LOS ANGELES — How many times growing up did you shoot around in the front yard, daydreaming your hoists at a Huffy basketball hoop were buckets CBS would splice into the NCAA Tournament’s “One Shining Moment” montage?
You have company in Michigan guard C.J. Baird.
“It’s every kid’s dream to play in the NCAA Tournament,” Baird said Thursday in the Staples Center locker room, following Michigan’s 99-72 rout of Texas A&M. “I never thought I’d get to do this.”
Baird left his own mark on March in the Wolverines’ Sweet 16 romp with a 3-pointer in the final minute. His didn’t exactly seal a win like teammate Jordan Poole’s miracle heave to advance past Houston in the Round of 32 — Baird’s was Michigan’s 14th in a blowout win, after all.
— DCC Basketball (@CCbballsquad) March 23, 2018
But the circumstances leading Baird to turn his dream into reality are remarkable.
C.J. Baird began the 2017-18 season working as a student manager — an important, behind-the-scenes role for any college basketball program. Student managers handle a variety of grunt work, from arranging meal reservations on road trips, to ensuring all equipment is accounted for at the end of practice; all while maintaining high GPAs, a typical prerequisite of the gig.
Baird transitioning from this role to one almost as lacking in glamour — that of scout team player — isn’t in itself a surprising story. Plenty of managers have game and played in high school, hence the manager pick-up games that have gained famed in hoops circles.
But C.J. Baird went in reverse order from the typical protocol, switching from manager to walk-on. In plenty of instances, student managers are would-be walk-ons who don’t make the roster, but are offered a different role in the program. Personal aside, my wife followed this very path in college.
So Baird was something of an outlier in terms of how he joined the scout team. And while scout teams have a vital role — I wrote in-depth on scout players at last year’s Final Four — rarely do they get the chance to show their stuff to a national audience at the Big Dance. Rarer still is such an opportunity in the Sweet 16.
Thus, when Baird got his look at a piece of Tournament history, he knew it may be his only opportunity.
“When I shot it, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, go in,'” he laughed.
With all due respect to any Driveway Steph Curries reading, Baird’s 3-point shot was smoother and the splash wetter than any front-yard jump shot.
“I went back and celebrated like I could,” he said. “I got shivers when I was running back, I couldn’t control my emotion.”
Neither could his Michigan teammates. As Baird held up a confident 3-point single with his fingers, the Wolverines bench erupted.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 23, 2018
“It was just one of the best feelings of my life,” Baird said. “One of the coolest things I’ve ever gotten to do.”
It’s something millions of kids, and millions of adults used to, dream of.