His character is as big as he is

It nearly seven and a half feet, Shawn Bradley captures an unusual amount of attention everywhere he goes.

Bradley, a 17-year-old senior and standout basketball star at Emery High School in rural Castle Dale, Utah, rewrites the definition of "walking tall."The young man also stands tall when it comes to his religious convictions. He tries to work the fact that he plans to serve a mission into every interview. And according to those close to him, he handles the attention and accolades he receives with a maturity beyond his years.

He has been the focus of articles in major daily newspapers and sports publications, and interviews on network television. In nearly every instance, reference has been made to his religious beliefs, and to the fact he intends to serve a two-year mission following his freshman year.

On Sept. 14, the 7-foot-5 prep sensation announced he had decided to attend Brigham Young University because he "felt deep down" that's what he should do, a decision that left Cougar fans with a feeling of their own – a very good one.

Because of his outstanding basketball play, he garnered the close scrutiny of many college recruiters throughout the United States.

Bradley announced his intentions to attend BYU before the official early letter-of-intent signing date of Nov. 8 to save other schools the time and expense of continuing to pursue him. His announcement drew widespread attention and was beamed via satellite to television sets nationwide.

"Ever since I was young, I dreamed about playing for the Y.," the 210-pound Bradley explained. "They were the first school I really wanted to play for, but my head was turned a lot the last few years. It is exciting to be recruited by North Carolina, UCLA, Syracuse and other schools that have won many national championships. But as I prayed about it and talked with my family, I felt that BYU was the best place for me."

Bradley averaged 26 points, 13 rebounds and 9 blocks per game last season to lead his team to a Utah State 2-A championship. During this past summer, he performed well in basketball camps for the top high school players in the country.

Bradley participates in any sport he can find, including tennis and water skiing. He played this year on Emery High School's golf team and led the school baseball team last spring in hitting with a .400 average.

At school dances, it has become commonplace to see Shawn's dates looking into his eyes during a slow tune – while standing on a chair. "The girls are really good sports about it," he admitted. "If I ask them to dance during a slow dance, they will usually bring their chairs out on the floor."

And how does he handle other challenges associated with his height, such as finding clothes that fit?

"I can find shirts pretty well," he said. "A friend in Castle Dale makes my casual pants, like jeans, and we give her locker meat from the beef we raise. My mom makes my dress pants. I wear a size 16 shoe, which isn't too bad. I can't usually go into a store and buy them, but there are catalogs throughout the country for big and tall people that I can order from. Several companies send me athletic shoes once in a while for promotional deals."

A hard worker, Bradley, like others his age, "lives for a hamburger and french fries" and otherwise enjoys having a good time. His philosophy on food is summed up in one sentence: "I eat as much as I can whenever I can."

Shawn also excels off the court, to the delight of his parents, teachers and Church leaders. They aren't bashful about admitting they are proud of him, and they are tickled with the example he sets for his peers. In fact, his relationship with young children in the area borders on legend.

"Shawn is swarmed by the children and young people in the area," said his seminary teacher, Barry R. Norton. "In my ward, there was a young man who was going to be made a deacon. Shawn came over to the ordination because he was invited, and then had dinner with the family."

Norton said Shawn has been able to keep his equilibrium as he's had all this attention. "He takes his game very seriously, but he understands that there is something bigger and more important than basketball and is good friends with some of his toughest opponents from other rival schools."

Shawn enjoys seminary. "I have had a very fun, positive experience in seminary. It's taught me a lot." He takes his responsibility to be a good example seriously and recognizes that it "comes with the territory."

"I always have kids coming up and asking for my autograph," he explained. "One boy named his cat after me so he could tell his friends he ate with `Shawn Bradley' every night," he continued, chuckling. "I enjoy being with kids and am part of a peer-helper program at school, where we meet with groups and talk about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol. I really enjoy that."

Bradley also is a regular fixture at Primary sharing times throughout Emery County. He is called once or twice a month by Primary presidents who want to capitalize on his positive example.

Bishop Scott N. Johansen of Shawn's Castle Dale 1st Ward, Castle Dale Utah Stake, has known the Bradleys since the young basketball star was a baby in Germany, where he was born in 1972 while his father, Reiner, was in the military.

Bishop Johansen was serving as a missionary at the time.

"People there used to turn their heads and stare, because the parents were so tall (Reiner is 6-8; Shawn's mother, Teresa, is 6-0)," he said. "Because of his height, you always thought Shawn was three years older than the other kids his age."

The bishop has confidence that Shawn can handle the "burden of a great potential."

"His character is as big as he is," he praised. "Shawn is a fine young man, and an example to all around him. He always has been, even when he was younger. He has a tremendous burden – with the spotlight on him – that he and I have discussed many times. He shoulders it well.

"I suspect his choice of BYU was as much for character development as for athletic opportunity, which shows a lot of maturity for someone that age. He's just a great guy."

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Shawn Paul Bradley made his first appearance on March 21, 1972, at 10 pounds, and 19 inches long. He is the oldest son in the family. Other children include Tasha, 15; Justin, 12 (6-1, another likely 7-footer); and Adrianne, 9.

The Bradleys live three miles outside Castle Dale on 10 acres. Children help some with farm chores, and spend a lot of time helping Shawn's maternal grandfather, Wayne Wilberg, who lives nearby, care for 200 head of Hereford cattle.

"We have a really close family," said Shawn. "We spend a lot of time together. It's a typical family, where brothers and sisters fight once in a while. They have always been behind me and supported me. We have a lot of fun together."

"We sat our children down," said Sister Bradley, "and told them that Shawn would be getting a lot of attention and explained the recruiting process. We told them that even though he would get a lot of attention, we still loved each of them. The other children have always supported Shawn and have been very proud of him. In turn, they all have something they are good in, and we have supported them in their activities."

Brother Bradley said he is "walking on air" over Shawn's decision to attend BYU.

"On the selfish side, I'm pleased to be able to see his games. We will all be there – parents, brothers and sisters, grandpa, grandma and probably half the county."