Avery Bradley's work ethic is about to earn him potentially millions in the NBA as he could be chosen as a lottery pick.

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Just the other day, Avery Bradley was joking with his old AAU basketball coach, Gary Ward, about how far he has come.

“We said no one could give him a hard time about being a spoiled kid who’s coming out early for the NBA draft,” said Ward, who coaches the Northwest Panthers. “In the eighth grade, he was, like, the 10 millionth-ranked player in the country.”

Now, he’s a possible lottery pick.

It has been a gradual, incredible five-year ascent for the Tacoma kid. Even two years ago, few could’ve imagined Bradley would be in this position so soon. After only one year of college at Texas, Bradley is expected to be taken in the middle of the first round during the NBA draft Thursday. His selection will complete a splendid success story that reflects his unrelenting work ethic.

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How’d Bradley do it? Ward has a simple answer.

“He just outworked everybody else,” he said. “He just flat out outworked the majority of people around him.”

By the ninth grade, Bradley was one of the top 300 or so players in his class. By the 11th grade, he was top 75. By the time he graduated high school, he was, according to ESPN, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2009.

And so, if you’re an NBA team in need of an athletic, defensive-minded guard with extreme offensive upside, how could you pass on him?

Bradley has drawn comparisons to the last great draft pick the Sonics made, Russell Westbrook. It’s not an exact match, but it’s close enough. They’re both long, explosive combo guards who have even greater value in today’s NBA because rules prohibit hand-checking on the perimeter.

Bradley starred at Bellarmine Prep High school with point guard Abdul Gaddy before leaving Tacoma for Nevada. He spent his senior year at Findlay Prep, mostly to ensure his college eligibility, but that’s when he also accelerated his rise from good to elite.

Just two years ago, Bradley was often considered Gaddy’s sidekick. The two players, best of friends, chuckled at the notion and thought of each other as equals, remembering all the one-on-one battles they had in the gym — playing through bloody noses, bloody lips — to make each other better. Gaddy, who will be a sophomore at Washington, had the smooth and polished game and garnered more praise, but Bradley wowed crowds with his quickness and leaping ability. They made one of the great prep backcourt tandems in Washington state history.

But Bradley went to Nevada for the 2008-2009 season. His senior year felt more like a freshman year of college. He lived in a dorm. His class schedule was like a college kid’s schedule, only the class sizes were much smaller, which helped him get more individual instruction from his teachers. After school, he had to learn to manage his time and become independent.

Bradley thrived in that environment.

“He’s a great kid,” Findlay Prep coach Michael Peck said. “I always refer to him as a pro. Not just in basketball, but in the way he carried himself. He’s a soft-spoken, very serious, focused kid. He knew what he wanted to do and why he was here.”

On the court, Bradley was even better than Peck knew. He led Findlay Prep to a 33-0 record, and he was the MVP of the ESPNRISE National High School Invitational. Later, Bradley played well in the McDonald’s All-American Game and won the dunk contest. All of a sudden, no stage was too big for him.

At Texas, he had a solid freshman year and finished second on the team in scoring at 11.6 points per game. The Longhorns rose to No. 1 in the nation but fell off in the second half of the season. Nevertheless, Bradley had done enough to convince NBA scouts of his talent. After testing the draft waters, he received confirmation that he was likely a top-20 pick and decided to remain in the draft and hire an agent.

“Whoever drafts him, they’re going to get a guy who will work,” Peck said. “He will do whatever he’s asked to do. And he’s just going to doggone guard guys. He has great feet, athleticism. He’s going to compete.”

Ward remembers all those times he’d show up late to the practice because of work, and there was Bradley and Gaddy leading the team through drills. That self-determination is why he knows Bradley will be a good player and why he expects Gaddy, despite some tough moments as a freshman, will develop just the same.

“Avery has just grown and blossomed into a great young man,” Ward said.

From 10 millionth man to millionaire, it has been a gradual, incredible ascent.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer

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