Can Bayless live up to the hype?

He's been billed as the best point guard in the state since Mike Bibby. The attention he has gotten has been unbelievable. He was a standout player at the Nike Camp and just led his high school team to the 5-A championship game. There is no denying that Jerryd Bayless is a talent.

Bayless has the hype. He's got the Matrix-inspired nickname and is rated as the third best point guard in the 2007 recruiting class. Anyone who has followed Wildcat or Arizona basketball knows of the young man from St. Mary's.

Some, including writers for The Arizona Republic think he's a natural fit for the Wildcats. Others wonder if he isn't gong to go right to the NBA.

There is no denying that Bayless is a talent.

He led St. Mary's to the Arizona 5-A Championship game. The Knights came up short, falling to Mesa Mountain View 69-53, but it wasn't because Bayless had an off night. The sophomore had 25 points in the game, but it was not enough to overcome the hot shooting of the Toros.

Bayless had been sidelined since late December with a broken wrist, but returned in time to make a playoff run.

Actually, that isn't quite true. Bayless was on the bench to start the playoffs, but as St. Mary's struggled in the first round game he got his mom to get him cleared to play. That's right, he got medical clearance from the bench. He entered the game and sparked the Knights to a win.

If that wasn't enough, he made a pair of free throws in the final second of St. Mary's semifinal game against Dobson. He gets taunted by opposing fans at almost every stop. He was good in the finals, just not good enough.

The good news for Bayless is that he has two more years to get a title.

You'd think from all of this that Bayless is a can't miss prospect. He's not. No prep point guard is. He's wickedly talented for his age, and most feel he will stay that way, but he's no lock.

Two years ago Nic Wise was a five-star player who was the top point guard in the 2006 class. Arizona and Texas fell all over themselves to land the early commitment. Today Wise is still good, but he has not grown. He went from the top point guard to not being ranked by Scout.com. He went from five stars to three. It's not like Wise isn't good, he is, but he has not grown. He was 5-8 or so then and is only about 5-10 now. He isn't the long, tall point guard that the Wildcats have been courting recently. He has talent, but can he isn't a lock to be a star.

The same can be said of Bayless. He isn't a lock to be a start, but he has all the ingredients. Unlike Wise, he already has the height. He has great floor awareness and athleticism.

Last summer Bayless played for the Arizona Magic's second team. He and Christian Polk starred for a team that relied mostly on younger players. He was usually the best player on the floor, but he was not always dominant. He was great for a freshman, but if he played against older players he was merely good. Granted, he was three years younger than most of the players he was facing.

Bayless is all about upside. He is already deadly one-on-one and his outside shot is getting better and better. Like many young players he is inconsistent. He was amazing at the Nike All-American Camp, but had some up and down game during the AAU season. Most of the time he looked like the player who was worthy of a top-10 class ranking. He's not there yet, but if he continues to progress he will be the best Arizona player since Mike Bibby dominated in Phoenix. As it stands it looks like he should be mentioned in the same breath as guys like Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye.

What is the secret to Bayless' ascension? Hard work. It is hard to see that he won't live up to the hype if he continues to bust his butt. Watching the state championship it was obvious that he has a great feel for the game and has no problem both scoring and getting his teammates involved.

By all accounts Bayless is a great kid. After breaking his wrist he continued to support his team. He attended most team functions and was on the bench every game. He is always well spoken and gracious in interviews.

He is also a bit of a dichotomy. While he claims he does not relish all the attention, he wears NBA socks and according to an Arizona Republic columnist he has "The One" written on his sneakers. He does not downplay his goal of being an NBA star, yet continually mentions college as his next goal.

The Wildcats are in good shape, but are by no means a lock. North Carolina, Duke, Louisville and UCLA are among the elite programs chasing Bayless. He and Polk recently visited Tucson on an unofficial visit and came away impressed.

"Me and Jerryd Bayless went into the locker room after the game and got to listen to Lute Olson in the dressing room," Polk said after the unofficial. "Jerryd Bayless is as interested in them as I am."

The sky is the limit for Bayless. He has all the skills to be a superstar. As long as he realizes that he still has to work to maximize those skills, he should be just fine.


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