When he was 18, Cameron Bairstow’s chances of getting a scholarship to attend the Australian Institute of Sport seemed remote to many who followed basketball in his home country.
He got it, anyway.
When he was trying to play college basketball in the United States, few thought much of the 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward. But he landed with the University of New Mexico, one of just two Division I programs to offer him a scholarship.
Four seasons later, the 23-year-old – he now measures 6-10 and weighs 252 pounds – has strung together an All-America season, averaging better than 20 points per game for a 27-win Lobos team, and proved himself to be one of the best power forwards in the country. Yet, you still won’t find Bairstow’s name on many mock drafts for the June 26 NBA draft.
He’s not worried.
“Obviously, nobody saw much potential in me going into college, and look at the position I’m in now,” Bairstow said. “I guess it’s a question of how you define potential and how one goes about working to fulfill that potential.”
Like many other NBA hopefuls, including former UNM teammates Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams, Bairstow is spending the month of June bouncing around the country working out for NBA teams. The process has only made his confidence grow.
“I’m more optimistic at this stage based on how some of the specific workouts have gone and the feedback I’ve been getting,” Bairstow said last week while in Charlotte, N.C., between workouts with the Hornets and the Miami Heat. He also recently worked out with the Heat’s NBA Finals opponent San Antonio Spurs and has a Monday workout with the Dallas Mavericks, among many others.
“So yeah, I’m more optimistic about how that draft day is going to go now,” he said.
The teams Bairstow has been working out for mostly seem to fall in the 23 (first round) through 35 (second round) pick range.
“There’s a strong certainty with what you’re going to get with Cam,” said Chris Emens, Bairstow’s agent with Octagon. “I have no doubt he’ll be drafted, and we’ve been real encouraged by the workouts he’s had. … There are a number of smart teams that play together that have shown great interest in Cam.”
Bairstow’s showing at the Chicago combine – both in physical measurements and athletic testing – were “probably more than most expected of him” going in, and has helped solidify him as a ready-to-contribute power forward, Emens said.
UNM head coach Craig Neal, a former scout and assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors who often helped spearhead the June workout sessions for that franchise’s pre-draft preparation, said he’s received plenty of positive feedback about Bairstow.
“He’s already physically and mentally capable at this point,” Neal said. “He’s always going to be a solid, solid player, and teams want that. Look at what happened when Serge Ibaka went down, how much it changed things (for Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals). There’s got to be guys on the bench ready to go for those types of teams, and Cam is ready to be that, ready to play right away.”
While he’s still proving to be as physical as any player in any of those team workouts, one aspect of Bairstow’s game getting more attention than some might have anticipated is his range. At the combine, Bairstow shot 60 percent from beyond the NBA 3-point line. He has been keeping that pace, says Emens, in the team workouts.
“It’s something that teams really haven’t been expecting, given the fact that I didn’t shoot many this year (at UNM),” Bairstow said. “I’m showing I can be consistent and accurate from the 15- to 18-foot range, and in the future I can really start working on bringing that back out (to NBA 3-point range) and add that to my game.”
If his four years at UNM proved anything, it’s that Bairstow has always been able to quietly continue adding to his game and proving doubters wrong. He doesn’t plan to stop that trend now.