Basketballer Aron Baynes wasn’t always destined for stardom on the hardwood but with rapid improvement and a desire to improve he has recently made a spot for himself with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs – a team who has been drenched in success and was runner-up in the 2012/13 NBA Finals series.
Baynes – standing at 208cm and 118kg – hails from Northern Queensland and has plied his trade all over the world playing as a junior with potential, a university student-athlete and a professional athlete.
Recently, I was lucky enough to have a chat with Aron and he filled me in on his journey so far and what he wants to get out of his blossoming basketball career.
— Josh Jenkins (@JoshJenkins24) August 12, 2013
JJ) FROM CAIRNS STATE HIGH SCHOOL THROUGH TO NOW BEING IN THE NBA WITH THE SAN ANTONIO SPURS, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR JOURNEY FROM CAIRNS TO THE NBA?
AB) Yeah, I started in Cairns and that’s where I first starting playing basketball as a junior under the guidance of Aaron Fearne then I got some recognition playing for the Queensland representative teams.
I then got an invite to attend the Australian Institute of Sport so after attending the AIS for two years I received plenty of College interest, especially after Andrew Bogut had been through that system with Utah and doing what he did.
I chose to attend Washington State and I wanted to go there because they play in such a strong league (Pacific 10 conference) against great teams so it was a great opportunity for me to play there.
I loved playing all four years there but I also managed to get a degree whilst playing basketball so I always had something to fall back on.
After my college career I went and started my professional career in Lithuania in arguably the worlds second best league.
It was my rookie year (as a professional) and there was a lot to learn going from college to pro and I didn’t do as well as I wanted.
So the following year I got a contract in Germany and I did some hard yards there. I wasn’t playing very well and I didn’t get the minutes (playing time) I wanted so I took a look at what I wanted to do and I have always wanted to play in the NBA.
So that took me to Greece and I had a good season and that opened up some doors for me.
It was also the Olympic year where I played under Brett Brown (former Australian Boomers head coach and recently appointed Philadelphia 76ers coach) and he helped me developed a lot and I played some decent games over there at the Olympics.
Following that I got another chance in the Euro League when I signed in Slovenia to compete at that high level and I was able to do that, I played well and I was the leading rebounder in the league and that effort was enough to get me some interest around the NBA.
I was looking at some teams but then San Antonio came into the picture and in professional basketball there are not too many better clubs than the Spurs and I wanted to be a part of their organisation.
There was a bit of a comfort zone factor being able to go there with Patty Mills who I’ve played with as a junior and also being coached by Brett with the National team.
It was a big learning curve stepping into the NBA and we made it to the last game of the season (Game 7 loss to the Heat) so it was a great learning experience.
I’ve marked down this year as my year where I wanted to make my mark in the league and carve out a role for myself. That’s what I am working towards.
JJ) YOU HAD A STELLAR CAREER THAT WENT UNDER THE RADAR AT WASHINGTON STATE, OFF THE COURT WHAT WERE YOUR LASTING MEMORIES OF LIFE AS A STUDENT-ATHLETE?
AB) I was lucky at Washington State, we were a good team but we were also a close knit family for the time I was there. There are not too many teams that can I say that but I really feel like I was apart of their family.
I still maintain regular contact with a lot of the guys I was at Washington State with, I was lucky to be at such a great university and a great organisation.
Washington State is a smaller program but I learned a lot and like I said I earned my degree so I was happy to have that security even though I’m hoping I don’t have to use that education.
Also, we were successful on the court and we made the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament and played against North Carolina which was a highlight and a great memory.
JJ) FROM THE COUGARS AT WASHINGTON STATE YOU STARTED YOUR PROFESSIONAL CAREER IN LITHUANIA BEFORE MAKING APPEARANCES IN GREECE, GERMANY AND SLOVENIA. WHAT DID THAT EUROPEAN EXPERIENCE PROVIDE YOU AND HOW DID YOU ADJUST TO LIVING IN NON-ENGLISH SPEAKING COUNTRIES?
AB) I was actually pretty fortunate that every country I played in the head coach spoke good English and all the players spoke reasonably good English.
There English was much better than my German, Latvian, Greek or Lithuanian that’s for sure.
But every country I went to there was a big change in culture and I liked learning about it, I tried to soak it all in and I also tried to teach them about Australian culture.
We learnt things from each other and it was good going through all that because it’s similar with the Spurs where we have so many players with different backgrounds.
JJ) YOU COMPETED AT THE LONDON OLYMPIC GAMES, HOW WAS THE ENTIRE OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE?
AB) That was amazing because you are around the best athletes in the world. Everyone there is just so focused and on top of their game and it’s the pinnacle for most athletes in the world.
