NBA hopeful Darius Bazley circumvents traditional route to show off skills to Pistons
Auburn Hills — By most accounts, the NBA Draft is a crapshoot. Beyond a few low-risk prospects at the top of the first round, most of the other first-round picks come with some sort of risk.
This year, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant seem to be the surest bets, along with R.J. Barrett — but everything after them comes with some question marks. The teams take plenty of risk on prospects, but the players are taking their own risks in the route to get to the NBA as well.
The one-and-done trend of phenoms spending a year in college before bolting to go pro has become the new norm, but Darius Bazley is looking to buck that trend. Bazley, a 6-foot-9 wing from Cincinnati, is blazing a new trail, in skipping college altogether in order to prep for the NBA Draft.
Bazley could be one of the high-risk, high-reward selections in the draft. After working out for the Pistons on Tuesday morning, Bazley shed some light on his unusual path. He initially had committed to Syracuse but backed out and looked to go straight to the NBA’s G League, but then decided to sit out the year and prepare for the draft.
“It’s just what was best for me. My goal was to get to the NBA — and here I am,” Bazley said. “I’m not drafted yet and still chasing the dream, but I had to do what was best for me.”
It’s certainly a risk for Bazley, who was a McDonald’s All-America selection last year and spent the rest of the year doing individual workouts and skill development. To some degree he’s been out of sight and out of mind, but he refreshed NBA scouts' memories last month at the scouting combine in Chicago, where in two games, he combined for 18 points and made 8 of 13 field goals.
While some of his contemporaries were playing in NCAA season with TV appearances, Bazley was chipping away to strengthen himself and his game — a gamble, for sure, but a calculated one that had a certain degree of freedom. Moreover, he worked on his own schedule and timeline and was able to spend as much effort on himself without the encumbrances that college students had.
“(I spent) as much (time) as I wanted to, because I didn’t have class,” Bazley said. “I didn’t have to juggle books or answer to anybody. I just had time to work on myself. It varied from where I was because wherever I was, I had different schedules, dealing with different people.
“With my game, I had all the time in the world. I could be in the gym or weight room because I had the time.”
Throughout the year, Bazley spent some of his time at an internship with New Balance. That was the change in plan that detoured him away from the G League and at the behest of agent Rich Paul and Klutch Sports, he got some real-world experience to augment his basketball work.
“I learned a lot about shoes, but it benefited me in ways that are going to help me in life and basketball. I’m coming into a league where it can be really tough off the court mentally,” Bazley said. “Being there taught me how to be professional and communicate with a lot of different people, to be on time and it helped in tremendous ways.
“I developed a routine, got rid of bad habits and developed good habits. I’m grateful for those things because although I might have gotten those at Syracuse or any college, I might not have gotten them to this extent while taking this year off.”
With the unpredictability of the draft, projecting a landing spot for Bazley is difficult. He’s 6-9 with a 7-foot wingspan but beyond the combine scrimmages, there isn’t much for teams to analyze with his game. The predraft workouts will be an indicator and ESPN has him projected as the 28th-ranked prospect and No. 7 among small forwards.
That’s the crapshoot: Bazley could be a first-round steal, a second-round gem — or something in between.
“Defensively, I can step out and guard (point guard through power forward) and switch on guards and defend the ball-screen, down low and in the high post,” he said. “Offensively, my versatility, being in the pick-and-roll, to make the right reads and knock down shots. I just want to win.”
The Pistons have the 15th and 45th picks in the June 20 draft.
MSU's McQuaid auditions
Michigan State guard Matt McQuaid was another workout participant on Tuesday. He’s not projected to be drafted, but like his time with the Spartans, McQuaid is looking to eke out a niche for himself in the NBA — possibly as an undrafted free agent.
“Just keeping the underdog mentality and the edge at MSU that you play with and learn when you’re there,” McQuaid said. “Just being tough and doing the little things and paying attention to detail and do all the things that help you stand out.”
At 6-4, McQuaid has good size to play in the NBA. He was on the Big Ten All-Defense Team and his proficiency in hitting 42 percent of his 3-pointers last season as a senior could open some eyes in the NBA.
“I’m a competitor and shoot the 3; I’m more than just a shooter,” he said. “I can put it on the floor and make plays for my teammates.”