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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Bayless-Lavender rivalry to resume at Arizona

    After going two seasons without any in-state players on the Arizona men’s basketball team’s roster, the Arizona Magic AAU team has become a fertile recruiting ground for the Wildcats, with three players coming from the program to Arizona in the past two recruiting classes after the commitment of 2008 shooting guard Brendon Lavender.

    When Lavender hits Tucson in the spring of 2008, he will join a UA roster that includes Phoenix guards Jerryd Bayless and Zane Johnson, if Bayless does not enter the NBA Draft, all three of whom have played for the Magic.

    “”It’s really amazing to have three guys from our program in that short amount of time,”” said Magic head coach Anthony Ray. “”Arizona is such a tremendous basketball program. It’s an honor for them to recruit our program, and obviously recruiting this state has been seen as improved over the years.””

    Although Lavender just joined the Magic this season and thus never played on the same team as Bayless and Johnson, he has struck up a friendship with the former St. Mary’s guard. Ray said they have a “”close relationship,”” in which Bayless has taken Lavender under his wing.

    Lavender, ranked No. 101 nationally by the recruiting service Rivals.com, spent the weekend before his unofficial visit that took place over the weekend of April 14 at Bayless’ house. He also has plans to work out with Bayless, who he looks up to.

    Their relationship may have grown out of competition, as it was Lavender’s Mesa Mountain View squad that has beaten Bayless’ St. Mary’s Knights in the Arizona state championship game two of the past three years, although Lavender only played in this season’s contest. In that game the Toros showed Bayless a defense different than most he has encountered during his four years dominating Arizona high school basketball: single coverage.

    Who drew the assignment?

    None other than the 6-foot-4, 180-pound Lavender, who often takes the opponent’s best player.

    Bayless scored 35 points in his final chance at a state championship, but Lavender and Mountain View won the school’s third straight state title, 78-60, as Lavender’s defensive effort allowed his squad to stay at home on Bayless’ teammates.

    “”He did as well as anybody’s ever done in this state,”” said Ray, who attended the contest. “”Obviously with Jerryd you can’t stop him. I don’t even know if you can contain him. Brendon did the greatest job he could have done.

    “”Against a star like Jerryd, some players back down or get nervous or scared. Brendon never at one time did he back down or show any fear. He just got into (Bayless’) face and tried to do the best he could.””

    Lavender said he guarded Bayless whenever the squads matched up, which the Mountain View performer said was always tough. Lavender conceded that his team trapped Bayless whenever he got into a corner and his teammates would sometimes cheat to Bayless’ side, but that’s a far cry from the double and triple teams Bayless saw throughout the season.

    “”What he did is made it possible for us to put one player on Jerryd, and Jerryd scored 30 plus, but Brendon made it tough,”” said Mountain View head coach Gary Ernst. “”He allowed us that one-on-one matchup. It was really beneficial. Jerryd wasn’t going to be stopped by anyone one-on-one. He’s too talented.””

    UA head coach Lute Olson happened to be in attendance in that contest. The UA coaching staff also watched a number of St. Mary’s games while recruiting Bayless and just may have been impressed by Lavender, who said the Wildcats started watching him in those games he defended Bayless.

    “”I don’t know if they really were paying attention, but it got me way more looks, especially when we played in the state championship game this year,”” Lavender said. “”They definitely saw me against Jerryd Bayless, and they liked what they saw.””

    Now if Bayless returns for his sophomore year, those old high school battles may resume at practice in McKale Center.

    “”There might be a couple fights, but basketball is just competition,”” Lavender said. “”At the end of the day it’s a big family. It’s all good.””

    For now there will be no friendly fights as Lavender will own the distinction of being the state’s best high school player, which Bayless held the past few years.

    But his commitment could signal a shift to the Wildcats being able to recruit talent in their own backyard. Besides the Arizona trio, two of Lavender’s former teammates at Mountain View earned Division I scholarships this season, at California and Nevada-Las Vegas, respectively, and Stanford forward Lawrence Hill, an all-Pacific 10 Conference performer, is also an Arizona native.

    “”It’s pretty important to see more guys coming from Arizona to show people outside Arizona we actually have a lot of talent and can play,”” Lavender said.

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