TEMPE, Ariz. — Jordan Bachynski was impatient, antsy — traits diametrically opposed to the ones that have made him the best shot-blocker in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the nation.
He had just returned from a two-year LDS mission to South Florida, which might as well have been Mars. He had been given the opportunity to shoot baskets maybe once a week, but that was not his purpose.
Austin Ainge and other Mormon friends advised Bachynski that it would take at least a year for him to regain the form that made him one of the top recruits in the hemisphere in 2007, when UConn was among the suitors who came to Calgary, Alberta, to check on Bachynski.
Bachynski did not want to hear it. Not me, he thought.
In hindsight, his friends were right. It has taken time, even more than anticipated because Bachynski not only missed court time while on his mission but also his final high school season at Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep because of ankle surgery.
The journey back to himself was difficult, but now on the other side, Bachynski has emerged as the best big man in the Pac-12 as he leads Arizona State (13-2, 2-0) on its first road trip of the season at Oregon State on Thursday and Oregon on Sunday.
“Just try not working out for three weeks,” said ASU coach Herb Sendek, explaining Bachynski’s gradual progression. “Then you try to come back and you are not in the same shape as you were. Now let’s go to three months. It puts in perspective what he went through. Three years without playing basketball, without training.
“We knew coming in there was going to be a pretty steep learning curve, but that doesn’t cure the impatience that we all seem to have as human beings. But the more experience he gets, the more things are coming together for him.”
It has all come together this season, his third at ASU. The 7-foot-2 Bachynski is averaging 10.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.6 blocked shots a game in 25 minutes of action. He had the first triple-double in ASU history with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks in a victory over Cal State Northridge on Dec. 8, and set a school and Pac-12 record with nine blocked shots in a 65-56 victory over Colorado on Sunday.
He also leads the Pac-12 with a .656 field goal percentage.
“Defensively, he’s been a monster protecting the paint,” said Utah coach Larry Krystowiak, who coaches Jordan’s younger brother, Dallin. “He can clean up a lot of mistakes back there. It seems like he seems like he is playing with a little bit more swagger. Offensively, he’s a load as well. He is a legitimate post player. They have enough talent around him that he isn’t asked to do too much.
“He’s an example of kid who stuck with it. It is not always going to be easy.”
Bachynski’s road was long on perseverance. After returning to his home in Calgary for surgery that involved removing a bone spur and a pinched ligament and repairing other ligaments in the fall of 2007, he underwent four months of rehab before getting back on the court briefly for the All-Canada Classic. Between times he worked at Joey Tomato’s Kitchen. Then came the mission. He was granted permission to shoot baskets once a week, but recreation was not part of the program, and the diet was hardly training table-issue.
Still, when Bachynski arrived at Arizona State in the fall of 2010, he was raring to help a team that had made postseason appearances in each of the previous three seasons. But his body had other ideas.
Bachynski had spurts of brilliance, such as in his first game in the Arizona-ASU rivalry in Jan. 15, 2011, when he had six points and four blocked shots in 11 minutes.
But he was not ready for full immersion.
“The muscles in my legs weren’t strong enough to maintain the whole time,” Bachynski said. “So I’d be good for the first five minutes, then feel my legs go to spaghetti. It was crazy. I tried to do too much too quickly coming off my mission, and I struggled with injuries because I was pushing it a little too hard. I pulled everything in my legs. Once I got to play, the whole first year was just spent sucking air. It was bad.
“I just kept pushing, and my body kept pushing back. Finally came to accord with it. ‘You know what, we might have to take this year to get back into it.’”
Halfway into last season, he finally felt more comfortable. It had taken a year and a half, but he was able to play 18 minutes a game while shooting 58 percent from the field. The tipping point was the Utah game last February, after a meeting with his stake president. He has averaged 10 points and six rebounds a game since. Krystkowiak is not the only one who has seen a more aggressive Bachynski, but it gets down to conditioning.
“When you have your legs under you, it is a lot easier to be aggressive,” Bachynski said. “My goal is to play professionally, and I know if I want to do that, I have to work hard and I have to perform. I feel like the coaches have been patient with me, and I’ve been patient with myself, and it is starting to pay off. And I’m in the right program with the right guys around me. My teammates are incredible with their support.”
Bachynski has games of 12, nine, nine, seven, six, six and five blocked shots and a total of 69 this season — as many as 299 NCAA Division I schools, according to ASU, and more than nine Pac-12 teams. He will pass Jeff Pendergraph for sixth place in school history with two blocks this weekend and is on pace to easily break Mario Bennett’s school and Pac-12 record of 115 set in 1994-95.
“It’s not only about the shots he’s blocking,” Krystowiak said. “He’s having an impact on the opponents’ shooting percentage because he is changing a lot of shots.”
ASU opponents are shooting 38.3 percent from the field, second best in the conference.
“It’s an unusual luxury to have someone who has the instincts to block shots like Jordan does,” Sendek said.
Unusual indeed, much like the route that Bachynski followed to this destination.