After Timberwolves practice Thursday, guard Jerryd Bayless was set to get a massage and go home, but his work wasn’t done for the day.
“I have a paper due on [Saturday],” Bayless said. “I’ll get a massage and I’ll go knock that out. It’s a short paper, only five pages.”
That paper represents one of the final steps Bayless is taking toward a goal that began when he enrolled at the University of Arizona in 2007 — getting his degree in African-American studies.
After arriving three months ago from Philadelphia as a seeming afterthought in the Jimmy Butler trade, Bayless has been a revelation of late on the court. He has helped the Wolves overcome a rough stretch in their season where injuries have sidelined three point guards: Derrick Rose, Jeff Teague and Tyus Jones.
You might not know he is doing this while taking 12 credits to complete work on a degree he began nearly 12 years ago at Arizona before leaving to pursue the NBA after his freshman year. It provides a glimpse into the type of person Bayless is — someone who is a voracious reader, who is in touch with the world outside of the whirring basketball bubble the NBA can be, and someone who has an appetite for history and seeing how that affects society now.
“This was always the goal,” Bayless said. “I left after my freshman year, but … I knew I had to do it. It was just a matter of when I was going to do it.”
If you look at Bayless’ Twitter account, you will see his varied interests on display. He links to articles he has read — with most coming from the New York Times, which Bayless, 30, reads every morning. The articles range from topics like Sudan, the environment and President Donald Trump. He is especially fond of a feature the Times does that details how notable people spend their Sundays.
“I’m trying to get on it,” Bayless said with a laugh. “They won’t put me on it.”
Bayless spends a typical Sunday in the offseason at his place in New York. He will get lox from a nearby restaurant, work out, then have dinner with friends in Harlem.
At his apartment, Bayless has amassed a sizable art collection with a lot of pieces focusing on African art.
“Meeting these young black artists that haven’t had an outlet for so long and being supportive of their work is enjoyable for me,” Bayless said.
That pairs with what Bayless has been studying for the last decade-plus through courses at Arizona in African studies.
“History repeats itself, first off,” Bayless said. “That’s a big thing for me, [learning about] the black diaspora and where I’ve come from the history behind that. It’s always been interesting to me. Not only knowing that but how that ties into American history, world history, all of history.”
Bayless said the drive to complete his degree came from his family. His mom, Denise Bowman, worked as a professor and counselor and helped Bayless run a foundation that assisted children with literacy and aided disadvantaged families. His late father, Dr. Michael Brad Bayless, was a psychologist and advocate for mental health care, while his brother Justin earned an academic scholarship to Morehouse College.
“Education was always the singular focus of my house, and I was the black sheep of the family in terms of athletics,” Bayless said. “No one really played sports. My mom and dad, they encouraged me and loved me for doing it. But that was never the push in my house.”
With the help of staff at Arizona like Dr. Jennifer Mewes and Marisol Quiroz, Bayless chipped away at his degree since he has been in the NBA. A class here, a class there, until the last year, when he took 12 credits in the fall and 12 this semester. Quiroz, who has been working with Bayless since his freshman year, said her office usually hears from athletes who left school early after their careers are over. Bayless was different.
“A lot of it was his determination and mind-set to know he would see it through,” Quiroz said. “I didn’t have a doubt. I just knew that it might take a little extra time because he had all these extra responsibilities and workload that other people didn’t.”
She said it was “surreal” to think Bayless is on the verge of graduating after all this time — not that she didn’t think he would.
“I’m just really proud of him and his persistence,” Quiroz said. “He has a different maturity level and he always did.”
Spreading the knowledge
As Bayless said, he can see history repeating itself in current events, a divisive time for the United States and the world at large.
“You see it a lot, especially with the rise of populism …” Bayless said. “Right now we’re going through a time where there’s a lot of forces that [people] obviously feel strongly about their beliefs, whether right or wrong, and everybody has to figure out a way to meet in the middle, because it’s unfortunate what’s going on right now.”
Bayless has his views, but he also wants to be respectful of others’ opinions.
“If you can articulate what you want to say in a right way, I think it’s fine,” he said. “Just understanding that there’s people that are going to have different opinions. Whether you think they’re right or wrong, you have to respect their opinion.”
He is helping to spread knowledge to some of his teammates, such as Jones and rookie Josh Okogie. There are times on the road, during meals or on flights, that Bayless will discuss what he’s learning or reading with anybody who is interested.
“It’s something that also keeps your mind off basketball,” Jones said. “Sometimes you need that. You need that little break.”
Both Jones and Okogie said Bayless will give them little history quizzes from time to time. When asked for an example in separate interviews, both said, “Who was the 16th president?” [Abraham Lincoln.]
“The questions are easy,” Okogie said. “It’s Tyus that has trouble sometimes answering them.”
Added Jones: “He throws it on you randomly. You start to think, ‘Is it Lincoln or is that too easy of an answer? Is he trying to trick me?’ ”
Jones said the three have been reading Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming” in a little “book club.” The last few weeks Okogie has been at his locker reading a chapter or two before each game.
“You can see how smart [Bayless] is off the court,” Jones said. “His thing has always been, the ball is going to stop bouncing at some point in life so what are you going to do when that day comes?”
Living for now, planning for future
Bayless has some ideas on what his future in education might bring, but for now, he is thankful to be back on the court and for the opportunity he has had to revive his career after tough times with the 76ers. Over the past six games, he is averaging 15.7 points and eight assists in 36 minutes. He has never averaged more than 28.9 minutes per game in a season in his 10-year career.
“It’s hard. It’s been 11 years for me to get this opportunity,” Bayless said. “I’m trying to take advantage of it and do as much as I can because I know how rare it is for this to come about. … The NBA is hard. Sometimes it won’t go your way, but I stuck with it.”
Just as he has stuck with his education that entire time, although he hasn’t hung that diploma on the wall just yet. There’s still work to do. Last semester, Bayless was rehabilitating a knee injury he suffered in Philadelphia during training camp and in a weird way, he said, the knee injury helped him devote more time to his studies.
“I had a lot more time on my hands,” Bayless said.
That isn’t the case now.
Bayless has to figure out his capstone project while taking his other courses — and juggling life as an NBA point guard playing on a nightly basis.
“I just got to get to May,” Bayless said. “If I can get to May, I’m good.”
It’s a challenge Bayless doesn’t mind conquering.