Bazemore inks with Golden State

Published 11:07 am Tuesday, August 14, 2012

KELFORD – What are the odds of two professional basketball players coming from off the old Kelford playground?

It became a reality last month when Kent Bazemore joined Jessica Breland in the pro hoop ranks.

Breland, the former Bertie High star, played collegiately for North Carolina and was later the 13th overall pick in 2011 in the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) draft.  Breland also plays overseas in Israel.

Bazemore, another former Falcon, closed out his collegiate career last winter as the two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) while playing for Old Dominion.

He signed his free-agent pro deal with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors on July 27.

Last week the 6′ -5″ guard-forward visited family back in Bertie County and took time out to discuss the whirlwind four-month journey from college to the pros.

Bazemore was a first-team All-CAA selection, averaging 15.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and three assists his senior year; scoring a career high 37 points on Senior Night against Drexel. He reached the 1,000 career point mark in December against Richmond and is only one of four Monarchs with over 200 career steals.

During his junior year he won the Lefty Driesell Award as best defensive player in the nation. His legacy is ODU’s 20th all-time scorer with 1,416 career points, second all-time steals leader with 250 and his 140 career games played is a new school record,

In March the Monarchs, the 2011 CAA champs, were eliminated from the 2012 conference tournament and Bazemore later played a couple of games in the post-season Tournament.

April brought the first of several showcases for the pro and overseas scouts. The first was the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational April 11-14.

“I didn’t play particularly well,” he said during a telephone interview. “My workouts were better and I found out one or two teams were interested in me.

“I figured better to make my mistakes now than later,” he added.

In May, Bazemore graduated from ODU with not one, but two degrees in both Human Services and Criminal Justice.

“That was my biggest accomplishment,” he said, proudly. “My Mom’s been big on academics since my days at West Bertie (Elementary School); plus, I wanted to break the stereotype.”

On the last day of May, Bazemore went to Portland, Oregon for two days of workouts.

“Guys like Tyler Zeller, Chris Joseph and Gary Simmons were there,” he said. “It was a good experience for me because I had to play with another gear because of the speed of the game.”

In early June Bazemore had his first workout for the Golden State Warriors, performing in front of assistant coach Pete Myers.

“That was my best workout and they said they really liked my defensive effort and my hustle,” he said.

Myers would later say that Bazemore had skills that can’t be coached.

June turned out to be Bazemore’s busiest month as he went from one workout to the next. He spent a week in Houston with former Maryland star and ex-NBA coach, John Lucas.

“He talked a lot with me about playing hard; how to play through the fatigue, both mental and physical,” said Bazemore. “That really helped my mentality for the game.”

In all, Bazemore attended nine workouts before the NBA draft, racking up quite a lot of frequent flyer miles flying in and out of Norfolk airport. Finally, the draft came on June 28.

“I wanted to hear my name,” he said, reflecting back on that Thursday night in New Jersey as he watched from his apartment in Tidewater. “I wanted it for my family because everybody knows that you’ve made it.”

Instead, he watched as more-heralded players like UNC’s Harrison Barnes and Michigan State’s Draymond Green were picked by the Warriors. The team would even later call him and tell him they were going to use their final picks on foreign players.

“It was just another piece of motivation for me,” said Bazemore. “I knew I’d just have to prove myself.  All my life all the way through college I’ve had my back against the wall. I said to myself, ‘Just play hard’.”

The following week, ironically on his birthday of July 1, Bazemore got a call from one of the teams he had worked out for, the Oklahoma City Thunder, to play on their NBA Summer League team in Orlando.

However, Bazemore suffered a hyper-extended knee and ended up passing up the week of play in Florida.

“I watched it on TV,” he said. “Sitting back and watching helped me with the transition to pro ball.”

As fate would have it, a second chance came with the second set of Summer League games in Las Vegas a week later.  He flew to Nevada only to sit out the first two of five games. He would start the third game against Miami only to tweak his knee a second time.

Fortunately, he recouped quickly and was on the floor for the fourth game against the Chicago Bulls and what a game he played. Bazemore became the buzz of the week with an 11-point, eight rebound, seven blocked-shots performance.

“That’s when I really staked my claim,” he said with the pride rising in his voice. “I got a chance to play at to show I belonged.”

After a final game against New Orleans, where his team finished the run 5-0, Bazemore said his agent, Austin Walton’s phone was “blowing up.”  A total of four teams were interested in signing him now: Golden State, Atlanta, New Orleans and Chicago.

Chicago and New Orleans would later pull out of the running and Bazemore was leaning toward inking with Atlanta though he’d spent more time with Golden State.

“I’d learned their plays, so I thought I might have some leverage,” he said.

As the final week of July approached Atlanta was still his priority, though they were only offering one year. Then, the Warriors stepped forward and offered him a two-year deal with a partial guarantee for both years.

He also had a connection to the franchise in Charles Jenkins; the former Hofstra player who Bazemore had faced back in the CAA. The two kept in touch and Jenkins has helped Bazemore along.

On Friday, July 27, he flew to Oakland, California and signed at the Warriors practice facility.

“It still hasn’t hit me yet,” he said, as you sensed the wonderment of it all in his voice. “I’m still working out at ODU, hitting the weight room, getting ready.”

Bazemore said he’s now rooting for his younger brother, Wykevin, another former Bertie Falcons hoopster who just finished his freshman year with Winston-Salem State University and was named CIAA “Rookie of the Year.”

“Growing up with Jessica we were told that one day we would both be in the league,” he added. “There were some people who doubted us.  When she made it I was happy and somehow knew my time would come.”

Asked about the odds of this happening and Bazemore called it, “slim-to-none”.

“We both had praying mothers and I think it paid off,” he said. “Sometimes all you have is family, and in the end, that means a lot.”