LAS VEGAS — About a week after this year’s Final Four, Donald Brady sent John Beilein an email.
It was the kind of email Brady knew Michigan’s head coach received hundreds of every day:
Hi, I’m ___ and I coach ___. Here’s the link to his film. Please take a look!
But Brady, the 17U coach at FOH Seattle sent the email anyway. One of his players, Cole Bajema, was going to Michigan’s elite camp in June, and he wanted to do anything he could to get his name in Beilein’s head.
A few days letter, Brady got a call at about 10:30 in the morning.
The phone number had an Ann Arbor area code.
“I never expected that I’d pick up the phone and I’d hear, ‘Hey Coach Brady? This is John Beilein from Michigan,’” Brady said. “I never expected to hear from him. Ever.
“To have an email lead to a phone call from a national finalist head coach is pretty impressive.”
Beilein told Brady he liked what he saw. Bajema, a 6-foot-7 guard, capitalized on the early interest and excelled at Michigan’s elite camp. The Wolverines kept track of him during the first two evaluation periods of July — and they were the only high-major on his trail.
Last week in Las Vegas, Washington, Washington State, Utah, Virginia, Minnesota, Xavier, Northwestern, Virginia and Oregon State joined U-M in the bleachers for Bajema’s games. And Washington, Xavier, Oregon State and Virginia offered.
If Michigan wants him, it might want to consider an offer, too. Soon.
“They just said keep playing hard and maybe the offer could be yours. Who knows — just play hard,” Bajema said at the Las Vegas Classic. “I like Coach Beilein and the coaching staff. (Assistant coach Luke) Yaklich, all of them, they’re great guys, getting to meet them in person.”
Beilein is as good as any coach in the country at unearthing talent.
Caris Levert was a low 3-star shooting guard, not even in the top 200. Now, he plays for the Brooklyn Nets. Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman wasn’t even in the top 400 when Beilein recruited him. Now, he’s the program’s record-holder for most games played (144).
Bajema was an unknown, low-major prospect from a tiny school near the Washington-Canada border when Beilein discovered him. Now, he’s one of the country’s fastest-rising 2019 prospects with an offer from last year’s No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
“Michigan interest kind of spurred a lot of it,” Bajema said with a little smile.
Beilein may have helped put him on the map, but Bajema has ignited his stock with his level of play.
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.”
After watching Bajema play, it’s easy to wonder why in the world it took so long for him to get on the map. The likely reason?
Location, location, location.
Bajema lives in Lynden, Wash., a 5-square-mile city with about 15,000 people most known for its Dutch architecture. It sits 5 miles south of the Canadian border, and Bajema drives 2 hours to practice with FOH Seattle two times a week.
He won a state title last year with Lynden Christian in the state’s smallest class, 1A, and he won that class’ player of the year honor.
“He might be a kid up in the corner of the country,” Brady said. “But he can play. And he’s proven it.”
Currently, Michigan has offers out to two other 2019 guards in four-star Rocket Watts and four-star Joe Girard. The Wolverines’ 2019-20 roster is technically full with Jalen Wilson’s commitment, but the annual attrition of college basketball will likely leave Beilein with at least one more scholarship to play with.
Bajema also holds from Eastern Washington, Pepperdine, Portland, San Francisco, Santa Clara and UC Santa Barbara. He’ll likely take unofficial visits this August, and he said Michigan is a definite possibility for a visit.
“Honestly, just where I can find the best fit, best coach,” Bajema said of which school he’ll pick. “Talk with my family after Vegas is over, just talk with my family and see where it takes me.”