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Cole Bajema Tries to Go from Small Town to the Big Time for the Huskies

He's the latest player from basketball-happy Lynden, Washington, looking for a college basketball breakthrough.

Cole Bajema grew up in Lynden, a quaint little town filled with a church on every street corner and a basketball hoop in nearly every driveway. It's like Hoosiers, only two time zones removed.

Five miles from the Canadian border, this wholesome community of 14,000 with rival high schools occasionally comes up with a player unlike any other, with everyone hoping that one of their own can withstand the pressures of the outside world and make it big somewhere. 

In the mid-1980s, Dwayne Scholten, a 6-foot-9 big man from Lynden Christian High School, left for Seattle Pacific University, which wasn't enough of a basketball challenge for him. Transferring to Washington State, he started two seasons in the then-Pac-10 before playing pro basketball overseas.

Next up was 6-10 Todd Lautenbach, who went from Lynden High to the University of Washington. Arriving with great expectations as a post player, he had his moments, such as beating California with a late bucket. Yet he dealt with heart issues that required surgery and relegated him mostly to spot-starter duty for four seasons (1988-91). 

Derric Croft, a 6-5 shooting guard, was the first highly accomplished guard to emerge from the border bedroom community. From Lynden High, he made a junior-college stop before playing a lone season for San Diego State, where he averaged 13.1 points per game (1994).

Bajema has center stage all to himself now. 

He's Lynden's biggest hope yet for a college basketball breakthrough. 

A 27-point scorer for Lynden Christian, the highly decorated 6-7 shooting guard has been to the University of Michigan and back for a season, and he now comes off the bench for the Huskies.

"There was nothing wrong with Michigan, but I just wanted to be closer to home in these uncertain times of COVID," he said. "I wanted to find the right fit from a basketball standpoint."

Cole Bajema spent his first season at Michigan.

Cole Bajema played 10 games at Michigan as a freshman.

With the UW off for 11 days from its regular-season finale to resuming play in the Pac-12 tournament, we're sizing up the play for each of the 11 players who has received minutes with a game on the line. Ten scholarship recipients and 7-foot-4 walk-on Riley Sorn. This is the sixth installment.

Bajema did not fail at Michigan. The situation failed him. He accepted a scholarship from one coach, John Beilein, who left for the NBA, and had to play for another, Juwann Howard, of Fab Five fame. 

Born in Michigan, Bajema always followed the fortunes of Wolverines basketball. He reached out to Beilein to let him know he was interested in playing at Michigan and then had a monster AAU tournament in Pomona, California, sealing the deal for everyone.

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Howard actually signed Bajema to the letter of intent, diligently following up on Beilein's work and making the Lynden kid his first Michigan recruit, but it wasn't quite what Bajema envisioned.

He appeared in just 10 games. While of the Wolverines fan sites were suggesting he had showed plenty of promise and was going to play more, Bajema announced he was going home. Showing that none of his promise had worn thin, Gonzaga and Virginia were among those who tried to provide a basketball home for him.

At the UW, Bajema has played in all but two games for the 5-20 Huskies, slowly gaining traction and showing what he can do.

He averages 3 points and 1.5 rebounds per game. He's scored in double-figures in two of his last five outings, with a season high of 13 against Stanford. He moves fluidly. He's shown the ability to hit the 3-pointer.

"However the coaches see it for me is what I'm here for," he said. "I'm just trying to give energy, effort, shooting, passing, whatever it may be. I'm just trying to help our team win."

Cole Bajema grabs a rebound against WSU.

Cole Bajema mixes it up inside against WSU.

Bajema is the only scholarship player who hasn't started a game. In a totally lost season, he should have been put out there at tipoff. 

He's the future of the program and its rebuild, not the other guys. With pandemic  eligibility provisions offered, he could play three more seasons at the UW.

If there's a drawback to his game, Bajema is still that small-town player who's unfailingly polite on the court, who defers to his older teammates. He really needs to know it's really OK for him to demand the ball at times and take a bunch of shots.

That's how great players are made.

Larry Bird from obscure French Lick, Indiana, did it this way. 

Cole Bajema of little Lynden has a chance.

Follow Dan Raley of Husky Maven on Twitter: @DanRaley1 and @HuskyMaven

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