On Tuesday, February 11, Arizona State senior center Jordan Bachynski called Arizona Sports 98.7 FM for an interview. Bachynski appeared on the program with one thing on his mind: the Sun Devils’ impending matchup versus their archrival Arizona that upcoming Friday evening. The annual Pac-12 bloodbath doubled as Valentine’s Day this season and Bachynski’s wife Malia, a former ASU volleyball player, had a specific request for her present this year.
“The only thing she asked for Valentine’s Day was a win against Arizona,” he told the program’s host, Dan Bickley.
Bachynski proceeded to play 47 of the double-overtime game’s 50 minutes. He was a force in the paint on both sides of the ball, scoring 13 points, swatting 8 blocks and hauling in 7 rebounds against the then-No. 2 Wildcats.
“From day one they instill it upon you—everyone on campus, everyone in the athletic department—there is a huge rivalry with the school downtown,” Bachynski told SLAM.
Aaron Gordon’s free throw with 36 seconds left in the second overtime broke a 65-65 tie and put Zona up by one point. Then after the Sun Devils called timeout, Jermaine Marshall banked home a lefty layup after squeaking around Bachynski’s ball screen. With no timeouts in their pocket, the Wildcats rushed down the court to respond.
“I’m huge into visualization and telling yourself things before they happen,” Bachynski says. “I specifically remember on that last possession, when the point guard is taking it down and I knew that we were leading, I thought to myself, I’m gonna need to give a big block here.”
TJ McConnell used a screen from Gordon to dive into the paint. Arizona State’s entire defense seemed to crumble at his feet as he knifed his way towards the rim. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the 7-2 Bachynski shot into the air like a spaceship lifting off and swatted the game-winning attempt into oblivion.
“It wasn’t just like a tap,” Bachynski remembers. “I threw it to center court.”
ASU’s Jahii Carson burst ahead of the pack, scooped up the loose ball at half court and only needed a few dribbles to throw down an exclamation point jam as the buzzer sounded. Hundreds of Arizona State students mobbed the court to celebrate the Sun Devils’ 69-66 upset victory.
Bachynski simultaneously fired his two fists into the air. He screamed like a man possessed.
“To be able to do that my senior year, the final time we played U of A, for them to be ranked so highly and for us to be able to do that with me blocking that final shot, it was awesome,” Bachynski says. “I loved every second of it. To have the students rush the court was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
His game-saving rejection made good on is wife’s Valentine’s Day request, but it also served as the culmination of a strenuous journey that began in Canada and pit-stopped in South Florida.
Growing up in Calgary, Alberta, Bachynski’s access to basketball in the heart of hockey country was limited.
“It was hard to get a lot of exposure when it came to basketball so SLAM was my go-to for basketball news, all-things basketball. I read it as much as I could,” Bachynski says.
Yet somehow, when he was 12 years old, Bachynski told his father he would hoop at Arizona State one day. “I just liked the sound of it,” he recalls. That specific prediction was certainly random, but the idea he would play Division I ball in the States was far from outlandish. Bachynski shot up to 7-1 and, despite being skinnier than string bean, he averaged 18.5 points, 13.1 boards and 8.7 blocks in his senior year at Centennial H.S in 2006-07.
To transition seamlessly into the American game and gear up for the NCAA, the big man planned on playing a year at Findlay Prep. But before that season ever began, Bachynski severely rolled his ankle during a summer tournament. Instead of proceeding with caution, he continued to play on the bum wheel, progressively damaging it more and more until MRIs revealed he was in desperate need of surgery.
Bachynski took the rest of 2007 to rest his ankle and ultimately determined accomplishing his goals on the hardwood needed to wait, venturing down to Miami for a two-year LDS Mission.
“I’m really glad I was able to take that time off because it’s what my body needed,” Bachynski says. “I had to let my body develop a little bit more. I was a really late bloomer coming out of high school. I was really lithe, probably about 210 pounds on a good day, so I was really, really thin.”
While his body developed, he says he matured mentally and emotionally as well. Bachynski awoke every morning at 6:30 a.m. and grabbed breakfast before studying scriptures for several hours. After his religious studies ended, Bachynski fine-tuned his Spanish to the point where he’s now fluent. From there, he ventured out to the streets of South Beach.
