The doors at Coors lock at 10 p.m., but CU players have a code they can use to get in any time they feel the urge to practice their game-winner. Since he moved to Boulder this summer, Kal Bay has gotten real friendly with the nets at Coors. He figures the latest he's been there by himself practicing his 3-pointer is 2 o'clock in the morning.
See, Mr. Bay is Mr. Serious. He's serious about basketball. Serious about the bounce pass in traffic, serious about shooting over 90-percent from the foul line, serious about leading the break, serious about making the defense guard the perimeter, serious about setting up a teammate off a drive through the lane. Serious about being the kind of point guard that makes the players around him better.
He's also serious about Jesus, and about his family and close friends, and school and using his status as a college basketball player to help others.
Don't get the wrong picture. Mr. Serious is not Mr. L 7. He's got the shaved head, the rock studs in the ears. He wears the baggy pants, shirt untucked. He sports enough ink on his ripped torso to finish a term paper. The thing is, though, he's on a mission. No time or inclination to partake in some of the normal college kid's habits or rites of passage.
But banging a basketball by your lonesome at 2 in the morning? C'mon, Kal.
"If there's nothing else going on, I figure I may as well do something that's going to help me in the future," he says. (OK, why didn't I think of that when I was 19?)
That future includes winning basketball games in a Buffaloes uniform. Even if most people don't expect much out of Colorado basketball.
Though in junior Richard Roby the Buffs have one of the conference's best players on their roster, once again, CU is being picked by the preseason mags and polls to finish in the bottom three or four of the Big 12. One reason is conventional wisdom – you don't win in this conference with a bunch of rookies, and Kal Bay is one of eight freshmen on Ricardo Patton's 10th team at Colorado.
Basketball is all about the science. It's part physics — the running and jumping and shooting — and part chemistry (knowing when your teammates are going to run and jump and shoot). Bay helped convince some of his freshmen teammates to get to Boulder earlier than anticipated this summer so they could begin working on the chemistry part with each other and the returners.
"We're all beginning to understand each other's games," he says. "We started playing about four times a week since Rich got back into town. Once we get it going, I think we can definitely surprise some people this year."
Before we go any further, let's get something straight: There's a danger in anointing a player before the breath of a ref ever flows into a whistle. I'm not anointing Kal Bay anything. He's not CU's answer to Steve Nash or White Chocolate, and he certainly isn't the second coming of Chauncey. Right now he's just a kid who's never gone through the lane at Gallagher-Iba Arena and caught a forearm to the throat and landed on his backside unable to breathe.
Kal Bay's done nothing in a CU uniform, and I know that and you know that and he knows that. He may not even be the best point guard in the 2007 CU class. We don't know yet. (He's forged a friendship with classmate and fellow point guard Dwight Thorne. One of them will likely start this season. May the best man win…)
But, still, there's something about Kal Bay. Something beyond his high school numbers (four-year starter, first-team all-state as a junior when he led Arizona in assists and was third in scoring, over 90-percent career free-throw shooter, 23.5 ppg, 7.6 apg as a senior).
Richard Roby says, "He's an intelligent player. He has a really good feel for the game. He can shoot the ball really well, too."
Ricardo Patton feels it. He said Kal Bay could end up being the steal of the recruiting class in the Big 12.
Kal Bay cracks a smile outside of Folsom Field.
Check it out. I ask Mr. Serious if he enjoys the leadership part that comes with being a good point guard. The freshman lays down this dissertation.
"I enjoy the role," he says. "You need to be an extension of the coach on the floor, first of all. You need to be able to lead your team. You need to be able to face adversity. You need to be able to stand up and continue forward. Whatever you do, your teammates are going to see that and probably go that same way. So I need to, no matter what, always keep my head up. Always be prepared before games. I need to just show them that I am a leader and I'm going to lead this team and everything's going to be alright. Whether we're down 10, up 10, we're going to stay focused, no matter what."
I've been covering CU basketball closely since '97, Ricardo Patton's first full year as boss on the bench in Boulder. Leadership — lack of it — on the floor, among the players, has sometimes — OK, often — been an issue. On one of the most talented teams Patton has produced — the 2003-04 squad, with the potent trio of David Harrison, Michel Morandais and Blair Wilson in the lineup — leadership was, shall we say, diluted. That team didn't make the NCAA Tournament.
More to the point: Who was the last true pass-first-but-could-still-score-when-needed point guard this team had? Let's go down the list: Dominique Coleman — if the point-guard shoe don't fit, wear the two-guard's shoe. Marcus Hall – a two guard in a point-guard body. Jayson Obazuaye – a small forward in a point-guard body. Antoine McGee – low TOs, no O. Mookie Wright – Fast as a jet, and yet. Chevis Brimmer — I don't remember. Jose Winston – great defender, couldn't shoot. Jaquay Walls — scorer's instincts. Dwight Jones, Marlon Hughes — nice guys, but… Shoot, they're all nice guys and good people and solid college athletes and all deserve respect for sweatin' and sheddin' blood for the black and gold.
But it's been since ‘97 since CU has had a leader, a really-make-the-guys-around-him-better-kind-of-player at the point. Chauncey Billups, OK?
(Did I mention I'm not comparing Kal Bay to Chauncey Billups? I'm not stupid).
Let's look at how Mr. Serious did at really making the guys around him better in high school.
Marcos de Niza in Tempe, Ariz., was 7-1 last winter with Kal at the point. He had already verballed to Colorado. Then The Incident occurred. Mr. Serious was Mr. Suspended the rest of de Niza's season. After being ranked No. 1 with a 7-1 record, de Niza won three games the rest of the way without Kal in the lineup.
