The Brothers Bachynski ready to meet in Arizona State-Utah faceoff
Wednesday night's Pac-12 opener in Tempe between Arizona State and Utah, two of the worst teams in a bad conference last year, isn't creating much buzz nationally. But the Bachynski family of Calgary, Alberta has been anticipating the game as a showdown of brotherly proportions for more than a year. "The day I committed to play for Utah, Jordan and I started talking about it," says the Utes' 7-foot, 248-pound sophomore center, Dallin Bachynski, speaking of his older brother, Jordan, the Sun Devils' 7-2 junior center. "The trash talk started about two days later."
The Bachynskis' parents, John and Yolanda, are approaching the game the way parents in such situations often do -- with both delight and trepidation. Yolanda, who plans to attend the game wearing an ASU shirt, the "U" of which is the befeathered "U" of the Utes, says, "John can hardly wait because no matter what, a Bachynski is going to win. I'm dreading it because a Bachynski is gonna lose."
Bachynskis don't like to lose. Just two years apart, Jordan and Dallin have never faced each other in an official basketball game. But they have a long history of battling -- on their driveway court, at the consoles of video games, on opposite sides of the family RISK board. "Growing up, they competed in everything," says Yolanda. "Board games in our house did not turn out well." The boys spent one Christmas vacation learning the craft of drywall repair after Dallin shoved Jordan through a basement wall following an argument about who was stronger. Now good friends, the two still compete in wolfing down food. "Jordan eats, on average, about 2,000 calories more a day when I'm around than when I'm not," says Dallin, who is listed at 248 pounds to his brother's 250. "He doesn't want me to eat more than he does."
That competitive spirit has served the brothers' respective teams well. Both ASU (11-2) and Utah (8-4) have improved markedly since last year, when they finished 10th and 11th, respectively, in the Pac-12, and neither team broke the seven-win mark. In both cases, a Bachynski is due some credit for the upgrade. Jordan, the tallest player to ever play for the Sun Devils, is a lefty who is averaging 9.8 points (on 63 percent shooting), 7.1 rebounds and 4.5 blocks (third in the nation.) On Dec. 8 he recorded the school's first triple-double (13 points, 12 rebounds and a school-record 12 blocks) in an 87-76 win over Cal-State Northridge. "Jordan has great timing, good instincts, and he has the gift of size," says ASU coach Herb Sendek. "He has always had the ability to block shots, but this year he has taken it to a whole new level."
Dallin, who joined Utah this season after spending the 2009-10 season as a reserve at Southern Utah and the better part of the following two years on a Mormon mission in Croatia, is an agile athlete with a big motor -- he can finish a two-mile conditioning run in 11 minutes, an impressive feat for someone that big -- who shook off three years of rust to replace 6-11 senior center Jason Washburn in the starting lineup in the Utes' third game. But coach Larry Krystkowiak thinks the numbers Dallin produced in his starting debut, against Idaho State -- 22 points and 16 rebounds -- created "self-inflicted" expectations that he hasn't reached in his eight other starts. (He's averaging 7.6 points and 6.3 rebounds on 52 percent shooting, including 33 percent from the arc, while playing just under 19 minutes a game.) "Dallin is the hardest on himself of all our players," says Krystkowiak, who started Washburn in the Utes' last game, against the College of Idaho on Dec. 28. "So we're going to change gears and have him try to get back to the mindset he had when he joined our team: there's not a lot of expectations, just go and do what you do."
For Dallin, dialing down expectations may be easier after Jan. 2.
It's no surprise that the Bachynskis took to basketball rather than Canada's national sport, hockey, given what brought their parents together: Yolanda, 6-2, and John, 6-5, met at a pickup basketball game in Edmonton in 1985, when she was a player at the University of Alberta and he was a Mormon missionary on a day off. But nobody in the family expected the boys to grow into giants. "We thought they would top out at 6-6 or 6-7", says Yolanda. "We had no idea they would be freakishly tall. The whole time growing up they were only a few inches taller than their friends."
Facing each other under the driveway hoop, the brothers crafted games that were, to some extent, a response to each other. Dallin, who always wanted to be a guard -- "He was devastated when he reached 6-5 (at about 16), though now he's sad he's not as tall as Jordan," says Yolanda -- developed a perimeter shot and ball-handling skills in part to avoid Jordan's looming left hand near the basket. Meanwhile Jordan, who lacked Dallin's heft, had to learn to pivot around his brother and other thicker players and be quick to the rim. "I couldn't bang with guys," says Jordan. "The scouting report on me in high school was skinny."