“You’re out of the house and out talking to people and trying to spread the message of Christ and doing service whenever you could,” Bachynski says. “You learn a lot about yourself when you’re serving other people and not thinking at all about yourself.”
Jabari Parker considered embarking on a mission before entering this NBA Draft. Many scoffed at the idea. Who would delay riches for spiritual fulfillment? Bachynski recognized how damaging the decision could have been for his basketball career, but concluded the mission would also benefit him on the court.
“People tell me all the time that it was a dumb decision to go on a mission, but it’s what I needed. I learned some amazing life lessons that really helped me with basketball,” he says.
During this current pre-Draft process, Bachynski saw a boy in the airport with a shirt that read, “Talented, But Lazy”.
“I was like, are you serious?” Bachynski says. “I saw that shirt and I said to him, You, sir, are not very smart.”
The cocky slogan went against everything he had learned during his time in Miami.
“My mission taught me the importance of hard work and continuing to work hard even when things aren’t going your way,” Bachynski says. “That’s the worst t-shirt you could have because in college, everyone’s talented, and it takes hard work to get anywhere in life and in basketball.”
He’s been able to directly incorporate one of his favorite scriptures into the gym, as well.
“One that I really like is: If you have faith, you shall not fear,” Bachynski says. “People always ask me if I get nervous before workouts or nervous before games and I tell them no, because of that faith in both my abilities and knowledge that I’m going to receive help from up high and I love that because, as basketball players, we train every day, we practice really hard to prepare for games.
“And if we practiced really hard, it’s my opinion that you shouldn’t be afraid, because you should have faith in the work that you put in.”
Upon arriving at Arizona State in the fall of 2010, Bachynski needed to put in hours of tenuous work. After taking three years off from basketball, the 20-year-old 7-footer could barely walk and chew gum at the same time. Head coach Herb Sendek and his staff saw Bachynski’s potential, but knew his best days on the court were years down the line.
During one of the team’s first practices that season, the coaches had to pull Bachynski to the side just to teach him how to pass correctly. His errant passes were so wild, he was throwing off the flow and rhythm of the team’s drills.
“Taking time off from anything is hard and I took almost three years almost completely after basketball and that was really tough to come back to,” Bachynski says. “But my mission taught me really important things. It taught me to continue to work hard even when you’re necessarily seeing the fruits of your efforts.”
His number reflected the struggle. Bachynski played just 10 minutes per game his freshman season and struggled to make a consistent impact. His sophomore year he managed to play 17.4 minutes a night and showed signs of promise, but he still needed to go that extra mile.
“It took me almost two complete full years of working hard every day, not taking a summer vacation, staying at ASU over the summer to really see any fruits of my labors,” he says. “That was tough at times, but at the same time, my mission taught me the important of perseverance.“
Yet he had an advantage over most gangly foreign centers that come to the US to play college ball. Yes, Bachynski was a project by every definition of the word, but he was one of reclamation, not transformation.
After he and Malia travelled to San Diego and married shortly after his freshman season, Bachynski went to work with the Sun Devils’ coaching staff. Simply allowing himself to receive criticism was the first step of the process.
“I think the biggest thing was just the humility to listen to coaches. No one likes being told they’re wrong or being corrected, especially if it’s a front of the team,” Bachynski says. “I had to learn to shut my mouth first and then take in coaching as much as I could, eat up as much as I could. It was tough at first, but I’ve grown to really love to receive coaching and that’s the only way you can get better.
Once he began working with Arizona State assistant coach Eric Musselman, the former head coach of the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors, after his sophomore season, Bachynski began to morph into the player that found his way onto the radar of NBA scouts.
Current Phoenix Suns standout Gerald Green credits Musselman for turning his career around during the 2011-12 season with the NBA D-League’s Los Angeles D-Fenders. Musselman’s primary area of focus with Bachynski was perfecting his footwork. Bachynski took the constant feedback, which was sometimes harsh reality, on the chin.
“It took me to step outside my comfort zone and make mistakes in practice and to work hard and continue to make mistakes,” he says. “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Fail forward fast.’ And what that means is you’ve gotta make mistakes in order to improve. You’ve gotta make mistakes to learn what you’re doing wrong and then evaluate the mistake and learn from it and move on and do your best not to make that mistake again.
“So, I think being unafraid of making mistakes was a huge thing for me.”
