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November 5, 2010
Even though Bachynski (pronounced Ba-shin-ski) predicted at the age of 12 he someday would play for Arizona State -- a rather unusual suggestion considering he lived in Canada at the time -- he never could have guessed the road that eventually would lead him to Tempe.
"I don't know what it was that first appealed to me [about Arizona State]," Bachynski said. "I think it was just divine inspiration. I must have been a really inspired kid. I remember telling my dad one day, 'I'm going to play at Arizona State.' "
Divine inspiration? Why not? It's as good a reason as any to explain the improbable set of circumstances that brought Bachynski to this point.
Bachynski suffered through an injury in high school that could have ended his basketball career. He spent two years almost entirely away from the game while serving a church mission in south Florida.
He now is on Arizona State's campus as a 21-year-old, 7-foot-2 freshman center. Bachynski isn't listed among the top 150 recruits in the 2010 recruiting class, but his versatility as a big man could allow him to make an immediate impact while avoiding a redshirt.
"Right now, he's working to get his legs back under him to get reacclimated to basketball after basically not playing for the last year, but you can tell he definitely has fluid movement and good hands," Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. "He has a real nice touch. I think he's very promising. I expect him to play for us this year."
Bachynski's work ethic and his height are helping him come back from a career-threatening injury and a two-year layoff. Though neither of his parents is taller than 6-5, Bachynski continually grew a few inches a year until he soon became the tallest person in his family.
"It was probably when he was in grade 10, around Christmas, he walked by me and I thought, 'Wait a minute. He looks taller than me,' " said Bachynski's father, John Bachynski. "That's when we measured him, and he was taller than me."
Bachynski never really stopped growing. By the time he enrolled at Arizona State, Bachysnki was 7-2, and he already is the tallest player in the Pac-10.
He has the kind of height that should have earned the notice of college recruiters, if they only could have seen him. Bachynski didn't get much attention while playing in Canada, and he suffered an ankle injury during his senior season at Centennial High School in Calgary, Alberta. He continued to play through the injury, but his ankle never got better.
He left Canada in the summer of 2007 to head to Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev. Bachynski hoped playing for one of the top prep programs in the United States would help him garner more attention from colleges.
"If you want to play hockey, Canada's the place to go," John Bachynski said. "If you want to get recognition as a basketball player, it's not happening in Canada. You have to go to the States."
But Bachynski's health situation prevented him from getting a chance to showcase his skills at Findlay. He started feeling more pain in his ankle and eventually was diagnosed with a cracked tibia that went from the ankle toward his knee.
"I was unsure I'd ever play basketball again, my ankle injury was so severe," Bachynski said. "They were saying, 'It's not 100 percent your ankle will get better.' It makes me savor every moment."
Bachynski had surgery in November 2007 and recovered quickly enough to perform well four months later at the Canada Classic, the Canadian equivalent of the McDonald's All-American Game. Bachynski then put basketball on hold.
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Bachynski chose to leave for Miami in the spring of 2008 to begin a Spanish-speaking church mission in south Florida's Hispanic communities, such as Little Havana. For the next couple of years, his only basketball activity came when he played pickup games on Mondays, his usual day off.
"I had faith it would work itself out," Bachynski said. "It was really hard for me to leave basketball for two years, to leave the sport I loved and not to have a certain future. But that's how it goes in life: Sometimes you have to take a step in the dark before the lights turn on."
His future got cleared up earlier than expected. Some tapes of his performance in the Canada Classic had begun to circulate among the offices of coaches across the country. They noticed his height and understood his potential.
"We were told about Jordan from an NBA friend of his," Arizona State assistant Dedrique Taylor said. "He told me about this kid, told me he was 7-2, told me he was pretty good. We did some research and found some tape on him and we liked what we saw. He was mobile. He moved around exceptionally well. He shoots it."
Bachynski liked what he heard from Arizona State's coaching staff. He committed to the Sun Devils before he was done with his mission.
"It seemed like Arizona State had the most to offer," Bachynski said. "The first thing was I wanted to play. I also wanted to be part of a program that takes us to the next level, not a smaller school that won't be able to be a contender in the tournament but also one that especially this year has the true potential to go way beyond what anyone expects us to."
Arizona State's chances of outperforming preseason expectations depend largely on the seven newcomers on the roster.
In one respect, Bachynski may have the longest way to go of all the newcomers. He spent two years away from the game. Even though he ate enough rice and beans in Miami to gain 30 pounds on his mission, he remains relatively underweight at 7-2 and 243 pounds.
Perhaps he isn't quite physically mature yet. But in just every other sense, he possesses as much maturity as any freshman in the nation.
He isn't an 18-year-old freshman worried about living away from his family for the first time. He's a 21-year-old adult who faced the possibility of losing the game he loves. He just spent two years speaking a foreign language and working thousands of miles from his hometown.
Bachynski has gone through enough life experiences to understand the importance of this opportunity. He isn't about to waste it.
"I've lived basically on my own," Bachynski said. "I wasn't able to call mom or dad and ask them to help. I had to learn on my own how to take care of myself, how to be motivated. I had some discipline with a regular schedule I needed to keep. I'm a 21-year-old freshman. I'm not going to make stupid mistakes."
Bachynski will get a chance to prove himself. As a 7-footer, he certainly has shot-blocking ability. He also has a decent shot himself. And for a big man with a history of ankle problems, Bachynski moves surprisingly well.
Most important, he has the drive that comes naturally to anyone who gets the chance to live out the dream he had since the age of 12.
"I don't know what brought it on," Bachynski said, "but I'm really glad I had that dream."
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