Jordan Bachynski’s uphill journey with ASU men’s basketball coming close to an end

ASU men’s basketball coach Herb Sendek knows he sometimes sounds like a broken record. Throughout the 2013-14 season, Sendek has said a claim over and over in press conferences and meetings with the media, hoping that national pundits will catch on at some point.

“If there’s a more improved player over the past four years, I don’t know who it is, but I know Jordan (Bachynski) has to be in that conversation,” Sendek said.

The numbers back up Sendek’s claim. In his freshman year in 2010-11, Bachynski averaged only 2.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 0.8 rebounds in 10 minutes a game. In 2011-12, Bachynski cracked the starting lineup but averaged six points, four rebounds and 1.4 blocks. In 2012-13, Bachynski averaged 9.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game.

 

 

This season, Bachynski is putting up 11.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per game. His free throw percentage is 9.8 percent higher than last year.

“I’m definitely happy with how far I’ve come,” Bachynski said after the Marquette University game. “Coaches have been amazing over the offseason just working with me. Playing with Canada over the offseason has helped me out. I’m playing with a new confidence that I’ve never had before.”

Bachynski’s senior campaign has already featured a plethora of highlights. In November, Bachynski had his first game-saving block against Marquette. On Feb. 7, he broke Anthony Cook’s all-time blocks record. Two days later, Bachynski had another last-second block against Oregon, and it happened again against UA on Feb. 14.

It’s hard to pinpoint which part of Bachynski’s game hasn’t improved. Bachynski is no longer a liability from the foul line. He’s worked on his strength to endure grueling battles in the paint. He has a better sense of tracking rebounds, and he has an array of post moves that complement his 7-foot-2 frame.

Perhaps the most effective improvement Bachynski has made, though, is his conditioning.

“At no point previously in his career could he have ever played in a physical game for 39 minutes,” Sendek said. “He would have to come out every nine minutes, but he has so much improved physically through our world-class sports performance coach Rich Wenner, that he’s able to play at a high level for much periods of time.”’

Over the course of Bachynski’s career, Sendek admitted he didn’t know if Bachynski would ever meet the expectations the coaching staff had for him when they first recruited him out of high school. Bachynski sat out his entire senior year of high school with a foot injury and left for two years on his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He became an enigma when he was finally ready for play for ASU.

“You never know for sure how it’s going to play out,” Sendek said. “We saw him play on tape, and we thought he had awesome potential. When he arrived on campus, though, it was almost four years after that tape. We didn’t quite understand where we were starting from.”

Bachynski has progressively improved throughout his first three years, but summer 2013 was the time for Bachynski to break out. He joined Team Canada to compete in the World University Games in China in July, then went back to China a month later with ASU on an outreach tour. Bachynski said the past offseason was the most he’s ever visited his sports psychologist, who he had went on and off with all throughout his playing career.

Bachynski has a high amount of respect on how big of a role psychology plays in sports. It’s why he has recently adopted his ritual of closing his eyes momentarily before every free throw attempt.

“I spend a lot of time, as dumb as it sounds, just sitting at home and with my eyes shut, visualizing rebounds,” Bachynski said. “I think I shoot probably 50, 60 in my mind outside of practice with free throws. It’s really helped.”

Everything is now paying dividends with four games left in the regular season of his final year. Bachynski is just one swat away from breaking the Pac-12 season records in blocks that he set last year. Sendek said earlier in the year that Bachynski had started to seriously pursue an NBA career, and now analysts project Bachynski to be a second-round pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

It’s been a redeeming journey for Bachynski. It has a chance to be even sweeter if he can help get the Sun Devils to the NCAA Tournament in March.

“I’ve seen a lot of change, and it’s been a great ride, but it’s still incomplete,” Bachynski said. “I’m not done until the final buzzer goes, and I’m not giving up until that buzzer goes.”

Reach the reporter at jnacion@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @Josh_Nacion