We would be sitting at the dining hall and you would see Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt who are the best male athletes in the world and you’re around them and it’s crazy.
Seeing how everyone prepares themselves for the competition is amazing.
The experience was awesome and it’s something I want to do again in Rio 2016.
JJ) HOW HAS YOUR SHORT TIME WITH THE SPURS BEEN THUS FAR?
AB) The Spurs are a very European style team so it was good me coming over from Europe where I always played with a couple of Americans and a heap of Europeans which surprisingly is similar at the Spurs where it’s a very international feel and they are up there every year when it comes to playoffs.
Everyone is so professional and it seeps down through the ranks, the veterans lead the way.
From the first time I stepped into the Spurs facility I saw how they operated and although I’m still learning the culture it’s easy to see why they have so much success.
Not too many teams in the NBA can say they are a tight bunch but we are and in my six months with them both on and off the court everyone gets along.
The older guys make the effort to include and teach the younger guys.
JJ) WHO HAS INFLUENCED YOUR LIFE AND PLAYING CAREER THE MOST?
AB) It definitely starts with my brother Callum, I followed him into everyone sport and he didn’t start playing basketball until he was 19 so I started just before my 16th birthday.
I owe a lot to him because he picked up a basketball and I wanted to play too.
Aaron Fearne was a guy who, throughout my junior career, helped me and it’s funny because he used to show me a lot of Tim Duncan highlights.
He always said watch him closely and I always looked up to Tim Duncan because Aaron said so which is funny now because I am playing alongside him.
Another is Luc Longely, he has been a big part of the Boomers program and he’s helped me out and I look up to him.
He’s been to the elite level and was apart of one of the best teams in the history of the game.
There’s so much I can learn from him and he’s a big mentor to me right now.
JJ) BASKETBALL IS STRUGGLING IN THIS COUNTRY, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NBL AND THE STATE OF THE GAME?
AB) It’s definItely struggling but they are taking the right steps in trying to rectify it and getting as many teams as possible competing and making a profit.
The hierarchy of the NBL have made some moves to strengthen the league.
All the Aussie guys that play overseas, we would love to play in our home country and if we could play for the same money we get overseas we would be here.
There’s good competition here but it comes down to a business and career decision and it’s just not viable to stay here and play.
Whilst we are here we try and get out as much as possible and promote the game. We are willing to put in the time and we try and get out and help the game out.
Knowing what basketball has done for me, I am just so keen to share basketball with kids in Australia and I want to have that impact on other peoples lives regarding basketball.
To see the NBL flourish again would be great
JJ) YOU WERE RECENTLY IN CAMP FOR THE TWO-GAME SERIES AGAINST NEW ZEALAND BUT DIDN’T PLAY, WHY NOT?
AB) Just before I came out here I tweaked my hamstring.
When I put on the green and gold I want to give my best and with my hamstring tweak I felt it was best to sit this out and give our young guys a go as we have some great young players coming through.
I didn’t want to play unless I felt I could go at 100% so I was happy to let someone else go in and take the reins.
JJ) WHAT IS YOUR SCHEDULE AND PREPARATION BEFORE THE UPCOMING NBA SEASON?
AB) I return to the United State next week and I’ve got to get my body healthy and in peak physical condition.
The Spurs have a lot of guys there who are able to work us out.
I will be doing whatever I can to make myself better and the Spurs will set a few things up and bring in some good big guys from around the league that I will play against before training camp.
I am looking forward to that and that is the best way to get better, competing against the best players and improving your own game.
— Aron Baynes (@aronbaynes) August 17, 2013
- Aaron Fearne currently coaches the Cairns Taipans in the NBL and as well as working closely with Baynes, has guided another Cairns local Nathan Jawai to the NBA. Fearne went across with Jawai as he trialled before the NBA Draft before spending time with the Toronto Raptors, Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves.
- Andrew Bogut played two seasons with Utah University and received the collegiate MVP award before becoming Australia’s only ever number one NBA draft pick.
- Baynes’ college team Washington State faced powerhouse school North Carolina in the ‘Sweet 16’ round of the National tournament in Charlotte, only a stones throw from the Carolina university grounds. Aron stated it was safe to say that was an ‘away’ game for his team despite the neutral venue.
- International players are now part and parcel in the NBA but the Spurs are a little more international than most. They boast several players from outside the USA. (Tiago Splitter, Brazil – Patrick Mills & Aron Baynes, Australia – Manu Ginobili, Argentina – Tony Parker & Boris Diaw, France)
- Longley was the starting centre in the Chicago Bulls championship winning teams of 1996, 97 and 98 alongside NBA greats Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan.
- In the Boomers London Olympic roster only two players were from the NBL. Baynes, Mills and Bogut compete in the NBA whilst close to 20 other Aussie stars play in various European leagues.