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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Bayless brings `it’ to the next level

    Jerryd+Bayless
    Jerryd Bayless

    NBA Draft Preview

    NEW YORK – Jerryd Bayless’ elite performance during his one-year tenure at Arizona will soon pay off, both figuratively and literally.

    Using his quickness, strength and all-around athleticism, Bayless performed the required tangibles not only to excel through rigorous Pacific 10 Conference basketball, but also to prove attractive to the next level.

    Now as a protected high-lottery pick – within the top six – in Thursday’s 2008 NBA Draft, which will be televised live on ESPN at 4 p.m., Bayless can only hope his physical credentials impressed general managers on paper.

    One of his greatest assets, however, can’t be found as a ranking or value on a 1-to-10 scale. In fact, it can’t even be described.

    Simply put – but not so simple to distinguish – Bayless has the “”it”” factor.

    “”The first time I met Jerryd I knew he would be like that,”” former UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill said last December. “”I can’t explain it to you. Whatever it is, he has it.

    “”He’s just a great competitor – he loves to play,”” O’Neill said in a recent phone interview. “”He’ll want to improve and get better every day. He’ll be a guy you can count on every day. Those kind of things really translate well in NBA success, and that’s why I think that guy will be successful in the NBA.””

    O’Neill said the “”it”” intangible never appears on a scoreboard, resume or SportsCenter highlight. Instead, Bayless was born with the ideal chemical combination of competitiveness, mental intensity and relentlessness.

    “”I think Jerryd worked very hard all year long in a difficult situation,”” O’Neill said. “”He made great, great strides and he probably won’t realize that until he looks back on it a few years from now.

    “”I thought he learned the game better and worked really hard to make his teammates better,”” O’Neill added. “”That year experience at Arizona will really help him as he moves along.””

    And who better to gauge NBA readiness than O’Neill, the Wildcats’ interim head coach last season who currently serves as an assistant coach with the Memphis Grizzlies after years of other experiences at every level in the NBA.

    O’Neill guided Bayless’ development during the freshman’s season in Tucson, much to the contrary of what Bayless, a Phoenix native, originally signed up for. UA head coach Lute Olson recruited Bayless to play in his fast-paced, explosive offense. Olson’s season-long leave of absence, however, shifted the style of play after O’Neill implemented a slower style of set plays on offense.

    Regardless of the adversity, Bayless – the team’s leading scorer with 19.7 points per game – completely carried the offense midway through the season, scoring more than 30 points in three consecutive games at one point, making him the first Wildcat to do so.

    But despite nationally recognized individual success from Bayless, the Wildcats only managed to finish 19-15 overall with a 8-10 conference record.

    Such adversity in college might have frustrated Bayless’ competitive edge initially. But Aran Smith, president of NBADraft.net, believes the challenges built Bayless higher in character to handle future difficulties that his NBA career may pose.

    “”Things didn’t quite work out the way he planned with Lute Olson not being there and I think that’s sort of indicative of what happens in the NBA,”” Smith said in a phone interview. “”You never know. You could get traded, you can end up on a team that’s not your best situation … but that’s a testament to him that he persevered and had a very strong season.

    “”I think with his abilities, he’s not a guy that should suffer even if he’s in not the optimum situation for him,”” Smith added.

    Said Bayless at the 2008 Orlando Pre-Draft camps: “”I think being able to overcome everything this year that happened at my college, I don’t think it’ll be that big of a challenge to overcome things at the next level. We went through a strenuous year this year, going to the next level I think I’ve seen the hardest thing.””

    Smith projects Bayless to be drafted between the third and sixth picks – more precisely as the No. 4 selection with the Seattle SuperSonics.

    His unique breed, self-described as “”not a pure point guard, not a combo guard, but a scoring point guard,”” makes Bayless an instant asset to any backcourt, as the shift away from pure point guards has certainly changed the NBA landscape.

    With such a hybrid of guard strengths, Bayless finds it difficult to compare himself to current professionals.

    “”I don’t think there’s anybody that I’m just, ‘I play just like that guy,’ “” Bayless said.

    Aside from overcoming the head coaching changes, Bayless was forced to play point guard for seven games when UA sophomore Nic Wise, the team’s only true point guard, was sidelined with an ankle injury.

    “”He’s able to play multiple positions, but he’s such a good scorer. He’s a treat every time he has the ball in his hand,”” former UA assistant coach Josh Pastner said in a phone interview. “”I think Jerryd is a steal (for) whoever gets him.””

    Pastner, who spent 12 years in Tucson playing for and coaching with Olson, witnessed Bayless’ growth both as a player and person – from Bayless’ high school days at St. Mary’s to his first-round loss in this year’s NCAA Touranment.

    Now an assistant coach at Memphis under John Calipari, Pastner also believes Bayless’ will to win is sure to ignite his game at the professional level.

    “”His competitive fire is unmatched, off the charts,”” Pastner said. “”He competes at the highest level and wants to win in everything he does, whether that’s on the floor during a game or during practice. He has that desire, that fire, that burning edge he wants to win. That’s what coaches love.””

    Said Wise: “”He’s been wanting to play in the NBA since he was born. If you’ve got a shot to go, then go ahead and do it.””

    The competitiveness of Bayless even impacted Arizona’s post players. UA forward Jordan Hill will use Bayless’ path next season, in hopes of becoming the next lottery pick out of Tucson.

    “”He’s the hardest working player,”” Hill said. “”He’s very explosive. I learned how to compete – every time he steps on the court he wants to compete, all the time.

    “”If he plays against a non-ranked player or a high-ranked player, he’s going to go hard at him,”” Hill added. “”That’s the kind of player he is.””

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