Posted Jun 20, 2014 12:37 PM
Less than eight seconds remained last February in the second of two annual Arizona-Arizona State grudge matches when the Sun Devils' Jordan Bachynski flashed the skill that will take him to the NBA.
Arizona State had just gone ahead, 67-66, in double-overtime, and Wildcat point guard T.J. McConnell had the ball at the top of the key. Taking advantage of a screen set by Aaron Gordon, McConnell darted into the lane and tossed up a high floater from point blank range. The shot was perfectly executed and might have found its way to the bottom of the net ... except for the efforts of the 7-foot-2 Bachynski, who left his man, Kaleb Tarczewski, and sprinted from the left corner to challenge.
Last season, Bachynski added a new term to the college basketball lexicon, the "walk-off block," after saving wins against Marquette and Oregon by turning back shots at the buzzer. His third was seconds away.
"I remember thinking, 'We're going to need another block,' " Bachynski said. "McConnell took it right down the lane, and I had stayed with my man a half second longer than I normally would. T.J. put up a floater, and I extended to get to it and send it."
The ball flew past the circle, where it was picked up by ASU point guard Jahii Carson, who raced to the other end of the floor for a dunk that sealed an 86-82 win and the Sun Devils' NCAA tournament credentials.
Bachynski's block was one of a nation-leading 133. His average of four per game also led Division I. He's the Pac-12 career leader (314) and owns the top two season totals, after breaking his old record of 120 set in 2012-13, in league history.
If a player can make an NBA roster on the strength of one skill, Bachynski is in. That would be the culmination of a journey that began in his native Canada, with stopovers in Las Vegas, Florida and four seasons at Arizona State.
As Bachynski, an articulate, deep thinker, reflects on that journey, he's quick to point out relationships and events in his life that molded him. Some of the credit goes to his younger brother Dallin, a 7-foot, 258-pound senior who plays for Utah. Suffice it to say the Bachynski boys were competitive.
"I was really fortunate to grow up alongside my brother," Bachynski said. "We're good friends. We're competitors. We always pushed each other to be better. When we'd play basketball, we'd try to block each other, or dunk on each other. Everything was a competition."
Neither brother will forget the day the two decided to find out who was the strongest. Suffice it to say that if basketball doesn't work out, both could have a nice career in carpentry.
"Dry wall repair," Dallin Backynski says, before launching into the story of how he tossed his brother through a wall.
"When we were younger, he tried to let me know I was the little brother, and he'd throw me over a coach, stuff like that. One day, we were downstairs, and he pushed me into a door. I pushed him back, he tried to grab me, and I got underneath him and ran him through a wall.
"We went upstairs and told our mom, 'We're sorry, but there's kind of a hole in the wall.' So we ended up learning dry wall repair, just because he wanted to show me how strong he was."
Another milestone in Jordan Bachynski's life was his LDS mission, which he served in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. By the time he decided to leave for his mission, Bachynski had already spent a postgraduate year at Findlay Prep near Las Vegas. His basketball season there was aborted by ankle surgery, which meant that if Bachynski served two years on his mission, he would have missed three consecutive seasons of basketball.
Undaunted by the prospect of being away from the game for so long, he left for Florida.
"Some people tried to tell me not to go," said Bachynski, who turns 25 in September and is considered an old man by NBA prospect standards. "But had I come to college right out of high school, I wouldn't have had the same success. My body needed more time to mature. And I learned some important lessons on my mission."
One of those was independence. Bachynski could call home only twice a year, and e-mail just once a week. "That taught me to be self sufficient, and solve problems on my own," he said.
Bachynski also learned perseverance, which came in handy after he landed at Arizona State, where by his own admission he was a "raw" prospect. "I had a lot of doors slammed in my face during my mission," Bachynski said. "That taught me to work hard in the face of adversity."
At Arizona State, coach Herb Sendek and his staff weren't quite sure what they had when Bachynski reported for duty in 2010. At 210 pounds, he was frail and weak by power conference standards. His conditioning, or lack thereof, limited him to short stretches on the court. His offensive game, though better than many give him credit for, had to be refined.
Evidence of the ASU staff's coaching and Bachynski's coachability came in the Sun Devils' final game of the season last March, when he scored 25 points in an NCAA tournament loss to Texas. With his long frame and 7-foot-4 wingspan, Bachynski could always block shots. But those 25 points were an indication of how far the rest of his game had progressed.
During the latter third of the season, Sendek said many times, "If there's a more improved player over four years [than Bachynski], I don't know who it is."
There's one more relationship that Bachynski credits, one more person to thank if he winds up on an NBA roster. That would be his wife Malia, a former ASU volleyball player whom he met his first day on campus as a freshman. She was raised in an athletic family in Hawaii -- four brothers played college football -- and has been the perfect partner.
"She really understands the time that it takes to be excellent at something," Bachynski said. "She's always encouraged me to stay after practice. Her favorite date was to come and rebound for me. The whole NBA dream has turned into as much her thing as it is mine. She's such a huge support. I'm so blessed to have it."
Regardless of whether Bachynski is drafted, he's already had a memorable month. On June 13, Malia gave birth to the couple's first child, Kawika John.
"He's taller than I was when I was born," Bachynski said. "And he's got some huge hands, real monster mitts. [Being a father is] like no other feeling in the world. It's special, and it puts everything I'm trying to do in perspective.
"I was talking to someone today, and he put it perfectly. A child is the person you've never met that you're willing to give everything to. Having a son just gives me that much more motivation to succeed."
Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.
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