Nobody saw this coming.
In fact, just when the possibility of what could be a dream senior season for Cameron Bairstow just started to come into focus this past summer, it almost didn’t happen.
After the 6-foot-9, 250-pound power forward from Brisbane, Australia, led his country’s World University Games team to a silver medal in Kazan, Russia, he parlayed that performances into making the Boomers national team. There, he performed very well “with the men” on the team, some of whom are making good livings playing professional basketball overseas.
The offers to play professionally instead of return to the United States were there and the kid who barely made it into the Australian Institute of Sport at the age of 17, and who had only two scholarship offers in the United States two years later and could barely dunk a basketball as a Lobo freshman, had to at least consider the opportunity to earn money playing the game he loves.
That’s when Craig Neal, who hadn’t yet even enjoyed his first game as a head coach of the Lobos, had to get back into recruiting mode. Though as Bairstow tells the story, it didn’t take much.
“My goal was to come back and finish what I started,” Bairstow said. “It’s not only helped me in terms of getting my degree and everything, but helped me on the court, as well as a basketball player. Of course I have no regrets because it’s really worked out very well for me.”
That’s an understatement. After scoring 545 points through his first 100 games in three seasons as a Lobo, the Aussie now has 568 through 28 games as a senior. He’s an Oscar Robertson Award finalist for national player of the year and a perceived front-runner for Mountain West player of the year.
“Coming down the ramp for the last time,” Bairstow said of tonight’s senior night game vs. Air Force, “it’s going to be a bittersweet feeling.”
As much as Bairstow is a physical specimen, who often has to be pulled from the weight room after games to do postgame interviews still in uniform and with weight-lifting chalk still on his hands, it was the change in his confidence that seemed to be the biggest change in the past year for him – transforming from accepting a role as a third or fourth scoring option to being confident and assertive enough to be the Lobos’ go-to player.
“I don’t think there’s anybody who’s come farther in four years,” Neal said. “I don’t think there’s anybody who could have predicted what he’s done this season.”
And yes, Bairstow still has an opportunity to play professionally after this season. Only now, it just might be in the NBA.