LAS VEGAS – Two years removed from an uncomfortable meeting between his alma mater and his employer at the national championship game, Rem Bakamus still doesn’t broach what transpired on April 5, 2021, when he phones Gonzaga’s Mark Few or Brian Michaelson for coaching tips.
“B-Mike’s been a great mentor to me and Coach Few, of course, is one of the greatest coaches of all time,” Bakamus said. “So I’ll lean on those guys when I can, but I’ll never bring that game up.”
Bakamus, the former Gonzaga walk-on turned Baylor grad assistant turned Arizona director of player development, somehow skirted another awkward encounter in March.
The Bulldogs, Wildcats and Bears were respectively ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 4 in the final AP Top 25 poll and nabbed top seeds at the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga and Arizona both lost in the Sweet 16 and Baylor dropped a second-round matchup to eventual runners-up North Carolina.
Given that all three programs are expected to be in the mix for deep tournament runs in 2023, another confrontation between programs Bakamus has played or worked for seems inevitable.
But that’s a price the 28-year-old is willing to pay for the opportunities he’s had and relationships he’s made through a unique foray into the coaching world.
“It’s not lost on me how special it is for me to be in the position I’ve been in and to learn from all those coaches and players,” Bakamus said. “To be where I’m at is a huge blessing of course, but it all started at Gonzaga with Tommy (Lloyd) giving me a chance and Coach Few giving me a chance. Through them, their belief in me, through sticking around I was able to build so many relationships that I lean on every day.
“So, all those relationships that made me who I am and put me where I am today.”
Bakamus recently paid a visit to NBA Summer League, primarily to check in on recent Arizona draft picks Bennedict Mathurin, Dalen Terry and Christian Koloko.
But he also watched former Baylor point guard Jared Butler in Las Vegas, caught up with ex-Baylor lottery pick guard Davion Mitchell and attended a private dinner for former Gonzaga players – mostly those competing in the NBA – at a Park MGM steakhouse.
“Just a lot of special dudes and it was good I got to connect with them all,” Bakamus said.
The Longview, Washington, native nearly reached the top of college basketball’s totem pole at Gonzaga, playing on the 2016-17 team that was defeated in the national championship. He got there in his third season as a Baylor grad assistant, sitting on the bench opposite his former Zags coaches when the Bears cruised to an 86-70 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
In his first year at Arizona, Bakamus was afforded a front-row seat to the Wildcats’ 33-win season – one that culminated with Pac-12 regular-season and tournament championships as well as a No. 1 NCAA seed.
In 2021-22, nobody spent more time at the top of the AP poll than Gonzaga, which held the No. 1 spot for nine weeks. Baylor wasn’t too far behind, with five weeks at No. 1, and Arizona held down the No. 2 spot for the final four weeks of the season.
Bakamus isn’t surprised to see all three programs succeeding at the highest level, especially considering the common values they share.
“I don’t think there’s a better three programs when it comes to development in college basketball, honestly,” he said. “When you look at the draft every year, you’ve got Baylor, Gonzaga, Arizona guys. They all take noticeable growths in their game, they all add to their game, all the players get better and it’s because of the great coaches, great systems and their player development.”
Bakamus’ new role at Arizona encompasses a little of everything.
“The average day is whatever task is in front of me,” he said. “I try to do to the best of my ability.
“Tommy, he’s an awesome coach and mentor to me, so he gives me a lot of flexibility to grow as a young coach. Whether that’s video projects or analytics or doing stuff with our guys, Tommy pours into me a ton and just giving me the freedom to coach and learn from him.”
With the exception of a few tweaks, Lloyd, the longtime GU assistant, is running a program that mirrors the one he left behind approximately a year ago.
“I think it would be crazy if Tommy tried to do everything different,” Bakamus said.
Bakamus said most of it boils down to the “relationship aspect” that both programs emphasize, pointing out Lloyd’s Arizona team adopted the “PGM,” or “Personal Growth Mondays,” that have become a staple at Gonzaga under Few.
“So our guys are constantly talking and sharing and growing off the court together,” Bakamus said. “Just spending quality time, having good conversations, holding each other accountable is something we took from Gonzaga.”
Bakamus has scaled the coaching ladder quicker than most. He took a second when asked if he knew of another young coach who worked and/or played for three of last year’s No. 1 NCAA Tournament seeds.
“I’m not sure, I’d have to fact-check that,” Bakamus said.
The Nike apparel that Bakamus collected during his time at Gonzaga and Baylor has either been donated to friends or relegated to suitcases and boxes that sit in the closet of his new Tucson home.
“I give a lot away,” Bakamus said. “I’ve got a few of the Dri-Fits I wear around the house still.”
He has leaned heavily on Few, Lloyd and Baylor’s Scott Drew, but he assures the most influential coaching figure in his life remains his father Bill, who’s compiled more than 600 wins throughout a Hall of Fame career at Mark Morris High.
“Whatever he’s done there, I always pick his brain about building a culture, how to change the way he’s done it, how to teach the kids winning habits,” Bakamus said.
The next phase for Bakamus would be a full-fledged assistant coaching position.
He plans to follow a proven formula – one that’s already allowed him to spend time with three of the sport’s giants – in order to attain it.
“I know it’s going to take time, it’s going to take a lot of work, of course, but just continue to be around a lot of great people that win and do things the right way and I feel like I’ll be rewarded for that eventually,” Bakamus said. “All the success I’ve had is because of the coaches I’ve been around, the players.”
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