ASU basketball putting its faith in Bachynski
Arizona State wants Jordan Bachynski to become more than a household name. It wants the 7-foot-2 center to become part of your family. That's why the school will offer a life-size cutout or poster of the basketball player this fall that will serve as a growth chart for kids.
It's a clever piece of marketing that ASU hopes will spur greater interest and better attendance for the men's basketball program. But the move is anything but contrived, because Bachynski is the authentic article -- from his faith right down to his size 14 shoes.
"He's intelligent. He's hard working. He's articulate. He's fun. He has an incredible wife and family, and he can pull it all together and change the world," said Bachynski's mission president, Nathan Hale. "I'm a big fan of Jordan Bachynski."
Athletes who wear their faith on their sleeves often draw rolls of the eyes from the jaded media and public. It's not that we don't admire religious dedication; it's just that we too often encounter athletes who preach their values and then fail to exhibit them in their daily behavior.
Once in a while, an athlete comes along who walks the talk. Former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner is one. Coyotes Captain Shane Doan is another. And so is Bachynksi, who emanates wisdom and maturity belying his years.
"I love sharing my faith," said Bachynski, who is Mormon. "I'm not saying you need to become Mormon. That's up to you. I'm just informing people about what I believe. If people want to find out more, they're more than welcome to ask me."
Like many Mormon boys and girls, Bachynski learned to share his message of faith on a two-year mission. Four years ago, he was assigned to largely Spanish-speaking neighborhoods in the Miami area, where he saw a different kind of happiness than he'd ever experienced growing up in Alberta.
"In Miami, I dealt with humble people in tough financial situations and not living in the best conditions. It made me realize there's a lot more to life than possessions," he said. "We are so focused on making the millions of dollars and having nice cars and nice houses that we've forgotten what true happiness is and how to be thankful for what you have.
"These people come from countries where they don't have political and social freedoms, but they have food on the table and each other, so they're happy."
While Bachynski remained open to everyone he met, not everyone was receptive to his testimony.
"I remember talking to people and have them just go off on me -- get really rude and mean," Bachynski said. "Some of the things they said I had to look up in a Spanish dictionary, because I didn't know what they meant. I actually got an urban dictionary to understand some of the things they were saying. My vocabulary definitely grew."
Once in a while, he'd connect. One man turned his life around, joined the church and eventually persuaded his skeptical and critical mother to join as well. Another left a prominent and violent gang to do the same.
"Those are the moments that make it all worth it -- all the spitting in your face and the door slamming and the long days where no one listens to you," he said.
These days, Bachynski is selling a second message. He wants more fans at ASU games. At an ASU basketball fan conference last month, Bachynski told season-ticket holders: "I was a missionary for my church. You can be a missionary for ASU basketball."
Because of his faith, Bachynski's greatest impact could come in the LDS community.
ASU basketball alumnus Roger Detter has been working with local groups on a volunteer basis for the past few years, attempting to market ASU athletics. One of those groups includes LDS leaders around the Valley.
"The LDS community is so family-oriented and sports-oriented, so it seems to be a perfect fit with ASU basketball," Detter said. "Jordan could be a perfect role model, because he has a lot of the attributes families look for in their kids."
While Hale is certain a lot of those qualities were honed on Bachynski's mission, he's also certain that many are the product of his strong family upbringing and a natural ability to connect with others.
"When we send kids out into the streets, we're hopeful of creating connections with people," Hale said. "But all Jordan had to do was walk down the street, and he was the pied piper with kids shouting and dancing around him, trying to high-five higher than they ever thought possible.
"His ability to connect became magical because of his stature."
Bachynski's message wouldn't carry as much weight if he hadn't shown great progress over the second half of last season, when he scored in double figures in seven of his final 13 games. Nonetheless, he is eager for the challenge.
"I think it's great to unite communities, and I'm all for having more fans at basketball games," Bachynski said. "But the best way to convince people to try things is by building personal relationships. I'm honored that ASU is willing to trust me with this."