Bairstow brings physicality to the Bulls
By Adam Fluck | 07.03.2014
The Bulls moved up on draft night to acquire Doug McDermott. They almost did the same for Cameron Bairstow.
In the end, though, Bairstow was there for Chicago at No. 49, making General Manager Gar Forman’s decision an easy one.
“He’s a guy that’s going to bring physicality in the low post,” Forman said of Bairstow following the draft. “He’s got a skill level, he’s a good passer, he can shoot the 15-footer and he is a guy that’s going to fit the culture that’s been created here.”
After his introduction this week, Bairstow, a 6-9, 250 pound forward/center who spent four years at the University of New Mexico, called joining the Bulls a “perfect fit.”
“It was one of those teams, that speaking with my agent, we were definitely targeting,” said Bairstow. “With the culture they have here and the style of play, I think I definitely fit in. In terms of knowing how to play the game, being tough, being physical, definitely love playing defense, love playing both ends of the floor, so it is definitely something that I feel like I fit in. It was fortunate that we ended up here.”
Forman and the Bulls began keeping an eye on Bairstow during his junior season when they were scouting his teammate, Tony Snell. The Bulls selected Snell with the 20th overall selection in last summer’s draft, and last fall, one of his college coaches, Craig Neal, came to visit for training camp and a preseason game.
Neal, an assistant for the Lobos from 2007 to 2013, was named the head coach in April after Steve Alford departed for UCLA. And while he was in town to see Snell, he also made a point of telling Forman about the great strides that Bairstow was making, saying he believed a breakout year could be coming.
Neal was right. Bairstow averaged a team-high 20.4 points to go with .7.4 rebounds. He led the Mountain West in scoring and shot a conference-best 55.6 percent from the field. For his efforts, Bairstow was named Second Team All-America by Sports Illustrated, Third Team All-America by NBC Sports and CBS Sports and Honorable Mention All-America by the Associated Press.
Though it was his senior season that put him on the map, at least in the eyes of NBA teams, Bairstow explains that his improvement was steady throughout his years as a Lobo.
“I do consider myself a late bloomer in terms of physical development and that kind of thing,” said Bairstow. “But I don’t think it was just my senior year. All four years I improved drastically. After not playing much as a freshman or a sophomore, I started the last half of my junior season. It was a gradual progression and a couple of fortunate things came into play my senior year with the coaching change. That opened things up offensively I thought. Playing with a bunch of guys who put me into a situation to succeed really helped me. We had a core that had been together four years and it all came together.”
As for Snell, Bairstow enjoyed playing with him in college and now he gets a chance to reunite with his former teammate.
“He’s a really smart player and someone who knows how to play the game. I think I fed a lot off of him,” said Bairstow of Snell. “He’s one of the best post passers that I have played with and he really helped me a lot there through my time there.”
Bairstow credits Snell for easing the transition as he closed the door on his college career, prepared for the draft, and now joins the Bulls.
“He loves it here and he’s been a great help,” said Bairstow. “I think he has that working mindset within him. He talks about the team culture and how great it is to live in the city of Chicago.”
It’s that Bulls culture which Bairstow, who was born in Brisbane, Australia, believes he’ll find suitable. He cites his physical play, skill level and basketball IQ as his calling cards. And he hopes those same things will allow him to acclimate into Chicago’s system and succeed within it.
“I’ve always loved physicality, regardless of how big I was,” said Bairstow. “I gained a lot of weight during my time at New Mexico. I didn’t come in that strong or physically ready. It was a gradual thing, in terms of physically, but regardless of how I was I always loved physical play. I think that’s the Australian mindset, to be physical and be intense and hard working. So I think that was always there and I think it gradually progressed more and more into that.”
Bairstow isn’t the only Australian to make his way to the Bulls via New Mexico. Luc Longley spent four and a half years in Chicago, including the championship seasons in 1996, 1997 and 1998. Not only does Bairstow know Longley, but he’s played for him as Longley is an assistant coach for the Australian national team for which Bairstow played last year.
“He taught me a lot and really helped me last season,” said Bairstow of Longley. “He has been key to me during this process. He has been giving me a lot of advice and all that kind of things so it’s been really awesome so I will continue my relationship with him and talk to him about what it takes to succeed at this level.”
It’s that international experience, playing in the FIBA Oceania Series and the World University Games (Bairstow led Australia with a 12.8 scoring average and a 6.8 rebounding average in 2013) that will make him all the more prepared for the NBA.
Now, as he readies for summer league in Las Vegas later this month, he’s eying an opportunity to make a roster in the fall with some like-minded big men.
“I love the way Joakim Noah plays,” said Bairstow. “The Bulls are defensive minded and they have very physical players. I love anytime players who play somewhat similar to you, you can take a couple things away from them and obviously they have great depth with Taj Gibson and that kind of thing. It will be great to learn anything I can from a group of great, talented bigs. Obviously, it’s a team which has had a lot of success in recent years and it is a great situation to be in.”