His ethos can be found under his right bicep, in large black letters.
“No Vanity,” says the tattoo.
It would be so easy to do a little bit now.
Amari Bailey is no longer a college basketball star. It’s here.
With every slick move to the basket, every defensive stop, every pass that finds a teammate in the perfect spot, UCLA’s freshman guard is turning a formidable team into a potentially unstoppable force at just the right time.
He has become so invaluable that his coach lamented not getting the ball more in the Bruins’ 68-63 win over Northwestern in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“What did Mother have?” Mick Cronin said later, scanning the scoreboard. “Fourteen. I expected 18. But it’s my fault he didn’t get enough shots. He’s still working on figuring that out.”
Fortunately for the Bruins, Bailey is more than capable of getting his shot. He spun around Northwestern’s Boo Buie for a quick layup, nailed a jumper at the end of the shot clock and buried a 3-pointer to give his team its biggest lead of the game.
Along the way, he showed that UCLA’s offense isn’t made up of Jaime Jaquez Jr., Tyger Campbell and whatever scraps the team can find.
“Give credit to Amari Bailey,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “He thought he really stepped up and gave them great production as a third-string scorer.”
It was not an anomaly. In the five games since Jaylen Clark suffered a season-ending leg injury, Bailey has averaged 17 points, including 26 against Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship. That average is nearly double the 9.6 points Bailey averaged before Clark’s injury and makes it clear to Bruins fans that they are better off enjoying his presence during a short stint in college.
UCLA’s Amari Bailey, left, and Jaime Jaquez Jr. Fletcher Abee of Asheville, North Carolina battles for a rebound during the first round of the NCAA tournament Thursday.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
“I’m going to make mistakes and I’m going to learn through them all, really being a sponge and soaking up everything I can and making the most of every day I get here.”
– Amari Bailey, how she approaches her game
How long could he be around?
“Really just focusing on day-to-day,” Bailey told The Times recently when asked about going to the NBA or returning for a second season at UCLA. “You know, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. Right now, I’m focused on helping win No. 12, that’s my No. 1 goal.”
He’ll have to be in game mode to see that blue and gold fabric climb inside Pauley Pavilion, with each challenge getting exponentially more difficult. For the second-seeded Bruins, it’s a regional semifinal at T-Mobile Arena against third-seeded Gonzaga or sixth-seeded Texas Christian.
Anyone who thinks Bailey is just a scoring dynamo isn’t looking closely enough. The lockdown defense against Buie, the Wildcats’ best player, kept him off the field in the first half and seemed to make him uncharacteristically passive before entering the second half. Buie finished with 18 points, but made just five of 13 shots and was so out of shape that he missed a layup with 13 seconds left that sealed the Wildcats’ fate.
Bailey also drove and drove to center Adem Bona for an early game dunk, showing off his elite passing skills. Yes, his three turnovers were the most on the team, and that continued trend can give those hoping for Bailey back next season hopeful that he’ll try to fix that problem before he moves on to the next level.
One aspect of Bailey’s game that is NBA-ready is his competitiveness.
“I love guys who play hard because they get better,” Cronin said. “You can soften other things if a guy is going to compete. Like if I was a front-office manager (in the NBA), if I couldn’t get the answer to that, I could care less about length, skill, height, upside. If I see a guy and he’s not and he’s not going to compete physically, I’ll tell you that guy has no shot in the NBA because those guys, for all their drama, those guys play hard, man.”
Bailey was a big brand before he was on campus, amassing most of his 565,000 Instagram followers. But it did not increase or lose anyone in its celebrity.
“I never get into all that, honestly,” Bailey said of being caught up in the applause. “I see myself as a human being first. I catch myself, maybe, as perceptible, but at the end of the day, I’m a 19-year-old kid who’s figuring it out like everyone else. I would say that I’m going to make mistakes and I’m going to learn through them all, besides really being a sponge, soaking up everything I can and making the most of every day that I get here.’
Bailey looks at all the teammates, as well as watching Russell Stong IV’s moves in practice. With key players linked to walk-ons, they’ve kept the locker room together, no cliques have formed based on the number of stars they received in high school.
“I’ve never played on a team where we were so cohesive,” Bailey said, “I really wanted the best for each other; it didn’t matter what happened to us personally, it didn’t matter what we did. As soon as we were off the floor, between the lines or in the practice facility. , as soon as I get on the plane or whatever, there’s an instant release, so that’s something I always look forward to.”
Two more weeks, if all goes well.