Editor’s note: This story was updated at 7:30 p.m. with comments from Shane Bajema, Cole Bajema’s father.
When he called to offer Lynden Christian standout Cole Bajema a scholarship to play at Michigan, Wolverines men’s basketball coach John Beilein admitted he didn’t know exactly what compelled him to watch the highlight reel he received of Bajema, one among the dozens if not hundreds of reels the high-profile coach likely fields on a weekly basis.
But he did, and it jump-started a recruiting process that led to Bajema, a 6-foot-7 guard, committing to Michigan last August.
Those circumstances have now changed.
On Monday morning, the Cleveland Cavaliers announced Beilein as its next coach. He leaves Michigan for the NBA after 12 years, two Final Four appearances and four Big Ten regular season and tournament titles.
Thanks to everyone at the Univ of Michigan for their incredible support these last 12 years. Our fans , alums , leaders, players and students are AMAZING It has been a heck of a ride and I hope you enjoyed our teams and staff as much as I did !Go Blue Forever ! #GoBlue— John Beilein (@JohnBeilein) May 13, 2019
By the time Bajema woke up before school Monday morning, the news had already broken on the east coast, and he was preparing to give a speech at school. The topic, of all things: his life story, and how he wound up signing with the University of Michigan.
“He had to do that speech two hours after he got the news today,” Shane Bajema, Cole’s father, said. “He was strong, he went in, did it. Had to improvise at the end and say the story continues.”
So what does Beilein’s departure mean for Bajema, the two-time Washington 1A state player of the year?
When he heard the news first thing Monday morning, Bajema was “shocked,” and “a little caught off guard,” according his AAU coach Donald Brady, who exchanged text messages with him after the news broke.
“He really liked the whole staff at Michigan and just Michigan in general,” Brady said. “Beilein obviously was a major part of it.”
Bajema, a lifelong Michigan Wolverine fan, has not made a decision whether or not to ask for a release from his letter of intent he signed with the University of Michigan in November. Instead, he will wait to see what the university does in hiring Beilein’s replacement.
“We’re definitely sitting tight,” Shane Bajema said. “Impulse reactions would be foolish.
“We don’t know what timelines will be in Michigan’s decision. Programs that have done it best got it done really quick.”
Brady said between him and Lynden Christian coach Roger DeBoer, the coaches have heard from about 10 schools inquiring about Bajema’s future. NCAA rules prohibit coaches from other schools to reach out to recruits directly once they have signed a letter of intent.
For Bajema, the University of Michigan holds a unique level of importance beyond Beilein.
Bajema was born in Grand Haven, Michigan (two and a half hours outside of Ann Arbor) and lived there until he was about four years old. He moved with his family to Lynden, where he was raised, yet his support for Michigan never wavered. He still has family in Michigan. When his recruiting began to heat up during his high school career, he still considered Michigan his “dream school.”
But Beilein’s reputation as a player development coach synced with Bajema, who “has not hit anywhere near his ceiling,” according to his father.
How he came onto Michigan’s radar was rather unorthodox.
“I kind of just talked to (Brady), he said, ‘what’s your dream school?’ And I said Michigan,” Bajema told Scorebook Live in April. “So he sent Michigan some film. Beilein was nice enough to respond a little bit, said he liked my film. I actually went to a camp of theirs. I showed out pretty well and they were like, we’ll just keep track of you in July on the AAU circuit. I was lucky enough to perform pretty well. Pulled off a few offers then Michigan called, got the offer and I pretty much committed on the spot.”
Bajema’s profile began to rise during two-week period at the end of July, which was capped by a strong showing at the Las Vegas Classic the last weekend of July.
By the time Michigan had offered, Bajema already had offers from a host of power-five schools, including Virginia, Xavier and Washington. Arizona and Louisville, among others, also expressed interest.
But each time a new school reached out to Brady, he told them if the Michigan offer came, they would be fighting for second.
If Bajema were to ask Michigan to get out of his national letter of intent, which he signed back in November, the four-star wing would have a fair share of options.
As of now, it’s unclear whether Bajema will do so. When he got home from school Monday afternoon, he powered through some food and said he had to get back to work, according to his father.
He then went to lift weights with his trainer.
“[His family is] handling it well, they’ll make a really good decision,” Brady said. “Of all the kids we’ve helped, he’s one of the best, family is one of the best. They know what they’re looking for, which is really important.”