Jerryd Bayless has considered himself a pro long before making it to the NBA. But don’t be fooled by the suits and the superstar smile. He’s a competitive madman who is hell-bent on wreaking havoc at the next level. Before we got with the Blazers’ rookie to film his NBA Draft Diary, we featured him in the current issue of Dime.
Looking more like a hitman than a 19-year-old college freshman, Jerryd Bayless struts down the tunnel of Arizona’s McKale Center in a crisp dark blue suit with a tie boldly knotted flush against his shirt collar. The Wildcats aren’t required to come to games dressed like contract killers. While his teammates might as well have pulled jeans off of their dorm room desk chairs and found tees from a pile of laundry before showing up at the arena, Bayless dresses like a professional. And the fact that he could pass for a professional basketball player or a professional assassin in these threads might be a coincidence. But don’t bet on it.
“People notice,” says former UA guard Jawann McClellan, who was the only Wildcat to join JB in formal attire before games. “We got complimented all the time. It’s about carrying yourself like a pro.”
Since his first day on Arizona’s campus following an All-American high school career at St. Mary’s H.S. in Phoenix, Jerryd has carried himself like an NBA star. He’s been spotted around Tucson with his iPhone pinned to his ear. He’s got a superstar smile and an assertive, confident voice fit for a press conference. When we got up with him in Phoenix in early May, he had a team of handlers helping him juggle a sizable media crush — three different interviews and multiple photo shoots over the course of one weekend.
It’s almost as if he’s known all along that he would have somebody else managing his time down to the very minute — the voice message of one of his former cell phones directs callers to e-mail him because that number has presumably gotten out. “You’ve reached Jerryd. I recently turned this phone off. If you’d like to get in touch with me, please e-mail me at …”
But in reality, that public relations professionalism is only Jerryd’s public skin. While he’s gifted enough to coolly handle his celebrity, he’s not Hollywood. Even if he’s got the look, he’ll never be the star who shows up on “SportsCenter” because of his social life. He’s too mature for any of that. Bayless doesn’t even play video games.
“If I walked through the arena and he wasn’t there working, I was surprised,” says Kevin O’Neill, Arizona’s head coach during the ’07-08 season who replaced Lute Olson while the Hall of Famer was on personal leave.
“He’s a serious guy about his craft. He takes his craft very seriously,” says McClellan. “He is as competitive a dude as I’ve ever been around. He doesn’t partake in foolishness away from the basketball court.”
And he doesn’t take part in any nonsense on the court, either. Bayless doesn’t toil out on the perimeter, sizing his man up and down, waiting to make a move. By the time his defender is in proper position, Bayless is already exploding past him on his way to the tin, or rising and firing jumpers. He’ll tell you his goal is to “kill” his man every time he steps on the floor. He’s a madman, who is hell-bent on “destroying his opponent at all costs,” says former Arizona assistant and current Memphis assistant Josh Pastner.
There’s really no limitation to Bayless’ competitive drive. When O’Neill’s coaching methods — “yelling at Jerryd for shots he made and shots he missed,” as McClellan says — incited madness within his star player, Bayless set out to prove his coach wrong.
“That’s just what makes him so great,” says Pastner. “He’s got that fire, he’s got that instinctive ability to take things as a challenge when somebody is telling him he can’t do something or somebody’s not giving him, in his opinion, the respect he deserves.”
A little more than a month before the NBA Draft, we talked to the future Lottery pick about what has brought him to this point.
Dime: When talking to you, you come off as really easy going and laid back, which is a stark difference from the on-court killer we’re used to seeing.
Jerryd Bayless: I don’t really know what it is. When I get on the court, it all changes. I treat every game as my last. I’m going out there, I look at the other person â€“ I’m trying to pretty much kill the guy guarding me. People might look at me like a wide-eyed assassin on the court, but off the court I’m a pretty easy-going guy. I don’t take nothing too serious. I just enjoy life, I guess.
Dime: You want to “kill” the guy? That’s intense.
JB: (Laughs) I don’t literally want to kill the guy. It’s the competitive nature that I’ve been brought up with. I’ve been playing against older people my entire life. I remember how much losing used to bother me when I was younger. It’s carried over until now. I really don’t like to lose. No matter what it takes, I’m gonna do it to try to win that game. If it requires me to do things that are kinda bad, I guess I’d have to do them.
Dime: Where does that come from?
JB: I don’t really know exactly where it comes from, but it’s just been with me ever since I was young because I hate to lose so much. My parents and my brother used to do little things like that to test me. If I didn’t want to do something, they knew to make it into a competitive situation. They knew I’d end up doing it. It’s carried over with me for everything I do.
Dime: Some people have said that you’re all business all the time, wearing suits around Arizona â€“ do you already consider yourself a professional?
JB: Basketball in college was supposed to be fun. But I always try to carry myself in a professional way. Wearing suits to the games â€“ I tried to wear suits and nicer clothes to the game, and just give off the image that I’m trying to give off. On the court I try to be an assassin. But off the court, I want to be known as more of a professional. For my whole career I’m going to follow those ways.
Dime: Talk about your upbringing. You’re not the stereotypical hard-knock basketball story because you come from an upper middle class background.
JB: I feel like I always get the label. In basketball terms, I’m a light-skinned brother pretty much. I’m light-skinned and people know that I come from an upper-middle class family. I get the label as being soft. That’s always made me crazy on the inside â€“ people thinking that I’m soft. It makes me wanna kill them even more when I’m on the court with them. I just hate the stereotype that comes with being from upper-middle class, being light-skinned and being more of a “pretty boy.” That’s a label I’ve always had.
Dime: Do you try to compensate for that label?
JB: I think there’s a toughness as a way to compensate for it. I’ll never be soft. I’ll never act soft in any way. I think that’s the best way to quiet the people that have those opinions.
Make sure to check out Jerryd’s Dime Draft Diary, chronicling every step of his journey from his house in Arizona to center stage at Madison Square Garden…
TO READ THE REST OF THIS STORY, PICK UP DIME #42 ON NEWSSTANDS EVERYWHERE.