Bazley’s unique path to NBA appears to be paying off as his draft stock heads north
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AUBURN HILLS – Darius Bazley’s trail is one never taken, but it appears he’s blazed it unerringly.
A year ago Bazley was ticketed for Syracuse as a five-star forward out of Cincinnati when it was announced he would bypass college to play in the G League. That would have been unusual enough. What came next was unprecedented: a deal with shoe maker New Balance to spend a year interning for the company while preparing for the 2019 NBA draft.
“I learned a lot about shoes, but it benefited me in ways that are going to help me in life and with basketball,” he said Tuesday after a workout for the Pistons. “It really helped me in tremendous ways. I got rid of bad habits, developed good habits. I might have gotten that at Syracuse or any college; I just might not have gotten it to the extent that I did while taking this year off.”
If you’re wondering if the year away from competitive basketball dulled Bazley’s skills or his competitive instincts, there’s no evidence of it.
“Basketball skills, I was able to sharpen them and keep honing my craft every day,” said Bazley, whose internship took him from Cleveland to Memphis to Boston to Los Angeles. “To keep my competitive edge and my feel for the game, that’s not going to leave me. I’m a competitor. Not just at basketball – that’s at anything. If you want to compete to see who can tie their shoes the fastest, we’re going to go at it.”
By all accounts, he acquitted himself well in every aspect of the NBA draft combine in Chicago last month. He measured at 6-foot-9 with just 3.6 percent body fat, an impressive number in any case but especially for an 18-year-old – Bazley turns 19 next week – who’s never been part of a college strength-training program.
His draft status was cloudy during his year away, but now there are rumblings he’s more likely than not to go in the late first round, perhaps sooner. The Pistons have the 15th and 45th picks. He’s now listed as the No. 27 prospect, according to ESPN.com, and projected as the No. 29 pick to San Antonio.
Exactly what Bazley will become in the NBA requires a little more projection than with the average prospect given the scant body of work, but his workouts have apparently been intriguing. Bazley has a solid frame, good feet and tools to work with as a ballhandler and shooter, and he moves well, too.
“Defensively, I think I can step out and guard one through four, be able to switch onto guards and be able to defend the ball screen and to defend down low and the high post,” Bazley said. “Offensively, just my versatility. Being able to be in the pick and roll, make the right reads and then knock down shots.”
Bazley mentioned off-handedly that Dwane Casey brought up a need to gain strength after Tuesday’s workout in the course of talking about the generally positive feedback he’s received from NBA teams over the past month.
“A lot of teams think that I’m doing great,” he said. “For me, just got to keep going to these workouts and competing and giving everything I’ve got. As far as range limits, I haven’t talked about that but the feedback has been good.”
The NBA seems on a path to remove all obstacles for high school players to come directly to the league, though that clearly won’t be a realistic option for most. R.J. Hampton, one of the top recruits for 2020 who reclassified to 2019 abruptly and then made the surprising decision to play professionally in New Zealand next season, chose a path similar to the one taken by Brandon Jennings and Brian Bowen, a Michigan native who also hopes to be drafted in two weeks, by playing overseas.
But nobody’s had a more unique journey than Bazley, whose success navigating it might encourage others to be similarly bold.
“Just what was best for me,” Bazley said. “My goal is to get to the NBA and here I am. Not drafted yet. Still chasing that dream, but I just had to do what was best for me.”