His ethos can be found under his right bicep, in big black letters.
“No vanity,” says the tattoo.
It would be so easy to afford a little now.
Amari Bailey is no longer a promising college basketball star. He is here.
With every skillful move to the basket, every defensive stop, every pass that finds a teammate in the perfect spot, UCLA’s freshman guard is elevating an already formidable team into a potentially unstoppable force at just the right time.
He has become so invaluable that his coach regretted not giving him more of the ball during the Bruins’ 68-63 win over Northwestern in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“What did Amari have?” Mick Cronin said afterwards, scanning the score box for the point tally. “Fourteen. I was expecting 18. But it’s my fault he didn’t get enough shots. I’m still working to figure that out.”
Fortunately for the Bruins, Bailey is more than capable of getting his own shot. He spun around Northwestern’s Boo Buie for a fast-break layup, nailed a jumper at the end of the shot clock and hit a 3-pointer to give his team its biggest lead of the game.
Along the way, he proved that UCLA’s offense no longer consists of Jaime Jaquez Jr., Tyger Campbell and whatever remnants the team can find.
“Give credit to Amari Bailey,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “I thought he really stepped up and gave them some great production as the third scorer.”
It was not an anomaly. In the five games since Jaylen Clark suffered a season-ending lower leg injury, Bailey averaged 17 points, including his career-high 26, against Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament. That average is nearly double the 9.6 points Bailey had averaged before Clark’s injury and makes Bruins fans understand that they’d better enjoy his presence during what appears to be a brief college stint.
“I’m going to make mistakes and I’m here to learn from all of them by really being a sponge and soaking up as much as I can and taking advantage of every day that I get here.”
— Amari Bailey on how she approaches her game
How long could you stay?
“I really just focus day by day,” Bailey recently told The Times when asked about going to the NBA or coming back 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 the No. 12 banner, that’s my No. 1 goal.”
You’ll need to be in top game form to watch the blue and gold fabric rise inside Pauley Pavilion, beating each exponentially more difficult challenge. Next up for the second-seeded Bruins is 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. His close defense of Buie, the Wildcats’ best player, kept him without a field goal in the first half and seemed to make him uncharacteristically passive before starting the second half. Buie finished with 18 points, but made just 5 of 13 shots and was so out of his mind that he missed a layup by Gimme with 13 seconds left that sealed the fate of the Wildcats.
Bailey also drove and sent center Adem Bona for a dunk early in the game, showing off his elite passing skills. Yes, his three turnovers were the most on the team, a continuing trend that could make those hoping for Bailey’s return next season hope he wants to fix that problem before moving 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 polish the other things if a guy competes. Like he’s a front office executive (in the NBA), if he couldn’t get the answer to that, I’d care less about length, skill, height, edge. If I look at a guy and he doesn’t have a ticker and he doesn’t physically compete, I can tell you that guy has no chance in the NBA because those guys, despite all the drama about him, play hard, man.”
Bailey was a huge brand before she stepped foot on campus, having amassed the bulk of her 565,000 followers on Instagram. But she didn’t exalt anyone or lose herself in her own celebrity.
“Honestly, I never get into all of that,” Bailey said of getting caught up in the hype. “I see myself as a human being, first. Sometimes I realize what I’m perceived to be, but at the end of the day, I’m a 19-year-old kid who is realizing it just like everyone else. I would say I’m going to make mistakes and I’m here to learn from all of them, really being a sponge and soaking up as much as I can and taking advantage of every day I get here.”
Bailey studies each teammate, even watching Russell Stong IV’s moves in practice. The best players who stay connected with chaperones have kept the locker room unified, with no cliques formed based on how many stars someone received in high school.
“I haven’t played on a team where we were that cohesive,” Bailey said, “we really just wanted the best for each other, no matter what we personally had, no matter what we had. on the floor, as soon as we get between the lines or get to the practice facility, get on the plane or whatever, there’s an instant release, so that’s something I can always look forward to.”
For two more weeks, if all goes well.