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December 5, 2007
Bayless helps Arizona return to rankings
Bayless is playing very well for the Wildcats (5-2), who climbed back into the rankings this week after beating Cal-State Fullerton and handing Texas A&M its first loss.
But he's not playing for Olson, 73, who remains on a leave of absence for personal reasons. He has been on leave since early November, turning the reins over to assistant Kevin O'Neill.
No matter the coach, Bayless, a five-star prospect whom Rivals.com ranked the No. 3 shooting guard in the 2007 class, is delivering. He is Rivals' National Freshman of the Week after scoring 21 points against the Titans and torching the Aggies for 26.
"There has been a lot going on with the program with Coach Olson and Coach O'Neill," Bayless told Rivals.com. "I think I'm figuring out better what Coach O'Neill is bringing to the table. It's a little different, but I'm feeling more comfortable."
Bayless (6 feet 3, 193 pounds) had more trouble putting into words the differences between Olson and O'Neill than he has scoring this season. He was 8-of-13 against Fullerton and 7-of-12 against A&M, raising his season shooting percentage to a sizzling 51.3 percent, including 43.8 percent from 3-point range.
Is O'Neill … well, let's just say a bit louder than Olson?
"You could say that," Bayless said.
Bayless committed to Arizona before his junior year at Phoenix St. Mary's, decommitted that spring, then recommitted before his senior year. He chose the Wildcats over such luminaries as Kansas and Texas.
"Coach Olson is the reason I came here, and I miss him not being around," Bayless said. "But Coach O'Neill has done a great job. He's led us in a way that I'm happy to follow him, and we'll see where we can go."
Bayless said Olson had been around practice daily for the past couple of weeks. Bayless said he had no idea when the coach would return to his place on the bench, a spot he has occupied in Tucson for the past 24 seasons.
"He hasn't really told us anything (about when he might return)," Bayless said. "I'm sure it will be whenever he feels right."
Upon his return, he'll find a freshman who's getting better with every game. Bayless had a season-low one turnover against the Aggies to go with six assists. At this point, he looks more comfortable at shooting guard, but he can play the point and it may be where his future lies.
Where does he see himself?
"I'm whatever they ask me to be," Bayless said. "Coach O'Neill says be a playmaker. That's what I try to do."
OTHER NOMINEES FOR FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK:
G Eric Gordon, Indiana
F Patrick Patterson, Kentucky
F Matt Howard, Butler
Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.