A couple years ago Cole Bajema was a 6'1" shooting guard at a 1A school in Lynden, Washington who was barely more likely to get a Big Ten basketball scholarship than a ham sandwich*. Now he's a 6'7" shooting guard headed to Michigan, and he doesn't even qualify as a sleeper any more. That says something about Bajema, who blew up when his unsponsored AAU team finally got to a tournament with scouts at it, and something about John Beilein, who treated Bajema like a major priority as soon as he saw him at camp:
During the first weekend of the July evaluation period, Michigan assistant coach DeAndre Haynes flew from an event in Atlanta to Seattle to watch Bajema. The following weekend in Pomona, California, Beilein was one of the first people in the gym, according to Brady, for Bajema's 8 a.m. tip-off. And last weekend, Beilein was in Vegas to get another look.
Though Bajema was not the only player Michigan was scouting at these events, he was a focal point.
"It never felt like Cole was on the back-burner or not a priority," Brady said. "It was interesting to see how much effort they put in for a kid on the Canadian border who nobody had really heard of."
The pure misery of the mid-major coaches when they saw Beilein walk into the gym must have been something.
Let's play the Feud!
*[it's reporting a Rutgers offer]
|3*, NR||NR||4*, 95 rating
#61 overall, #17 SF
Most of the scouting services haven't caught up with Bajema just yet. He was also in the virtually unranked bucket at 24/7 until his commitment prompted them to release his post-blowup ranking a bit early. A couple of Rivals analysts have mentioned Bajema positively on Twitter so he might get the same kind of bump there when they get around to it. Who knows about ESPN these days but they do have a couple of guys who scout the AAU scene pretty heavily. It might take them longer since they just did an update.
The upshot is that Bajema is probably going to be a consensus top 100 guy and his composite probably won't differ much from his current 24/7 ranking. A sleeper he is not. He's also more or less done being evaluated. He can go back to Lynden and score 80 points a game and nobody will see it. Which is fine.
[Hit THE JUMP for scouting, video, and the rest.]
Literally everything not from UMHoops is based off a couple of open-entry AAU tournaments that Bajema starred in a earlier this summer, so there's no development story here. It's "here's this guy. He's pretty good." Virtually anyone who saw Bajema named him to some sort of risers list. 24/7's Josh Gershon:
"...good size and length, impressive athleticism, a pure shooting stroke with range to the perimeter, ball skills, a quick first step, crafty finishing ability and plus vision. He has nothing but upside as there's plenty of room for him to gain strength and as does, his game should only continue to improve."
Bajema featured in two other posts about players standing out in Las Vegas...
...breakout ... good size for the position, is very physically immature with plenty of room to get stronger and has an impressive skill set. Bajema has range to three with his jumper, can really pass it, has a respectable handle and is pretty good athlete.
Aaand there it is:
... has a lot of value as a shooter, but he’s not just that. He showed good footwork, fine mechanics, deep range and the ability to deck it and make a play. He’s still thin at this stage, but he’s extremely fluid, has long arms and is oozing with potential.
I wish I could bet on these things.
Elsewhere, Rivals's Eric Bossi also named him a riser after Las Vegas because he "looked like one of the best shooters in the country" and "can put the ball on the floor to create shots and moves pretty well laterally." That latter will be important if he's really going to be a 6'7" two-guard.
His coach on the game that got him his first big offers:
“The game that kind of sealed the deal for most of the guys came against Howard Pulley. They’ve got solid players across the board,” Brady said. “We started the game down 20-4, but Cole scored the next 17 and went to work. He put it on the floor, finished through contract, and ones, deep threes against a team that’s good loaded with solid, Division I guys throughout the roster.
“He took over. They switched four or five defenders on him, but it didn’t work. He had 31 points, and really showed he was not only capable of playing well, but doing it against high-level competition."
And a more general take from him:
“He’s great in ball-screen situations, which he’ll have a chance to do in that system. I think he projects as a play-making combo guard,” Brady said. “He’s a fantastic ball-handler in the half-court. He can shoot it on his own, he’s got great vision, and he’s got the length to see over the defense. He can actually capitalize on (his vision), he can make all the passes that he needs to make.”
And Matt Bain goes old school ESPN BOOM BANG scouting:
He played guard his whole life and entered high school at 6-1 before spurting up to 6-7 by his junior year. His handle is crisp. His passing is pinpoint. His long-range shot is a high-arching beauty. His decision-making off a ball screen is smart. His first step is quicker than what you’d expect from a 6-7 player.
“If he’s a 6-7 wing with his weight, he’s maybe not quite a high-major player. But as a combo guard at 6-7 — with the way he shoots it, the way he handles it, the way he passes it — all of a sudden that became very interesting to (schools),” Brady said. “I think people are starting to see what he is as a basketball player — that he can be a combo guard, he can be a 6-7 creator. He’s not a wing; he’s a guy where you put the ball in his hands and he makes plays for people.”
There's also an extensive profile from the local paper if you want to know the particular mania it takes to be a D-I player in Lynden.
Xavier, Virginia, Oregon State, and Washington offered after Bajema's breakout AAU performance. Various mid-majors had also offered.
Lynden Christian has not sent any basketball players to DI in the Rivals era. Luke Ridnour is from nearby Blaine, though. Bajema was named 1A player of the year but mostly I'm linking this because "Nooksack Valley." Heh.
23 PPG in high school.
Tape from Las Vegas:
This is from last year:
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
A super-sized, rail-thin combo guard sounds like Caris Levert again, doesn't it? Your other recent comparable is, yes, Nik Stauskas, who became a 6'6" combo guard and pick-and-roll expert in his second and final year in Ann Arbor. I like 'em both.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Bajema and TX SF Jalen Wilson are likely it for now. Michigan's already oversigned by one, technically; I imagine Charles Matthews was explicit that this was his last year when he decided to return. Adding a third player to the class would (probably) require Michigan to have a pretty good idea that someone else was headed for a transfer or the pros. That's possible but Michigan is unlikely to be confident enough in that departure until the late signing period.
At that point the only players left on the board are the five star one-and-done types and deep sleepers. Michigan is in on WA PF Jaden McDaniels, sort of. Franz Wagner is also out there, being a Wagner. If it's not Wagner, a third player in the class is more likely to be a Caris Levert sort who Beilein unearths.