Bradley and Crawford shared tears of their years at UK

In Rupp Arena, tears filled Ramel Bradley’s eyes.

UK had just lost to Gardner-Webb in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic on Nov. 7, ending Bradley’s chance to play in Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of basketball in his hometown of New York City.

Across the room, fellow senior Joe Crawford mourned for Bradley. He knew how much playing in the Garden meant to his teammate, and he was sad for him.

It was a summary of their UK careers, which are now nearing the finish line.

Together, they overcame adversity and  made the best of bad situations. And in the end, they became best friends.

“Our freshman year we were roommates, and we were the only two guys from big cities,” Bradley said. “We’ve been together all the time. We’ve almost been brothers now. It’s been great. I love Joe.”

Bradley’s identity as a New Yorker endeared him to UK fans almost immediately. Tattooed and talkative, Bradley made up for what he may have lacked in size with a “never die” attitude common in graduates of the New York street ball circuits.

He talked trash — his infamous incident with then-Utah center Andrew Bogut in 2004 the clearest example — he threw up “The Roc,” his tribute to his hometown Brooklyn. And everywhere he went, a Yankees cap was on his head. He aspires to one day be the mayor of New York.

Addressing his last days as a Wildcat, Bradley acknowledged that the transition from New York to Kentucky had him a little nervous.

“You see people from Kentucky on television,” Bradley said, smiling. “I just thought like, ‘Aw, man, how am I gonna fit in with these people?’ But just being around, it’s nothing like that.”

But even though Bradley would prefer Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” to “My Old Kentucky Home” on Senior Day, he said he loves it in Lexington.

Crawford didn’t bring the same charisma to Lexington and struggled to earn the love from fans right away.

With sporadic minutes played from game to game in his freshman season, Crawford announced that he was leaving UK midway through his first year.

After a tumultuous month, Crawford ultimately decided to stay, and he’s since blossomed, both on the basketball court and off.

“When I came here as a freshman, I was extremely impatient,” Crawford said. “I just wanted to accomplish everything just like that. I forgot all the steps you need to take before you accomplish those goals. As a player, I’ve learned patience as well.”

Crawford and Bradley talked about everything in those early days. Class work, basketball, each other’s problems — everything.

But when it came to the tough times, Crawford said, the talks were deeper.

“It’s personal,” Crawford said when asked about the conversations.

Their four years at UK won’t be remembered with much glee, at least from a fan base that expected the nation’s top recruiting class, which included NBA players Rajon Rondo and Randolph Morris, to produce multiple Final Fours.

Rondo left after two seasons; Morris after three. Head coach Tubby Smith left for the University of Minnesota after last season.

Meanwhile, Bradley and Crawford were left behind to sift through the wreckage, which included a 6-7 start to this season and a not-so-seamless transition to a new coach, Billy Gillispie.

Then something started to click. The Cats began winning, vaulting to second place in the SEC and earning a chance to play for the conference lead against Tennessee on Sunday. The Cats narrowly lost when Crawford’s 3-point attempt to tie the game rattled down, then back out.

And though the two seniors will likely end their careers without a national championship or a Final Four appearance, they’ll both look back on their time in Lexington with good memories.

During their senior day news conference, the two roommates again looked like brothers. Dressed in matching UK varsity jackets, laughing joyously and cracking jokes, both Crawford and Bradley acknowledged that, after taking time to adjust to Gillispie, they were having fun playing basketball at UK.

“We’re enjoying the moment, realizing that this is the last year that we’ll be playing Kentucky basketball,” Crawford said. “Kentucky basketball is bigger than some professional teams, and we realize that we might not be playing for another team like this.”

Four years ago, both wondered if Kentucky was the right place to write the next chapter in their lives. Now, both called UK the “right fit” and said they’d look back on their time in Lexington as a great step in life. But will either of them cry?

It was Bradley with tears in his eyes after the loss to Gardner-Webb, but he claimed it would be Crawford crying during the Senior Day ceremonies.

But Crawford knows Ramel Bradley. After four years, he’s familiar with the Brooklyn native’s sense for attention. That’s why it was Bradley who would have tears in his eyes.

Crawford put it simply, with a smile for his best friend:

“Ramel’s gonna cry for the cameras.”