Getting to Know … Darius Bazley

To look at the roster and see the date of birth requires a split second of hesitation. Wait, really? That young?! For the first time in Thunder history this season, there will be a player on the roster born in the 2000’s.

Rookie Darius Bazley is just 19 years old, born on June 12, 2000. He’ll be the youngest player on the Thunder roster by a couple of years, and after foregoing college ball for a unique, alternative route to the NBA, Bazley will have less formal experience than others. But inside of the rookie is a spirit that seems more mature than his credentials belie.

Even in his short years, his journey to Oklahoma City has been winding. He’s ready to be a part of the next generation of Thunder basketball as the organization aims to rise towards greatness once more.

Outdoor Kid

Bazley was born in Brockton, Massachusetts and lived there until he was 7 years old, when his family, which includes two sisters and two brothers, moved to Cincinnati. He picked up basketball at the same time as he did other sports, like hockey and soccer. The long, limber teenager was constantly competing with friends, hanging out in the cul-de-sac behind his grandmother’s house.

“I was an outside kid. Just playing outside, literally doing anything,” Bazley said. “We were rarely inside the house.” 

The love of the game grew naturally and so did Bazley’s talent. In fact, the 6-foot-9, 200-pound forward often ends up being good at whatever he tries. One day it’s Top Golf, the next a video game. He can’t try more extreme sports anymore with an NBA career to protect, but he even went snowboarding and came out unscathed. Ultimately, however, basketball is what Bazley always came back to.

“(Playing basketball) was just super fun and all my friends did it. So it made it even more fun because not only just the game alone, but now I’m playing the game with a bunch of people that I know and I’m comfortable with,” Bazley said.

Falling in Love With The Game

Grades 9 through 12, for most athletes in Bazley’s position, is usually a complete dichotomy in experience. There’s the AAU side and the high school basketball side. That was no different for Bazley, who was by his account, a “completely different player” in AAU compared to his time at Princeton HS in Sharonville, Ohio. He didn’t find immediate success on the AAU circuit, at first it took a little time to get over being starstruck by some of the famous teenagers he saw on the floor.

“I would watch a lot of the guys on Youtube, looking at their mixtapes. When I stepped on the court with them, I was like, ‘dang’,” Bazley laughed. “For me, it was a little tough at first, wrapping around my head that I belonged.”

Once he started hanging around the other high level recruits in AAU tournaments, Bazley even had a few Youtube mixtapes made for him, even as a freshman.

“I was super happy, but I wasn’t doing much. So it was like ‘dang, I got a mixtape’. But it sucked,” Bazley smiled, full of self-deprecation.

Before long, however, Bazley stood out above many of the rest, becoming a five-star recruit and earning offers from Ohio State and Syracuse. Heading into his sophomore year of high school, he knew he’d have a future in basketball. With his position as a high-level prospect solidified, Bazley used his high school experience in a different way – to elevate his teammates.

That fits with the type of player Bazley is, a pass-first forward with a strong feel for the game and the ability to draw defenders to him while freeing up teammates.

Part 1: Growing Up With Hoops

Bold, Confident Decision

As the end of his high school days approached, even with offers from high level colleges in hand, Bazley surveyed the landscape. He saw the decision trees, the routes that so many basketball players take. Some succeed and make it to the pros. Some flame out, get injured or get their path derailed. Bazley opted out of that churn.

Instead of going to college for a year, heading to the G League or playing overseas, Bazley decided to make a bold decision – to work on his game outside the confines of organized, structured basketball and to devote time to his off-court maturation.

Bazley was approached by New Balance, who is re-entering the basketball market with the hope of making a splash with a talented youngster like Bazley, along with NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

“My story kind of matched theirs, taking an unconventional route, with New Balance being a dad shoe, coming from that to the basketball world,” Bazley explained.

Bazley accepted, taking a three-month internship in Boston with New Balance. Unfazed by pressure from all ends of the basketball world, Bazley was firm in his choice, showing off a remarkable, rare steadfastness for someone so young.

“To other people it’s seen as a risk because it’s unconventional,” Bazley said. “I’m not really fazed when it comes to like big decisions because I know I’m covered, I’m going to be good.”

He learned a lot about shoes, how they’re made and what goes into them, Clothing, apparel, too. Why logos are certain sizes and in specific positions, how to color scheme and how to color block. “But the biggest thing I took from New Balance,” Bazley said, “Was that I matured.”

“I was 18 years old, living on my own, working and working out. So when you’re in an office space with a bunch of middle aged people, you can be intimidated, scared, not knowing what to do,” Bazley noted. “For me I just matured, learned how to be professional, communicate with different people… It was the stuff that does not really have to do with shoes, but just little stuff like holding myself accountable.”

Bazley in the New Balance OMN1S PE (Player Exclusive) during Summer League

Part 2: Bold Decision - New Balance

You guys are so much different than every organization.

-Darius Bazley on joining the Thunder

Staying Sharp On the Floor

Not only did Bazley get a real world education, but he also got creative with his approach to getting better on the floor. Before his internship with New Balance, Bazley bulked up and got into elite physical condition by working with Raheem Shabazz, a trainer based in Memphis. That just so happens to be where former NBA sharpshooter and current University of Memphis assistant coach Mike Miller lives. Bazley “fell in love with the weight room” and worked relentlessly with Miller, honing his skills with a two-time NBA Champion.

“Being able to work with Mike (Miller) and develop a relationship with him, I think that probably was the biggest thing,” Bazley noted.

Strength training helped expand Bazley’s game and allows him to do more to take advantage of mismatches. He has quickness and handles, at an impressive level for a player of his size, but Bazley’s first priority comes as a passer. At 6-foot-9 he can see the floor well, firing passes over the top of smaller defenders or finding creases to create against bigger, slower-footed opponents.

With his 7-foot wingspan and 8-foot-11 standing reach, Bazley has the length required to defend multiple positions and can be an asset in a versatile, flexbile way on both ends of the floor.

“It definitely helps because of the direction the NBA is going with it being position-less basketball now,” said Bazley. “Me just being able to have a mismatch whenever I’m on the floor. If it’s a smaller guy I’m able to take him inside or shoot over the top or if it’s a bigger guy I’m able to use my quickness and my handle to finish at the rim.”

The Thunder Opportunity

Thunder fans got their first chance to see Bazley in action during Summer League in Las Vegas, as the rookie saw 21.8 minutes per game while averaging 4.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.3 assist and 1.3 blocks per game. In fact, Bazley recorded at least one block in all four Summer League appearances.

While it will obviously take some time for Bazley to get completely comfortable on the floor against NBA competition, he feels right at home with the Thunder franchise. General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti’s operation ensures that during draft workouts, players understand that they are viewed as human beings first. The players meet with a variety of coaches and staffers when they come to Oklahoma City, whereas in other cities players are just whisked in and out of the court.

“My first impression was made back when I worked out. I told Mr. Presti when we were at dinner like, ‘you guys are so much different than every organization.’” Bazley recalled.

“(OKC) wants to see you as a person and you can just tell that they really care about not just the basketball side of things,” Bazley added. “Now that I get to speak a little bit more to people, you can see how much they just want what’s best for you.”

The Thunder acquired Bazley after trading back to the 23rd selection in the 2019 NBA Draft, creating an unforgettable moment for any youngster aiming to carve out a career at the world’s highest level of the game. Not much for an extended celebration, Bazley is already focused on what’s in front of him rather than the way his life changed on draft night. Bazley cares most about winning, and knows that in order to help the Thunder get to the NBA’s top tier, he must become the best player he possibly can.

Part 3: Thunder Opportunity