As a junior last season, Jordan Bachynski turned a lot of heads on his way towards setting a Pac-12 record for blocked shots in a season (120) while becoming one of the premiere big men in the league, averaging 9.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. So many, in fact, that it earned the Calgary native an invitation to join the Canada National Development Team over the summer to continue his development and earn some valuable experience participating in international competition.
"I loved it," said Bachynski on Thursday at Arizona State's basketball media day on his busy summer. "I was able to receive coaching all summer which is really tough to get it in college basketball because in the summer, as you know, the coaches aren't allowed to coach their players and I was able to be with NBA guys and great coaches and I received a lot of great input."
Bachynski joined the team in June before traveling to China for a 15 day trip that included nine games in six cities in just 11 days. From planes to buses and a slew of games in between, Bachysnki admitted the experience had its highs and lows, but ultimately benefitted him in the end.
"It put everything in perspective," remarked Bachynski. "Like, when I went to China with the Canada team the first time, it was a tough trip. I mean, the food was horrible, travel was tough, and the games were back-to-back. We had nine games in 11 days, with travel, so it was really tough but I definitely think it made me tougher."
"So this year, when we have the Pac-12 tournament or three games in one week, that's nothing. So hopefully I'm going to be able to carry that over and apply that."
Something else that was quickly put into perspective for Bachynski on his first trip to China was that no matter where he went, he was going to stand out and be the target of a lot of awkward looks and stares by many of the local natives.
"Even in the States I get it. Everywhere I go, people ask me how tall I am and whether I play basketball," he said. "With the Canada team, we were in more remote places that were less exposed to Western culture and the translator was telling us that a lot of people there had never seen a white person, so even the guys who were 6-2, 6-3 on the team, they were just like, 'Oh my gosh, you're so tall.' So it was just to the Nth degree that I was getting it. We would go somewhere and people would just swarm us."
Immediately following the team's 15-day trek through China, Bachynski and his fellow Canadian teammates flew to Russia to compete in the University World Championship Games, where the Team Canada placed fourth after falling to Serbia in the bronze medal game. For Bachynski though, the highlight was defeating the U.S. team in a hard fought 94-85 contest that allowed the center to show off some of his offseason improvements against other college players.
"There were great players everywhere we went," said Bachynski. "I think the best competition was when I was with the Canada team and we went to the World University games in Russia. There were really, really good players on every team. We played the U.S. and beat them, which was a huge highlight for me. And then we ended up losing to Russia and there were just a phenomenal team. We played well together and had phenomenal talent and I was just really able to develop my game all summer."
Aside from the experienced international competition he faced, Bachynski credits the constant coaching he received throughout the summer as the greatest benefit to his game heading into his senior season at Arizona State. Not only was he able to further develop many of his offensive moves, but he also added a few wrinkles to his skillet in an effort to become a more complete offensive threat this season.
"I realize that at the next level, a lot of bigs have to guard out on the perimeter and have to play out on the perimeter, whether it's getting a pass on a dribble handoff or one dribble hard penetration to get a lay-up or shot and I'm just really trying to develop that," he commented. "I feel like I've also really learned to play a lot lower. Throughout my career I've had a hard time with leg strength and being able to play low for long periods of time. With the help of Coach Rich (Wenner) and being able to play this summer, my lower body has gotten a lot stronger."
To go along with his new low post and perimeter skills, Bachynski devoted time towards increasing strength and conditioning, while also learning to diet properly, even while on the road. He reported to camp 10-15 pounds heavier than last season, but insists that it's good weight and has allowed him to be more active on the court and play more minutes at a time.
"For one thing, I'm in way better shape," he noted. "Coach Rich has been really pushing the whole team and that's one thing that I've really noticed. Before I was playing about 30 minutes a game at the end of the season and by the end of the game I was just gassed. Now in practice, when we're running and stuff, I've noticed that I'm a lot less tired and am able to go for longer periods than I was before.
