Lynden Christian High School only has about 300 students, but one of them is Cole Bajema.
The 6-foot-7 guard who will play at Michigan next season is a big reason why Lynden Christian won a Washington state title last year and has beaten much bigger schools this season en route to an undefeated record.
Lynden Christian is a 1A school, the smallest classification in the state. In its last three games, LC has beaten two 3A schools and a 4A school, all of which enroll more than 1,000 students.
The wins are not a product of opponents taking Lynden Christian lightly. If being the defending 1A champs didn’t get their attention, Bajema’s commitment to Michigan certainly did.
“The natural consequence of signing with the University of Michigan is you’re going to get a lot of attention,” Lynden Christian coach Roger DeBoer said by phone Thursday before his team’s latest victory. “More people fill the stands and come watch that aren’t even associated with Lynden Christian because they want to see what this kid is all about.”
What those people have learned is that Bajema is a selfless star. Bajema attempted a combined 15 shots in consecutive games earlier this month. DeBoer spoke to him about how he’d need to score more in the following games to give his team a chance. So Bajema took 20 shots for the first time all season and scored 33 of LC’s 52 points in a victory.
For the season, Bajema is averaging about 20 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game. DeBoer favors a system that emphasizes ball movement and getting everyone involved.
“Cole is capable of putting up enormous numbers every single night,” he said. “But he’s not a kid that needs to feed his ego that way. … He’s saying, ‘Coach, I don’t need to take those shots. I want to facilitate. I want to get my teammates great looks.'”
Bajema played with a true point guard the past two seasons, but that player graduated. Bajema is now handling the ball a lot more, and DeBoer said his passing has improved immensely. DeBoer has incorporated more ball screens as a result of Bajema’s success in those situations with his AAU team.
His vision in ball screen action caught the eye of John Beilein last summer, who was among the first high-major coaches to recognize Bajema’s potential.
DeBoer said Bajema’s defense and rebounding have improved this season, which will be key when he makes the transition to Michigan. “Coach Beilein is watching our game film,” DeBoer said. “He’s seeing these things. He’s going to be able to see if Cole is getting exposed. Cole has put a lot more focus on defense of late.”
With Bajema heading to Michigan next season, there has been an emphasis on off-court improvement as well. Bajema has gained 10 or 12 pounds since the summer and continues to work on weight training and nutrition. DeBoer has been on him about his school work and leadership as well.
“We feel like we owe that to him, owe that to the University (of Michigan),” DeBoer said. The University has come all the way across the country to recruit a kid from a small town, a small high school. We want to do everything in our power to put him in a position of success.”