Carlton Bragg’s philosophy on life might be best described as, “Keep Smiling.”
Asked if it’s by design that he greets everybody with a toothy grin and enthusiastic handshake, he didn’t hesitate.
“Yes, yes,” the Kansas sophomore forward from Cleveland said. “Always got to (smile). Positive vibes.”
The 6-foot-10 Bragg made many fans during his freshman season at KU — not just for showing potential (3.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg) in playing behind Perry Ellis on the block, but for happily sticking around for an hour after home games to sign autographs.
“He smiles a lot. He is just friendly with everybody,” said Bragg’s roommate, Lagerald Vick.
“How hard he plays, the energy he brings to the court ... he’s always smiling. He took that role from me,” junior guard Devonté Graham stated.
“He has the best personality,” said coach Bill Self. “He checks out of the games and into the games running faster than any player I ever coached in my life. Seriously, I kind of get scared when he runs toward me. If he doesn’t stop right there (at the bench), sometimes there could be a bad collision.”
Bragg says his exuberance — even at the smallest things, like being inserted or removed from a game — has a purpose.
“My energy and my character,” he said of personality traits he’s most proud of. “I was always taught to run off the court and not have bad body language and always keep smiling. It started in high school.”
Bragg admits that he had to stifle a frown a few times at practice during his freshman season. He was pushed around at times during his first-year workouts on campus.
“Coming from high school to college it’s a big difference, playing fast,” he said. “The veterans had a lot of experience over us (rookies). They knew what to do. We were just out there learning. It was hard, but fun at the same time.”
Bragg worked hard in the offseason, too, putting on 26 pounds and getting up to 247 by early September.
“I spent time on my jumper, pull-ups, getting stronger,” Bragg said. “Going with (assistant athletic director/sports performance Andrea) Hudy every day, every morning, just getting my body ready. You’ve got to eat breakfast. You’ve got to be on the meal plan, constantly eat, because you sweat so much. You sweat it out. It’s all about eating right. getting challenged every day.”
He said he’s also worked on his mental attitude.
“The mindset to attack, attack,” Bragg said.
Bragg last summer played against some of the country’s elite at the three-day Adidas Nations camp in California. That experience should prove helpful, Self said.
“I heard he played well but was a little streaky because he shot too many perimeter shots,” Self said. “It’s something we’re going to have to continually stress with him, but on this particular team he played on, he was the 5-man. He’s not a 5-man.
“He’s more perimeter-oriented, so naturally when a 5-man shoots a ton of perimeter jumpers it makes a crowded floor for everybody else. I think he played fine, but he’s going to have to play more inside, probably.”
Self believes Bragg has the ability to score a lot of points for the Jayhawks this season.
“He is very similar to Perry (Ellis),” Self said, “but as far as where he scores on the floor, I think Perry was better inside. Carlton has to get where he can definitely score on the block some. I could see our best team being Carlton at the 5 and playing four guards in some situations. Then I could see playing really big and moving Carlton around a lot.”
And Self indeed has big plans for Bragg.
“Carlton is one of the most talented big guys we’ve had since I’ve been here,” he said. “Offensively, he’s obviously a Marcus Morris-type guy. He’s one of those guys that has that type of skill, and it’s going to take time, but certainly I think he has a chance to be a special guy. His ceiling could be that high.”
Bragg wouldn’t mind being compared to another KU player some day.
“Growing up, I watched Robinson,” he said of former KU star Thomas Robinson. “He was a man. He was a beast. I always watched his highlights all the time.”
The skill of a Morris, the power of a Robinson ... Bragg just hopes it all comes together for him.
“I’ll cherish every month, every day, just going through it. I’ll listen and stay with it. If you don’t get it the first time, get it the second time. Keep asking and keep listening.”
And keep smiling.