Bachynski emerged as the fifth-best shot-blocker in the nation during his junior 2012-13 campaign, swatting 3.52 per outing in only 25.4 minutes a night. His offensive efficiency skyrocketed, scoring 9.8 points per game on 58.3 percent shooting from the field.
“We did a lot of drop-step, counters to his go-to move on the left block,” Musselman says. “We mainly worked on that drop-step, staying low. I think as he went along, he became effective on both blocks.”
He took another big step forward during his senior season. Bachynski contributed 11.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game while leading the country in blocks at 4.0 per night. What proved most crucial: He increased his free-throw shooting by nearly 10 percent, converting 69.3 percent of his attempts from the line.
“A lot of it was confidence, repetition, believing in himself. He had good form, it was just a matter of seeing the ball go through the basket and having confidence in his shot,” Musselman says. “It’s amazing the progress he’s made. He’s just coming into his own from a comfort level and confidence. He went from a young man to a man off the floor as well as on the floor.”
Bachynski wore No. 13 at Arizona State, a nod to his country’s greatest basketball player Steve Nash. The influx of Canadian basketball talent into American hoops has been well documented. With Nash now apart of the national basketball team’s front office, many have spoken about the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Tyler Ennis, Tristan Thompson Nick Stauskas and Kelly Olynyk taking the team north of the border to new heights of international basketball success.
Somehow, no one ever seems to mention Bachynski, even though before the NBA Draft on June 26 occurs, the now 7-2, 24-year-old might be the best shot-blocker outside the NBA. Fortunately for Bachynski there’s always a need for rim protectors in the NBA, especially since, as he says, the talent might be more of a gift one’s born with than a skill that’s easily learned.
Bachynski’s been blocking shots at a ridiculous clip ever since his high school days. Back when he was skinnier than toothpick, blocking shots was a survival tactic more than a strategy while he was getting bowled into in the paint.
“If someone asked me to teach them how to block shots, I don’t think I could. It’s something that comes really natural to me, something that I’ve always had a knack for,” he says. “It all comes down to timing, being an elite jumper—you need to be athletic—and just having a knack for it.”
Bachynski set the Pac-12 record for career blocked shots. After he set the mark for most blocked shots in a season during his junior year, he went back out his senior campaign and broke that record as well.
Ironically, his last memory of his college career is failing to complete one last rejection. The Sun Devils earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and a No. 10 seed this March, matching up with 7-seeded Texas in the Tourney’s second round. With the game tied at 85 and the clock winding down, Texas’ Jonathan Holmes bricked a three-point attempt from the left wing, causing a scrum under the basket.
Holmes’ shot completely missed the iron and caromed off the rubber padding under the backboard. It took several awkward bounces off hands and feet of multiple players from both teams. Bachynski stood in the middle of the pack waiting to challenge any shot a Longhorns player would potentially fire up towards the hoop. Sure enough, the ball fell to Texas’ biggest player, 6-9 center Cameron Ridley. The 285-pound behemoth flicked the ball up into the basket, ending the game at the buzzer and Bachynski ’s college career.
“I tried to reach for it but I barely missed it. I felt the breeze as the ball passed my fingers and it just went in. It was a freak play,” Bachynski says. “It was a play that you will never see ever again in basketball. As a big, you practice rebounding off the rim. You never practice rebounding a shot that misses the rim and hits the rubber.”
Despite the loss, Bachynski had one of his best games of his career of 25 points, 7 boards and 1 block. And now, with Malia expecting the couple’s first child literally any day, he’s had a progressive workout tour and has all the makings of a solid second round pick. With a truly elite skill, he should be able to make an instant impact right away on an NBA court.
“He’s a game-changer because of his defensive ability. He’s got that incredible ability to block shots,” Musselman says. “He moves his feet really well for someone his size and I think he’ll get better because he’s a willing learner and he’s a good student of the game. [NBA] people have been surprised his shot looks fluid and he can knock down the face-up 8-to-12-foot shoot.”
Throughout whatever lies ahead in his career, Bachynski has his lessons from his mission guiding him and Malia’s support pushing him.
“She’s a huge support to me, she told me that if she goes into labor while I’m on the road, I was not allowed to come home. I have to finish my workouts and come home when I’m done,” Bachynski said. “She understands the time it takes for sports because she played volleyball and all four of her brothers played football. I couldn’t be where I am today without her support and I love her so much for that.”