TEMPE — Jordan Bachynski strolled out of the Arizona State practice facility locker room Wednesday afternoon in an Under Armour field shirt.
He promptly was turned around after a staffer said the Sun Devils’ Nike affiliation was too strong. It’s too bad: He said he liked the style, the camouflage.
For the 7-foot-2-inch senior center, it isn’t so easy to hide anymore.
Certainly his anonymity is blown now, after the Pac-12 Player of the Week award he picked up Monday after posting 17 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks in an overtime win over Oregon State and 26 points, nine rebounds and nine blocks, including a game-saving rejection of Joseph Young, in a 74-72 win over Oregon.
It’s been a labor of love for Bachynski, but labor is the key word, as the towering veteran almost had to relearn the game from scratch after missing three years before beginning his Arizona State career.
As a freshman, he was a project, averaging 2.8 points and 2.3 rebounds and .8 blocks per game.
As a sophomore, he was a surprise, upping his averages to 6.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.
As a junior, he was a stalwart, improving to 9.8 points and 5.9 rebounds to go along with his Pac-12-record 120 blocks.
As a senior, he’s blossomed into a star, averaging 12.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 4.5 blocks while setting the conference all-time record in blocked shots.
“You work so hard in those summer months and during the season it’s nice to finally see the fruits of your labor,” said Bachynski, whose Sun Devils will take on No. 2 Arizona tonight in Tempe. “It hasn’t been an easy road, hasn’t been a short road, but it’s a testament that if you keep chopping away and keep working hard every day, it will eventually pay off.”
Yeah, if you’re 7-2 with the timing of a Venus’ fly trap.
It certainly didn’t always come this easy.
A Calgary, Alberta, product, Bachynski missed his senior year of high school, which he intended to play at Nevada’s vaunted Findlay Prep, with an ankle injury; then he embarked on a two-year Mormon mission in Miami, Fla.
Even with the long layoff, Herb Sendek wanted him.
And now, Sendek will tell anyone who will listen that he considers Bachynski the most improved player in the country over his four years.
“When he got here, he’d have moments of brilliance, make plays that would cause you to do a double-take,” the ASU coach said. “He had signs early on but had a lot to work on, and it’s just so refreshing to see someone in the microwave world of college basketball stay the course, persevere, endure the ups and downs and have an astonishing breakthrough.”
Bachynski’s biggest strides have come on the offensive end, where he’s gone from being a timid, flat-footed freshman to a confident, strong senior.
On a team with capable outside scorers in Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall, Bachynski has proven his worth as the focal point of the offense last weekend. When he struggles, so do the Sun Devils: Bachynski had just three points, six rebounds and three blocks in a loss in McKale Center last month.
Bachynski’s offensive development could help his pro chances. Bachynski watched the NBA Draft last summer and was particularly intrigued by the status of Nerlens Noel. Noel averaged 10.5 points as a freshman at Kentucky but was known for his defensive abilities. Noel was projected to go at the top of the draft before suffering a torn ACL in February. The Philadelphia 76ers ignored Noel’s injury to select him as the No. 6 pick in the draft, focusing instead on his 4.4 blocks and 9.5 rebounds per game as a freshman.
That caused Bachynski’s ears to perk up.
“They were worried about his draft stock because, yes, he was a great defensive player and he established himself as a shot blocker but they didn’t know how well he would do on offense,” Bachynski said. “That’s one thing that this summer I tried to work on, my offensive game, to become an offensive threat. Defense is great, defense is going to be where I make my money, but if I want to make the real money, I have to work on my offensive game.”
That Bachynski could be talking about NBA aspirations was almost unthinkable three years ago. Now, he has a chance to turn his dreams into a reality.
Mock drafts have him climbing into the mid-second round, and ASU assistant Eric Musselman, a veteran NBA coach, confirmed the scouting reports.
“It’s been a dream my whole life,” Bachynski said. “Growing up, I was really young, but watching Michael (Jordan) and the greats play, getting those old games on DVD for my birthday. It’s been in my dreams forever.”
They stayed in his dreams. Even when they felt so far away.
“If you don’t have that mentality, that someday it’s going to be my time and I just need to keep working for that day – if you don’t have that mentality, you’re going to quit,” Bachynski said. “It will come. It’s taken me until my senior year, but now I’m finally playing how I thought I could play, and I think I still have more in the tank.”