OKLAHOMA CITY — Darius Bazley took an alternative route to the NBA.
Prior to entering coach Billy Donovan’s Thunder rotation, something he’s managed all season, the 19-year-old’s last turn playing organized basketball came in the uniform of Princeton High School in Sharonville Ohio, near Cincinnati.
Between his final year of high school and the NBA draft, Bazley interned with New Balance, the athletic shoe and apparel company. There, he adhered to a strict schedule, working as a real-life intern and on his game, an arrangement worked out by agent Rich Paul.
Twelve games into his rookie season, he's playing 18.3 minutes per game, averaging 5.2 points and 3.9 rebounds, while shooting 44 percent from the field and a healthy 40.7 percent from 3-point land.
Bazley sat down with The Transcript and reflected on his love for the game, life in the NBA and as a transplanted Oklahoma Citian, among other topics.
Q: Do you ever reflect on the fact that you’re a teenager in the NBA?
A: I sit back sometimes and I just look [at] where I was, where I am now and how much more I have to go … You’re 19, but you’re in a men’s league. This is a grown man’s league, the best league in the world, lot of the players are 25-plus, 30 [years old], so for me to be 19 and doing this, I’ve got to realize that I’m young.
I’ve just got to kind of remind myself that it’s OK, 'You’ll figure it out, it’s your first year in the league, you’re not even halfway through it yet.'
I’m only 19.
Q: Did you love the game from the start or grow to love it?
A: When I started loving the game, it was just those summers when I’d be outside playing with my friends.
We’d all have a group chat, I’d wake up, you know, early, and just keep playing basketball all day. [We'd] go to the gas station, get some drinks and some snacks, eat, then go back to the court and play until it was dark and you couldn’t see the ball any more … Just doing that all summer.
Q: Off the court, what’s you’re favorite thing about being a professional athlete?
A: The relationships that I share with each of my teammates. I really value friendship and I’m a people person, so I love coming in every day and, not even just being around my teammates, but like everyone …
That stuff makes me happy. Just being around everyone. Just being able to go into the locker room and laugh.
Q: You’re internship with New Balance was very demanding. Were you ready for it?
A: I definitely had to adapt, but I had an understanding that I needed that. I didn’t look at it as a punishment … I knew I needed that to get to here, I needed that growth as a player and as a person.
Q: Do you have a Chris Paul experience that sticks with you?
A: I’m not going to say names, but there was one time he was like, to one of the teammates, 'Sometimes you’ve got to realize that we’re regular people, too. Maybe in some people’s eyes, we may be these all-stars or these superstars or whatever," … he’s just a really humble person.
The fact that he does right by everybody, it just says a lot about him … He stays true to himself, and I genuinely believe that the … Chris that I am around every day, is the same Chris Paul that he was, you know, in high school.
Q: How do you like Oklahoma City?
A: When people ask me that question, like a lot of people will say, with a tone, 'So you’re liking this city?' But honestly, for me, I love this city.
Everything I need is here …
The people here, they’re really genuine. Like I haven’t come across anyone that’s just rude or has an attitude …
I also like that this is … the Bible Belt. So everyone you might have a conversation with … they’ll [ask], 'So, have you found a church yet?' I love that about here, because even in Cincinnati, people are not going to bring that up in a conversation. In L.A. or something, people are not bringing that up in conversation. That’s something that you’re going to experience here. People genuinely care about you.
I can’t tell you how many times — not even just myself, but my roommate — [somebody] will say, 'Hey, when we cook on Sundays, you’re always welcome to come.' So it’s not even like, who I am. People actually care.
Birthday: June 12, 2000
Draft: 23rd pick, 2019