[Editor's Note: Today's special guest is Michael Preston of the brilliant CougCenter, SBNation's site for all things related to the Washington State Cougars, who graciously agreed to grace us with an up close fan's account of Aron Baynes' college career. For previous Aron Baynes coverage on PtR, go here and here. -jrw]
From a bear to a train: the Aron Baynes story
This, for me, is unfamiliar territory. I mean, I swore I wouldn't pay attention to the NBA after He Who Shall Not Be Named bought my beloved SuperSonics and moved them to Dorothy's home. I still don't drink coffee from The Other Who Shall Not Be Named's chain of coffee shops.
Normally, you can find me over at , though that has more to do with everyone else there than me.
When J.R. Wilco asked me to expand on this post I wrote about Aron Baynes, I couldn't refuse. Well, I guess I could've, it being a free country and all, but Aron Baynes is easily my favorite Cougar basketball player from the most prestigious era in WSU men's basketball history. So I made an exception to my "still stewing mad and ignoring the NBA" rule.
When Baynes arrived his freshman year from Cairns, Australia, to describe him as 'raw' would be polite. In fact, former head coach Dick Bennett described Baynes' play as resembling a "big bear with a sore ass." As a freshman, Baynes averaged just 16.5 minutes per game for the Cougars and ended his sophomore season with the same minutes average and roughly the same points per game output at just over five a contest.
But between his sophomore and junior seasons, Baynes hit the gym. Big time. By the time Washington State took the floor against Eastern Washington on November 9, 2007, a man more closely resembling the cover of an East German weightlifting media guide took the floor. It was Baynes' first season as a full-time starter, and it wasn't just his body undergoing a transformation, his game was changing as well. He'd incorporated a soft baby hook, and his defense in the low post had improved markedly.
Oh, and the Baynes train, the greatest thing I've ever witnessed in person at a basketball game, happened.
Look at the steal, look at the fundamental dribbling and look at the 70-foot breakaway dunk from a guy who previously wasn't coordinated enough to trip over his own feet properly. DAT DUNK! Unseen in the video is the entire Cougar bench laughing hysterically.
By his senior season, Baynes' metamorphosis was complete. He averaged 12.7 points a game while grabbing 7.5 rebounds a contest as his defense never stopped improving under head coach Tony Bennett. What made Baynes such a pleasure to watch was that unlike many players, you could see him getting better every game. Even the subtle parts of his game, like the space he created underneath, the continued refinement of his hook and both his individual and team defense, meant Baynes was one of the best big men in the Pac-12. And all of this occurred during a time the conference was actually good.
Did the big man from down under have his quirks? Absolutely. But that only made us Cougar fans love him all the more. One eccentricity in particular should endear him to Spurs fans: as far as he was concerned, he never (not once in his entire career at Washington State) committed a single foul. Virtually every time there was a whistle and an official pointed at him, Baynes showed how utterly flabbergasted he was at the thought that he could be the guilty party. I've never seen a player object so heartily to a foul no matter how obvious it was to everyone in the gym. There were surely times we all agreed with him, like when he would flatten someone with a legal pick and stand firmly in place. Those plays were seriously like watching a small car run into a well rooted sequoia.
Aron Baynes is a guy who we watched change from an awkward, raw teenager to a physical yet graceful big man. He became my favorite Cougar basketball player because of that incredible transformation and the tireless effort he gave on every possession at each end of the floor.
I'm thrilled Baynes will be getting a chance in the world's premier professional basketball organization. Don't let his love for Vegemite on toast fool you, this young man knows what he's doing.