October 4, 2005

Proving The Doubters Wrong

Oct. 4, 2005

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    Raising three children in Fairbanks, Alaska, Michelle Stalder became a fan of the San Antonio Spurs because of a 7-foot center, who was an even better man off the court, David Robinson. She now has another reason to root for the NBA champs -- her son Kyle Bailey has been invited to the Spurs' training camp in the Virgin Islands.

    About a month ago, Bailey was wondering where his career would take him. He preferred to wait for a shot in the NBDL and the CBA draft, not ready to get "real job." Advisors told him his best shot would be to be visible in the states rather than try and build a résumé overseas.

    That advice paid off more than anyone could have imagined. Other than playing with Kobe Bryant, a shot at the Spurs is the ultimate opportunity for Bailey.

    "I really didn't know what was going to happen," said Bailey. "I'm just so grateful to God for giving me this opportunity."

    Before the training camp invitation, the point guard was caught off guard by getting a call to come and work out with the group. How long did it take before he accepted the invite?

    "About as long as it took to get the words out of my mouth," he remarked.

    Bailey wasn't alone in hoping for this shot since a number of point guards were invited to compete for a shot at attending training camp. One by one they were brought in but sent home soon thereafter. Bailey was left standing at the end as the one of 10 players to make training camp.

    In covering Kyle's five-year run at SCU, I'd often check along press row and see if there were scouts in attendance. They were there quite often -- generally to see SCU's opponent or envision what Doron Perkins could be at the next level with a more consistent jump shot. Bailey doesn't blow people away with blazing speed, didn't shoot a high percentage, nor was he considered a lock-down defender like Perkins. However, the numbers were hard to ignore: 2nd all-time in threes behind Nash, 3rd in steals, 4th in assists.

    So many coaches succumb to the NFL scouting-combine-syndrome. "How high does he jump?" "What's his 40 time?" "How much can he bench?"

    The third game of the year raised my eyebrows when Bailey led a 38-point rout of North Carolina A&T by making split second decisions on the run and was dazzling in an open-court NBA style game. Of course, Kyle jumped to the forefront in the win over mighty North Carolina, scoring 20 points in the upset of a team that would win the national title with 4 players taken in the top 14 of the draft.

    There were other huge games: 29 against Cal Poly, 26 against Gonzaga and 20 of his 26 in the 2nd half to lead a comeback at San Francisco. What those three games had in common was that they were all Bronco losses. Kyle was trying to keep the team afloat without a lot of help and that has a great deal to do with his collegiate shooting percentage. He had the moxie take the big shot when few others would be willing to step forward.

    His situation now is entirely different and Coach Gregg Popovich has been impressed with Bailey's intelligence, knowing he doesn't have to be "the man."

    "I'm just taking what's there for me and just focusing on the individual components of my game: pick and roll, floaters in the lane and making a shot when the ball is rotated out of Tim Duncan in the post," Bailey says.

    Bailey knows he's not an odds-on favorite to make the final roster with Tony Parker, Beno Udrih and Nick Van Exel as the other point guards in camp. Unless something unsual happens, a trade or an injury seems to be the most likely ways of latching on to the team. Either way, he'll be fine with a major deal in Europe on the table at the very least.

    There's a tough, cool exterior that belies an inner sensitivity. When he told me he wasn't bothered by missing a last-second shot or getting left of the all-conference team as a junior I didn't believe him. However, those setbacks along with a back injury that wiped out his sophomore year didn't wipe out his spirit. Always driven, Bailey would come back for more, fighting to win while acknowledging there were more important issues in his life, like his faith.

    A message for Kyle Bailey: If this training camp doesn't lead to a career in the NBA, I know you'll be just fine. But while you're there, never wonder if you could have done more, exerted more effort to be regarded as little more than practice fodder for the boyfriend of a desperate housewife. Just like North Carolina, shock the world and make it happen. Prove your doubters wrong again. You've been doing that for a long time.