SHARONVILLE, Ohio -- As he sat in Jim Boeheim’s office, Darius Bazley didn’t think twice about his college destination.
The Princeton High School basketball standout was on an unofficial campus visit to Syracuse June 30 and had no doubt about the Atlantic Coast Conference program being the right fit.
After walking into the Carrier Dome (34,616 basketball capacity), Bazley was in awe of its enormity.
“I was like, ‘oh my goodness,’" Bazley said. “I don’t believe it sells out; it’s too big. I tried to envision as many (people) as I could.”
Boeheim, the longtime Syracuse coach, didn’t need to make a sales pitch to the Orange’s first commitment in the 2018 class. He envisioned the long, athletic forward on his squad.
“He had the same vision as I did,” Bazley said. “Go there, develop, get better -- not only as a basketball player but as a better person. Then hopefully pursue my dream of going to the NBA.”
Bazley, a 6-foot-9 wing, reminded Boeheim of Derrick Coleman. That was cool with Bazley -- even if he wasn’t entirely familiar with the former longtime NBA player given the wide age gap.
More importantly, though, was the fact that Bazley also shared a strong connection with Syracuse assistant Allen Griffin, who was previously at the University of Dayton. Griffin earned Bazley’s trust in conversations on and off the court.
That relationship went a long way to prompt Bazley making a follow-up phone call to commit to the Orange. Syracuse was his dream school, Bazley confided in a Princeton coach last year.
“It was like Syracuse was the school,” Bazley said. “When I went up there I felt like I didn’t need to see any other place. It was just like, ‘this is it.’”
Bazley admits being a “one-and-done” in college en route to the NBA is a goal, but it’s not everything.
“If not I am not too worried about it,” Bazley said. “I have faith that I will get there. If I could be a one-and-done that would be nice. The ultimate goal is to get there so as long as I get there.”
A versatile playmaker with a smooth handle, the left-handed Bazley can shoot, rebound, pass and create mismatches on the floor.
“There are not a lot of guys that can do what he can do in the country,” Princeton interim head coach Steve Wright said. “Honestly, he has the total package.”
Eye on the prize
Darius Bazley enjoys video games, the Boston Celtics (he’s from Massachusetts) and eating cinnamon Pop-Tarts. He likes watching Kevin Durant. He’s been compared to a young Lamar Odom.
And he loves being in the gym.
Bazley’s smile is readily apparent on this Sunday morning in mid-June at a team camp at the Friars Club. Plain and simple: He’s having fun.
He dunks with ease in a layup line. His court vision sets him apart. His pull-up ability from the perimeter elevates his presence.
“He’s always had a ton of potential,” Scout.com recruiting analyst Brian Snow said. “He has the athleticism and the skill.”
What’s also striking is how Bazley handles the attention. After playing a morning game with his Princeton teammates at Xavier’s Team Camp in June, he is greeted multiple times. He had a conversation with Xavier coach Chris Mack during the camp too.
The spotlight followed Bazley everywhere after he announced on Twitter in late April that he decommitted from Ohio State. A story in the Columbus Dispatch offered some of his commentary on the Buckeyes’ program.
The same day he opened his recruiting, Xavier offered a scholarship. Then, others like Louisville, Georgetown, Maryland, Purdue, USC, Syracuse, Indiana, Florida and Virginia Tech followed.
Reporters and fans watched his social media accounts in order to get a glimpse of the school he might choose.
One television network erroneously tweeted that Bazley narrowed his college choices on Instagram. Others kept track of his recruiting rankings, scholarship offers and scheduled visits.
“It hasn’t weighed a lot on me,” Bazley said this summer. “I just go with the flow really. It’s not any pressure or anything like that. I don’t mind it all. It’s not anything crazy to me.”
But the state’s No. 1-ranked player understands not everyone was on board with his decision to open up his recruitment this spring. Still, Bazley has grown because of the experience.
“After Ohio State, it kind of showed me people are going to say what they want to say regardless,” Bazley said. “You are going to have to learn to block all that out. That’s what I am learning to do.”
Alex Harbin is impressed by how Bazley has handled the spotlight. Harbin is the owner, founder and head trainer at Iron Sharpens Iron Personal Training on Dana Avenue near Xavier.
Bazley started working out there in May. He’s often joined by Madeira senior tight end Jack Cravaack, a Purdue commit who used to play basketball against Bazley when the Princeton standout was previously at Finneytown. The two have known each other since eighth grade.
"We definitely push each other," Cravaack said. "We want to be successful in our sports. There is a lot of good energy in the weight room."
Bazley weighed 190 pounds in mid-June and wants to eventually be at 210 pounds.
“Darius is a humble guy,” Harbin said. “He handles a lot of the pressure. He keeps his eye on the prize. He’s not where he wants to be.”
Expectations for senior year
Time has flown for one of the nation's top basketball players. But this summer has been enjoyable for Bazley.
He attended the National Basketball Players Association Top 100 camp in Virginia. He also played in the Peach Jam earlier this month.
A week after his commitment to Syracuse, he vaulted into the top 25 national player rankings. His phone has stopped being on 24/7 alert due to his commitment.
“I’m trying to make it more of a statement summer,” Bazley said. “My goal is I’m trying to push myself into the top 20 to show I am one of the best players in the nation. So far it’s been good. It’s been fun, especially for it being my last year. It’s been good to me.”
Although he’s gained much of his recognition from playing for the high-profile Meanstreets AAU team on the Nike EYBL circuit, Bazley helped Princeton to 15 wins this past winter.
But there is still unfinished business. Princeton will again be in the spotlight when the season starts in December. The Vikings play in the Ohio Valley Hoops Classic in Hillsboro Dec. 1. They will certainly be considered for an invitation to the nationally recognized Flyin’ to the Hoop event in January.
“I am expecting a whole lot from Darius from a basketball standpoint as far as rebounding and scoring and making his teammates better,” Wright said. “That’s what we are looking for him to do -- just being the player we know that he can be.”