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Jerryd Bayless' Change Of Direction

  1. Written by: caseyholdahl  / avg. rating: 4.8

    Jerryd Bayless is fast, a revelation that should surprise no one who has followed his career through one collegiate season at Arizona and two NBA seasons and counting as a member of the Trail Blazers. Not a bad quality to possess, but it is possible to be too fast, and sometimes, Bayless is just that. His drives to the rim, while executed with sufficient quickness to shake a perimeter defender, would often end with an unnecessarily difficult layin attempt that became all too predictable for opposing teams to guard.

    So when the Trail Blazers coaching staff sat Bayless down for his exit interview after Portland was eliminated by the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the 2010 playoffs, they didn’t tell him to necessarily slow down, but to vary speeds to keep defenses guessing. It was something Bayless had improved on during his sophomore season, which was capped by averaging 13.5 points, 3.8 assists and 2.7 rebounds during the series against the Suns, but there was still plenty of room for improvement.

    “Basically for me this summer was working on change of direction,” said Bayless. “I think a lot of time I'm just going straight. During playoffs I felt like I did a much better job of changing direction, different speeds. At the end of the year that's something that we all felt like I could improve on and that's what I was trying to do.”

    Bayless, a man whose dedication to improvement is unmatched, got back to work at his offseason home in Phoenix. He focused on changing direction, starts and stops, varying tempo, quick crossovers.

    “The first part of the summer,” said Bayless, “I was really focused on working on some things I felt I could improve on. I was making progress.”

    He’d play dominoes at night, then head back to the gym in the morning, grinding every last minute of opportunity out of the offseason. Pretty standard fare for a guy who had been living and breathing basketball since middle school.

    But Bayless’ summer changed direction on its own when his father suffered a heart attack. For Jerryd, who characterized himself as someone who “can somewhat control the outcome of the situation”, the event left him feeling helpless. Jerryd’s father would go on to recover after surgery, but the event left the youngest Bayless questioning his priorities and his approach to basketball.

    “It was definitely something that made me kind of think and just really put things in perspective about what is really important,” said Bayless. “Obviously I do love basketball and I love being able to play this game, but when my dad was almost taken away from me, it just changed my look on a lot of things.”

    Much of his public perception has been crafted by that look. When asked about his persona, Bayless would always argue that the scowling, frighteningly intense person wearing No. 4 wasn’t an accurate depiction of who Jerryd Bayless really was, but in hindsight, he’s come to realize the frustration he felt over playing time and his role on the team had an effect on who he was as a person.

    “I think I was just wound up so tight,” said Bayless. “I can't say that it's not going to happen again this season because there's definitely times during the season where you're going to go through rough patches where you're going to be wound up real tight. But I think before I was wound up so tight and worried so much about things I wasn't able to control, it made me uneasy. Being around me probably made other people uneasy at times. But the biggest thing with me is the thing that happened with my dad, just realizing how short life can really be. It's definitely mellowed me out.”

    Basketball, always an important piece of who Bayless was, had taken on such prominence that the well-rounded individual whose parents had preached using basketball rather than being used by basketball was being quickly replaced by something ugly and twisted. His life had become unsustainable.

    “Basketball, before my dad’s heart attack, it was everything to me,” said Bayless. “I always had other things going on, but basketball was everything. It was my world. At night I was watching basketball. I was getting here at 8 AM, staying until 2, 3. It was everything to me.

    “I’m not at ease with where I'm at. I still am not even close to where I want to be with my career. But it was like someone going home from work every day then going right back to work. That's what I was doing. Getting (to the practice facility) at 8 AM, leaving here at 3 PM, going home, maybe taking an hour nap, watching film, coming back, working out again, then going home and watching more basketball. You can't do that -- you've got to be able to enjoy other things at times -- but that's what I was doing. It kind of took a toll on me; wound me up so tight that I was always pressing just to be able to do something. Now I just feel like I'm in a different place with that.”

    Hopefully Bayless’ change of direction sticks, but, as he admits, there will be challenges this season. The competition for minutes at guard behind Brandon Roy and Andre Miller will be hard-fought with the additions of Wesley Matthews, Elliot Williams and Armon Johnson. The team has a new general manager and new assistant coaches, so in many ways, Bayless will be starting from scratch when it comes to currying favor with the decision makers in the Trail Blazers front office. But then again, none of this is new to Jerryd.

    “Look at the situation since I've been here, what I've had to go through,” said Bayless. “There's not anything they can do anymore to phase me. Whatever happens, it happens. If they decide to play them and trade me, I can't control that. There's nothing I can do. Since I've been here there hasn't been one thing given to me. Not one thing. I've just got to keep on continuing to prove myself. I don’t know any other way.”

    But at least he’s now better equipped to deal. And if he can put those frustrations behind him, the change of direction he sought on the court won’t be nearly as valuable as the one he found off of it.

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