Friday, January 16, 2009

Bayless Reveals Character

“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” - John Wooden

In the Trail Blazers 105-99 come back win against the Nets last night, Jerryd Bayless revealed so much more than his 23 points on 67% shooting and 11 for 11 effort at the line. In his post-game interview, on a night that Jerryd proved to the world that he’s got game, he modestly told me, “I got it going a little bit tonight, so it’s alright.” Talk about an understatement. Talk about an athlete who’s character drives him to practice up to three times a day. And talk about a teammate who, rather than taking credit for his game, said, “We’re missing Steve right now and he’s one of the leaders of this team, so we needed to come in here and get this win.”

So as I worked my way through post-game coverage, I decided that I would let Jerryd’s coach and teammates do the bragging for him. First up, it’s X’s & O’s with Nate McMillan. When asked how he would describe the rookie’s game, he said, “Aggressive. We needed aggressive play, we wanted guys attacking the basket. I thought Jerryd did a nice job going to the basket, getting to the free throw line. Late in the game, he did a nice job defending Harris, who is one of the fastest guys in the league, staying in front of him and making him shoot over the top.” It was Jerryd’s ‘aggressive’ play in the third quarter was the catalyst that dug the Blazers out of 21-point deficit to win the game.

After the press conference, it was into the tiny locker room, full of light-hearted Blazers. In typical fashion, there was an army of media around Greg Oden, who was happy to transfer the attention to his fellow rookie. As Jerryd walked back to his locker, Oden raised his voice and said to him with a huge grin, “It was a nice little dunky, dunk…you know you can smile,” ribbing Jerryd for his serious demeanor.

But then Oden went on talking about Jerryd’s game. “It was good, especially in a game like this where we really needed him to come in a produce like he did. For that to happen and for us to get the victory, knowing that we were behind, it’s that much better.”

On the other side of the locker room, Brandon Roy, who finished the game with another all-star performance and 29 points, also reveled in Jerryd’s game and it’s effect on the team. He smiled, “That was a huge game for him. I’ve been waiting for that, for him. He’s the first guy in the gym and the last guy out and it paid off tonight. He was aggressive and once he gets comfortable, man we’re going to be dangerous. He’s tough going to the basket and he really opens up the floor, so as he gets more and more confidence we’re going to be really tough,”

And, according to Brandon, the Roy-Bayless combo can be deadly. “We put so much pressure on the defense. Most of the time my man’s not going to leave, so he gets more space when he goes to the basket. When I have the ball, it’s dangerous, because you don’t want to leave him either. As you saw tonight, if he’s that guy who I kick it to, he’s that guy who can get to basket and dunk…we’re a tough team to defend.”

After Jerryd’s enormous career night, he left the game as modestly as he arrived. On the bus towards the airport, you could tell Jerryd – headphones in tact – was already focused on the next game. According to him, “Now we’ve got to start looking forward to Charlotte.” Talk about an athlete who revealed so much character, by saying so little.