Jim Les is preparing for his ninth season as the head men's basketball coach at Bradley University, but his name has been synonymous with Braves hoops for the better part of two decades and his connection to the program goes back even farther. Since first arriving at Bradley in December 1983, Les has etched his name in Bradley history as one of the best players in program history -- he won the 1986 Frances Pomeroy Naismith Hall of Fame Award and enjoyed a seven-year NBA playing career -- and has now embarked on a coaching career that has produced 102 overall victories 10 postseason wins in the last five years.
Les first began patrolling the baselines at Robertson Memorial Fieldhouse, Bradley's former home arena, as a ball boy from 1972 to 1975 when his older brother, Tom, handled the point guard duties for the Braves. Jim Les returned to The Hilltop eight years later as a player and made a name for himself as one of the best, if not the best, point guards in the program's proud history.
Following a nine-year professional playing career, which included seven seasons in the National Basketball Association, Les enjoyed a successful venture into the financial world before returning to his basketball roots. After three years of whetting his coaching whistle as an assistant for the WNBA's Sacramento Monarchs, Les returned to Bradley once more and was named the 12th men's basketball coach in Braves history on April 7, 2002.
In keeping with the rest of his career track, Les' coaching resume continues to build. Overcoming injury setbacks that have sidelined one of the team's top scorers for significant time in each of the last four seasons, Bradley has averaged better than 20 wins per season since 2005 while racking up 10 postseason wins the last five years. Along the way, Les became the first coach to win games in four different postseason tournaments in NCAA history.
Les' coaching career has been defined by more than just wins and losses, however. Of the 24 seniors he has coached in eight years, 22 have earned their Bradley degrees, while the other two are currently playing professional basketball overseas. Additionally, the Braves continue to set program records for grade point average and 11 team members earned a spot on the Bradley Athletic Director's Honor Roll during the 2009-10 academic year for posting a minimum 3.0 semester GPA during at least one of the two grading periods last year.
Under Les' direction, the Braves participate in countless community service projects and his vision has been a driving force behind the Bradley Basketball Practice Facility, which opened in August and provides Bradley Basketball one of the finest men's basketball specific training facilities in the country.
Inheriting a team that produced a 9-20 record during the 2001-02 season, Les has laid a solid foundation for a program that has re-emerged as a force in the Missouri Valley Conference. Les owns an 142-120 record in his first eight seasons as Bradley's head man, having directed the Braves to the Sweet 16s of the 2006 NCAA Tournament and 2007 National Invitation Tournament, followed by runner-up finishes in the inaugural College Basketball Invitational (2008) and CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (2009).
By recording 12-18 and 15-16 records, respectively, in his first two seasons, Les joined Bradley legend A.J. Robertson as the only two coaches in program history to lead the Braves to an improved record in each of his first two seasons. In 2004-05, a young Braves team that featured 13 first- and second-year players got off to a 7-1 start with impressive non-conference wins versus DePaul and Pepperdine, but were unable to carry the momentum into the conference race after the loss of scoring leader Phillip Gilbert for 10 games.
In 2005-06, Les' veteran Braves were able to find their stride down the stretch and played their way into the postseason picture by winning 13 of their last 17 contests, including a seven-game win streak that took the team all the way to the MVC Tournament championship game. Bradley went on to win a pair of NCAA Tournament games, defeating No. 4 seed Kansas (77-73) and fifth-seeded Pittsburgh (72-66) at the Palace of Auburn Hills to make its first Sweet 16 appearance since 1955.
Following the graduation of four seniors, as well as the early departure of sophomore center Patrick O'Bryant to the NBA, Les re-designed Bradley's offensive scheme in 2006-07, opting for a four-guard lineup that produced one of the nation's most prolific 3-point shooting attacks. While totalling 80 wins the last four seasons, Bradley has produced the top two 3-point field goal totals in Valley history -- 349 in 2006-07 and 346 in 2007-08 -- as well as the fourth-best total of treys (911) from 2006-09.
Les' vision for the future has a foundation in the memory of his playing days for the Braves from 1983 to 1986. Les actually began his college career at Cleveland State, but transferred to Bradley during the winter break of his sophomore season. Once in the Bradley fold, Les led the Braves to a 60-27 (.690) record in his 87 games, consecutive trips to the postseason (1985 NIT and 1986 NCAA Tournament) and one of the greatest seasons in the history of both Bradley and Valley men's basketball.
The 1985-86 squad won the MVC regular-season title with a perfect 16-0 league record and it remains the last Valley team to post an undefeated conference slate. Although the Braves lost the MVC Tournament championship game at Tulsa, Bradley earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, where the Braves lost to eventual national champion Louisville in the second round. Bradley's 83-65 victory versus UTEP in the first round of the 1986 West Regional, however, was the program's first NCAA Tournament victory since 1955.
During Bradley's memorable 1985-86 season, Les averaged 14.2 points and led The Valley with 7.9 assists per game. In addition to being named MVC Player of the Year in 1986, the 5-foot-11 point guard won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Hall of Fame Award as the nation's best player less than 6-feet tall.
Les was inducted into the Bradley Athletics Hall of Fame Feb. 7, 1998. He also has been inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame and the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame. Additionally, Braves fans voted Les one of the 15 greatest players in program history during the celebration of Bradley's first 100 basketball seasons.
Following his senior season, Les was a third-round (70th overall) selection by the Atlanta Hawks during the 1986 NBA Draft. He went on to play seven seasons for Utah, the Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento and Atlanta. He led the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage (.461) during the 1990-91 season and he was the runner-up to Chicago's Craig Hodges in the AT&T Long Distance Shootout during the 1992 NBA All-Star Weekend. Among the coaches for whom Les played during his NBA career are Lenny Wilkens, Jerry Sloan and Dick Motta, three of the winningest coaches in NBA history.
Originally from the Chicago suburb of Niles, Ill., Les is married to the former Jodi Martineau. The couple has three children: son Tyler (18) and daughters Amber (16) and Hannah (10). Tyler Les is a freshman guard at UC-Davis.
Year-by-Year with Jim Les
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