Paterson's Bailey waiting for shot to shine at Memphis
Thursday, March 15, 2007
By KEITH IDEC
As the University of Memphis men's basketball team prepares for the "Big Dance," the man nicknamed "Big City" is trying to stay focused on the big picture.
Paterson's Hashim Bailey probably won't play much, if at all, when the second-seeded Tigers play 15th-seeded North Texas University on Friday at 12:30 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in New Orleans. But the maturing freshman forward/center has accepted a reduced role he considers temporary and intends to remain a model teammate as Memphis attempts a realistic run at the Final Four.
"I'm just going through a learning experience right now, seeing how it is to play at this level," Bailey said. "I'm just a freshman, and I've got two other guys playing in front of me that were here last year. I'm just waiting for my chance."
The 6-foot-10 Bailey believed he would've received his chance to become a regular rotation player for John Calipari's Tigers early in his freshman season. He has played only 28 combined minutes in Memphis' 33 games, however, and appeared mostly late in nine blowout wins for the one-time Nets coach. The former Passaic Tech standout has nevertheless endeared himself to teammates and coaches in recent months by becoming a committed practice player and improving in the classroom.
He is an example, though, that for every Kevin Durant or Greg Oden, there are several Baileys or Derrick Caracters, players that for various reasons need more time to acclimate themselves to the elite level of college basketball before they can reach the potential they flashed as prep players.
"All freshmen go through growing pains," said Memphis assistant coach Derek Kellogg, a former University of Massachusetts point guard who recruited Bailey. "Whether it's not playing enough, being away from home, the adjustment of doing a lot of things you're not used to, nor do you really want to do, Hashim has had some of those growing pains.
"But at the same time, he has always kept a good attitude, he's gotten better in practice and has done a great job preparing some of the guys who are maybe playing a little bit more, to get them ready for the type of schedule we play. When you're a really, really good team is when you have two or three guys on the bench that should probably be playing."
Memphis' 22-game winning streak and the school's No. 5 ranking in The Associated Press Top 25 poll has helped Bailey understand why Calipari has afforded him such limited time on the court. It hasn't hurt, either, that the two-time Herald News All-Area selection is practicing every day against junior Joey Dorsey, who was named first team All-Conference USA and its defensive player of the year, and sophomore Kareem Cooper, who receives regular minutes for a team that hasn't lost since a Dec. 20 defeat at Arizona.
Knowing there is plenty of room for improvement before he can earn significant playing time for one of the top programs in the country has enabled Bailey to resist thinking he made a mistake in choosing Memphis over Pitt, St. John's and South Florida in May 2005.
"To reach his potential, 'City' needs to be pushed, prodded and abused by someone who knows what it takes to succeed and make it to the next level," said Wayne's Mike Boorman, a Passaic Tech assistant who remains close with Bailey. "Going somewhere else, where he's going to be handed 30 minutes a game, wouldn't have been good for him."
Calipari, Kellogg and Richard Hogans, Memphis' strength and conditioning coach, have been pushing Bailey to lose weight since he arrived on campus in June, following a season at the Patterson School, a prep program in Lenoir, N.C. The 275-pound Bailey said he has lost roughly 25 pounds since he came to Memphis, but Kellogg thinks he needs to lose about 15 more to be an effective post player in Memphis' up-tempo system. If Bailey sheds the additional weight, Kellogg contends he could become a "great" defensive player because he has long arms, doesn't shy away from contact and has played and practiced hard when his wind allows it.
"The thing that's still a work in progress is he's still not in major college shape yet," Kellogg said. "He's gotten better, but he's still got a little ways to go. He needs to lose a little bit more weight, and he needs to do a lot of running in the offseason to help him keep up with the pace of the game. He's a big kid who has good hands. He finishes around the basket with dunks. He plays hard only in spurts right now because he's not in great shape."
Bailey acknowledges that he has had to adjust to playing at Memphis' fast pace, yet he is certain he can become a consistent contributor next season because conditioning won't be an issue.
"It's been a little frustrating sitting on the bench," said Bailey, a third team Associated Press All-State selection after his senior season with the Bulldogs. "But I've just got to get used to running a lot. We run and gun. I'm a big man, but I'm keeping up with them now. I'm getting myself in shape with them. It's good for me. I'm getting experience. I'll just come back next year and come stronger and harder."
Meanwhile, he'll enjoy his first "March Madness" experience, no matter how many minutes he plays. After watching another center from Paterson, Syracuse senior Darryl Watkins, get shut out of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, Bailey realizes that he cannot take these opportunities for granted.
"I appreciate it a lot," Bailey said. "I'm on a team that's in the NCAA Tournament. I always watched it when I was a little kid. I hoped and dreamed of being in it. I finally got here and it's going to be a good experience for me, to see what's going on and come back my next three years to get back there again."
Reach Keith Idec at 973-569-7073 or email@example.com.