Another rap on Jordan: He was too nice. When Jordan was struggling through a rocky stretch as a player at Calgary's Centennial High, John and one of Yolanda's basketball friends introduced both boys to the idea of an alter ego for the court, "to give them permission to wreak havoc," says Yolanda. Thus Jordan becomes Wolverine, of the X-Men series, when he steps onto the court. Dallin, meanwhile, mentally dons his Batman cape. "He's mild-mannered Bruce Wayne who becomes the vicious Dark Knight," John says. John and Yolanda have continued to reinforce the concept by giving their sons comic books and other Wolverine or Batman memorabilia. "This Christmas they gave me a Wolverine Pez dispenser," says Jordan, who keeps a few Wolverine comic books on the entertainment center of the condo he shares with his wife, Malia, a former Arizona State volleyball player. "It's kind of a joke, but it's a constant reminder of what I need to be."
Even though he lacked a killer instinct, Jordan had the goods to draw the attention of a handful of Division I schools, including Pepperdine and UNLV, while he was averaging 18.5 points, 13.1 rebounds and 8.7 blocks as a senior. He decided to take the 2007-08 season as a prep year to increase his exposure and to avoid using a year of NCAA eligibility before going on a mission for the Mormon Church. Yet his time at Findlay Prep in Nevada was cut short by an ankle injury that required surgery. While he was still recovering in Calgary, he was invited to the All-Canada Classic, Canada's equivalent of the McDonald's All-American game. "He hadn't done anything for four to six months," says Yolanda. "We didn't even go because we thought it would be awful."
To the contrary, Jordan played so well that a UConn assistant who was at the game called the Bachynskis soon after. As Jordan prepared to depart for a two-year mission in Miami, Yolanda made copies of the Classic game tape and sent them out to other colleges.
With his days almost entirely devoted to spreading the Mormon gospel, Jordan had little time to play basketball or stay in shape. Yet as more coaches saw the tape of the towering young man with fluid moves and a soft touch around the basket, he become such a hot commodity that his mission president, Nathan Hale, made a virtually unheard-of break from mission protocol: In the spring of 2010, he gave Jordan a day off to entertain pitches from six college recruiters. On the designated day, coaches from Connecticut, ASU, BYU, Oregon State, and the University of San Diego flew to Miami and sat in a Mormon church with Jordan and Hale for two-hour appointments, one after the other. (UNLV did its pitch by phone.)
In preparation for his big day, Jordan had fasted for 24 hours and prayed that the right school would be obvious to him at the end of the day. "It was a night and day difference between meeting with all the other schools and meeting with ASU," he says. "The other ones felt really formal, like a business meeting. Then when coach Herb and [assistant] Dedrique [Taylor] talked to me, it was like speaking with friends."
Though he says choosing ASU over a basketball power like Connecticut, as he did after a two-hour phone chat with his parents that day, was "the toughest decision of my life," Jordan has no regrets. "I'm really happy I picked ASU," he says. "I met my wife here, and I feel like I've progressed here in a way I wouldn't have been able to any other place."
Dallin's equally unlikely path to the Pac-12 also hinged on video tape. After a frustrating year at Southern Utah in 2009-10, he embarked on a two-year mission in Croatia that ended six months early when an undefined illness caused him to lose 20 pounds. Upon his return to North America in the fall of 2011, Dallin got his release from Southern Utah and looked elsewhere for a roster spot. An SUU assistant provided a highlight tape, which Yolanda posted on YouTube. When Krystkowiak saw the tape, "My first thought was, there's no way this kid is 6-11, he's too athletic and he moves too well," he says. Soon after Dallin and John drove to Orem, Utah, to visit Dallin's sister, Jessica, a 6-1 forward at Utah Valley State. Along the way, they stopped at Utah and Utah State to visit with coaches. Three days later, Dallin had offers from both schools.
He signed with Utah on Nov. 10, 2011. The anticipation for the Jan. 2, 2013 game, the first of what will likely be at least four showdowns between the Bachynskis over the next two seasons, has been building ever since.
"I think it's going to be a lot of fun," says Jordan. "But you can't take relationships onto the court. Yes, he is my brother , but when I go out and play, it's all-out war. It's a mindset you have to take into all games, that you're not the same person once you cross the line."
"We'll remind him this game isn't Jordan versus Dallin," says Sendek. Jordan already knows that. It's Wolverine vs. Batman.