"I'm not 16 anymore. I can't just go to McDonald's and be fine for practice. I have to eat the right things and give my body the proper fuel so it can build itself."
Before Arizona State began its preseason practices, Bachynski traveled back to China, this time with his Sun Devil teammates for a 10-day exhibition that included three games against Chinese professional and amateur teams. ASU won all three of its games but for Bachynski, being able to bond with his coaches and teammates in such a fun and unique way was what made the trip most memorable.
"I loved it," he said. "We just had a ton of time to really bond as a team and just get to know each other. We see each other constantly on the court, but that's in one environment. It was great to see everyone in a different environment and hang out with them and get to know them on a personally level.
"Me and Sai (Tummala) really clicked while we were in China. We went shopping together and just hung out a lot. Me and Bo (Barnes) were roommates, so we got to see a lot of each other. I really like my teammates. They're really great guys and they're fun guys to hang out with."
On Monday, Arizona State began its official preseason practices. The team opens the season on November 8th against the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and will play an upgraded non-conference schedule before the start of Pac-12 in January. Not only do the Sun Devils play host to Marquette and Texas Tech, but will also travel to take on UNLV and DePaul and will play in the Wooden Legacy Tournament in Anaheim, where they'll face Creighton in the opening round.
After playing an often criticized non-conference schedule in recent years, Bachynski says he looks forward to the challenges the team will face.
"I think it's going to be great for us," he said of the schedule. "We kind of had an easier schedule last year and this year I just feel like we're going to be a lot more prepared going into the Pac-12 season."
Arizona State fell just short of qualifying for the NCAA tournament last year, something they hope to change heading into the new season. In order for the team to achieve its goal, Bachynski and point guard Jahii Carson, the Pac-12's Co-Freshman of the Year in 2012, will be expected to lead the way.
While both players enjoyed unusually busy summers - Carson participated in the Deron Williams and Adidas basketball camps in June and July - the big man insists the two have improved their chemistry and are poised to create a formidable two-man threat for the Sun Devils.
"Me and Jahii really get along both on and off the court. I love playing with him, especially in China," commented Bachynski. "He's become a more well-rounded player. He's not only a driver now, he's a great passer as well. He's really worked on his passing over the summer and I really noticed it in China. He'd drive, and instead of going through two or three guys like last year, he'd pass it out to Bo (Barnes) on the wing for a three, or me for an alley-oop.
"He's become an incredible passer and he's really worked hard on it and it's really starting to show."
In an effort to help utilize the blazing-quick speed of Carson and improved conditioning of Bachynski, the Sun Devils have used a 24 second shot clock in recent practices as they learn to play at a quicker pace on offense. While it's been adjustment for the center, Bachynski says it's been a welcomed addition to the team's offensive set and has helped improved the team's play.
"Apparently one of the reasons why we're running this is because we have big guys who can run the floor," he said. "I remember playing against guys who could barely get down the floor in a 35 second shot clock and I'm not one of those guys. Now that I'm in better shape, I'm able to run the floor a lot better and I was able to do that a lot more in China and I really like it.
"We've switched up a lot of things. It's never good to be comfortable because it means we're not pushing ourselves, so I'd say I'm understanding things a lot better and applying what I know a lot better, but I still have things I can improve on and I'm working to improve upon those things."
The season begins in approximately five weeks for the Sun Devils and even after a busy summer, Bachynski insists he can't wait to get started. Slimmer, stronger, and with a wealth of new knowledge and experience, Bachynski hopes to help lead the Sun Devils back towards the top of the Pac-12 in 2013.
"I'm just trying to get better every day and improve upon what I've already done and take the next step, so improvement is my goal," he said. "As for the team, we definitely have goals but just need to remember to take it step-by-step. Any Given Sunday, one of my favorite speeches is, 'It's a game of inches," and I know that's football but it's definitely about basketball as well. It's just day-by-day, practice-by-practice, play-by-play."