OK, let's talk about The Incident. Cuz that's what you all have been thinking about since you clicked this link. Isn't Kal Bay that kid who went all Ron Artest on somebody in high school and got kicked off the team?
Yes and no. Or, rather, no and yes. No, Kal Bay did not go all Ron Artest on somebody at a basketball game. Yes, Kal Bay got kicked off the team by the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA).
I wasn't there, but you talk to enough people and read enough accounts and you get a pretty good picture. Here's what happened: de Niza is on the road. Kal is playing well and, as usual, is a magnet for verbal taunts from the opposing team's fans. Kal fouls out late in the game and heads to the bench. Kal notices a boozed up fan giving him the business. Kal sees his friend, a girl he goes to school with, applauding Kal, then walking down toward the de Niza bench. Kal sees the boozed up fan start giving his friend the business. Kal sees his Mom — who was at the game with Kal's friend — come to intervene with what appears to be a potentially ugly scene between Mr. Booze and Kal's friend. When Mom gets to the girl and the fan, Kal sees the fan raise his hand and threaten Mom. Kal starts into the stands to protect Mom, but is stopped by a de Niza team official before he gets very far into the stands.
Security people finally respond and kick the drunk fan out of the arena, and make Mom and friend wait in the lobby for the rest of the game.
A few days later, Kal, his coach and teammates and family are informed of a new AIA zero-tolerance policy regarding student-athletes who enter the stands to confront a fan.
Kal Bay is suspended from his team for the remainder of the season.
In good ol' fashioned Soviet-styled justice, neither the Bays, their lawyer, nor the de Niza team, are afforded any kind of hearing about The Incident. The matter is not reviewable per the AIA policy. (For the first two weeks of the suspension, Kal is not allowed to attend any de Nizo games. After that, he is not allowed to sit on the same side of the arena as his team).
Here's my take: If you don't go into the stands to protect Mom from a drunk's fist, you should be kicked off something. Off the team, out of school, out of the country, off the planet. It's a common sentiment. Kal has heard it from most of the people he's talked to about The Incident. And even if he knew about the AIA no-tolerance policy about entering the stands …"Quite honestly, I don't know if I would have reacted any differently," he says. "I have one mother. That was the biggest concern for me."
So, after the suspension, after being denied the opportunity to do what he loves because he was standing up for his mother, there was nothing left for Mr. Serious to do except turn bitter and vindictive and generally pissed off at the world.
Wait, apparently there were other options. Something about learning from the situation?
"It taught me to face adversity and run through it," he says. "You can either stop right there or run through it. That was huge for me. My family, and God above, thank Him, is why I got through that, and why I'll continue to get through things, no matter how rough it gets with me."
When you're down 5 with 30 seconds to go, you want someone with that attitude on the court wearing the same uniform as you.
But Kal Bay knows about adversity that's got nothing to do with basketball, too. He saw up close how rough it got with his boyhood pal, Brandon Hendrick, who got cancer in his knee and nearly had to have his leg amputated a while back. Doctors were able to save Hendrick's leg, and he's been cancer free now for a while. He goes to school at Arizona State. But he no longer plays basketball, like he and Kal did nearly since they could walk.
"It not only changed his life but it changed my life and my family's – just the perspective of looking at it," Kal Bay says. Now, since moving to Boulder, Mr. Serious is also serious about helping other, less fortunate people. He's the first men's basketball player in six years at CU to serve on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, a leadership group that sponsors shoe drives, food drives and visits to area children's hospitals, among other things.
"That's really something that I want to do – help people," he says. "There's more to life than just basketball – although that is what I do every day."
Yeah, Kal, but this is Boulder. You're a freshman. What about the party scene at Colorado? It's legendary. What's the word?
This is where Mr. Serious smiles. He even starts to laugh. (Whew. I was getting worried.)
"Actually, I don't party, so I wouldn't know," he chuckles. "I don't go out. I'm usually working on my game or reading my Bible or a book."
Straight up straight edge.
Here are some of Kal Bay's thoughts on some pertinent issues:
On he and his fellow freshmen feeling a responsibility to win for Ricardo Patton in order for the coach to get a contract extension
"We've talked about that amongst ourselves as players. All the freshmen that came in, one of the main reasons we came here was Coach Patton himself. Not only as a basketball coach, but outside of basketball he's a great man, and we respect him very much. He's the main reason I came here. The rest of the team, I think, agrees with that. We want him here for the rest of our years here. So we do feel like we want to go out and win for him, so he can get that contract extension."
On Teammate Richard Roby
"Richard is a very smart player. I don't think enough people give him credit for that. They just look at his athletic ability. But he's a very smart player. He has a very high basketball IQ, understands the game, and appreciates the game.
"Playing pickup, I love playing with him on my team. He competes and wants to win and does the things necessary to do that. He not only scores, but he knows how to set screens, he knows how to look for the open guy. He's great moving without the ball. He watches videos of guys like Rip Hamilton and Reggie Miller and how they move without the ball. I think he's going to do very well this year for us."
NOTES: Bay suffered from shin splints last season, but underwent some aggressive treatment this summer and thinks that's behind him. He's only at about 80 percent right now, though, because of an ankle sprain. He should be fine by the opening of practice, which begins Oct. 13. …It's Roby's birthday today, Sept. 28. He turns 21. He sprained both of his ankles recently, but will begin working out on the court Sunday. He looks bigger than last year after an offseason in the weightroom. Said he's 205 right now after playing at 195 last season. …The basketball floor at Coors has a new paint job. The keys are black and the center court logo has been updated.