The first time I got here, I was nervous walking into that locker room with Shaq and Ray Allen, guys that I grew up watching play," Bradley admitted.
Although he didn't play much, Bradley made a point of listening to everything - EVERYTHING - that the veterans who were playing, would say to him.
During time-outs during games, you would often find Bradley during his rookie season listening in to head coach Doc Rivers giving instructions to the players about to head back on the floor. During the game, he could often be found chatting with his older teammates, guards and big men alike.
And this past summer, he spent some time with Rivers with the goal being to develop a better repoire so that this season, Rivers would feel more comfortable with him both as a player and as a person.
"A lot of people say I'm mature for my age," said Bradley, 21. "I think it comes from them, being around them, being professional, learning how to do the right things, play the right way."
Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey is among the (growing) list of folks impressed with Bradley's play and the impact he has made on a Celtics team that's loaded with seasoned, Hall-of-Fame bound veterans.
And while Casey recognizes and appreciates Bradley's play, he believes having those veterans around have also helped his transition from being a first-round pick on a veteran, to an NBA starter.
"The veterans have given him confidence," Casey said. "He took the opportunity, and this league is about opportunity. If you get a chance to step out there and play, he's done that. I'm happy for the young man just not tonight."
Bradley's play has been instrumental in a Celtics unit ratcheting up their play defensively to a level that has caught the league totally off-guard.
"They're two pit bulls," Casey said of Bradley teaming up with Rajon Rondo in the backcourt.
And Bradley has emerged lately as being more than just a tough defender.
"Before you could go under on him in pick and rolls," Casey said. "Now he's knocking down everything. They're playing like a well-oiled machine right now, playing together, playing with a sense of purpose, urgency."
And while most see Bradley as simply making the most of his chance to play, there's more to his emergence than being in the right place at the right time. Hours spent after practice working on his game, hours spent before listening to coaches, being part of the scout team, listening to those around him give him encouragement, advice it all brought Bradley to where he's at now - an NBA starter for one of the hottest teams in the NBA.
And it all came about because Bradley ignored conventional wisdom, and did what all NBA players do - he went with his instincts and entered the NBA draft.
"That's why it doesn't really matter what anybody else thinks. When people are coming out the draft, you don't worry about anyone but yourself and your family," Bradley reiterated. "Right now, I just worry about my team and how I can play and help them and help us win. Starting now, I don't worry about scoring or anything other than what can I do to help my team win. At the end of the day, people won't see the little things that your teammates see and know. I play for my teammates. As long as they see what I'm doing, how hard I'm working, that's all I care about."