Michigan walk-on on his 3-pointer: 'One of the best feelings of my life'

LOS ANGELES — When walk-on CJ Baird entered Michigan’s 99-72 victory over Texas A&M for the first time with 41 seconds to go, teammate Jaaron Simmons offered some last-second advice.

“I told him come get the ball and shoot it,” Simmons said.

Encouragement from a teammate was all the coaxing Baird needed to make the most of a rare moment on the floor. The freshman has only played in two previous games this season, four minutes against UC Riverside in late November and three against Alabama A&M four weeks later.

Having grabbed the ball at the top of the key, Baird dribbled down the shot clock, rose up and buried a 25-footer over the outstretched hands of Texas A&M’s 6-foot-10 forward Isiah Jasey. Baird was so excited that he flashed the 3-point sign running back down court as his teammates jumped up and down in celebration on the bench.

“I’ve watched the NCAA tournament for so many years, but I never thought I’d get to do this,” Baird said. “When I shot it,  I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, go in, go in.’ When it went in, I got shivers down my whole body. I couldn’t hold back my emotion. It was one of the best feelings of my life.”

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ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 22: Cody Martin #11 of the Nevada Wolf Pack falls after saving the ball with a pass to Caleb Martin #10 in the second half against the Loyola Ramblers during the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at Philips Arena on March 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 22: PJ Washington #25 of the Kentucky Wildcats goes up with the ball against Amaad Wainright #23 and Makol Mawien #14 of the Kansas State Wildcats in the second half during the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at Philips Arena on March 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22: Charles Matthews #1 of the Michigan Wolverines drives on DJ Hogg #1 of the Texas A&M Aggies in the second half in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Staples Center on March 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 22: Jordan Caroline #24 of the Nevada Wolf Pack and Lucas Williamson #1 of the Loyola Ramblers battle for the rebound during the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at Philips Arena on March 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Loyola Ramblers defeated the Nevada Wolf Pack 69-68. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22: Terance Mann #14 of the Florida State Seminoles goes up for a shot against Rui Hachimura #21 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Staples Center on March 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 22: Jarred Vanderbilt #2 of the Kentucky Wildcats calls a timeout late in the second half against Kevin Knox #5 and PJ Washington #25 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at Philips Arena on March 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22: Josh Perkins #13 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs reacts after being fouled in the first half agaisnt the Florida State Seminoles in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Staples Center on March 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 22: Marques Townes #5 of the Loyola Ramblers reacts after making a late three point basket in the second half against the Nevada Wolf Pack during the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at Philips Arena on March 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman #12 of the Michigan Wolverines goes up for a shot against Tyler Davis #34 of the Texas A&M Aggies in the first half in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Staples Center on March 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 23: Justin Gray #5 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders dunks the ball during the second half against the Purdue Boilermakers in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at TD Garden on March 23, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 23: Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats shoots the ball during the second half against Esa Ahmad #23 of the West Virginia Mountaineers in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at TD Garden on March 23, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 23: Sagaba Konate #50 of the West Virginia Mountaineers reacts on the bench during the second half against the Villanova Wildcats in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at TD Garden on March 23, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 22: PJ Washington #25 of the Kentucky Wildcats handles the ball against Cartier Diarra #2 of the Kansas State Wildcats in the first half during the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at Philips Arena on March 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Baird’s shot was a fitting ending to a night when Michigan couldn’t miss no matter who shot the ball. The third-seeded Wolverines buried seventh-seeded Texas A&M under an avalanche of threes, sinking 10 before halftime and shooting 14 of 24 from behind the arc for the game.

The most memorable of the 14 was Baird’s because it was so unlikely. Only six months ago, he had no intention of trying to play basketball at Michigan.

Baird played four seasons of varsity basketball at Detroit Catholic Central High School, but he was a better student than he was a prospect. Rather than play basketball at a nearby Division III school, Baird decided to enroll in Michigan’s business school in hopes of one day forging a career in corporate finance.

One of Baird’s high school coaches reached out to the Michigan staff about the possibility of him walking onto the team. There were no available roster spots, so Baird became a student manager instead.

“I was perfectly content with that for awhile,” Baird said. “I got to be part of the practices and see what happens. Finally, one of our players quit in mid-October for academic reasons. They had an open tryout for his spot, and I won the job. They welcomed me to the team in early November, and it’s been a great ride ever since.”

When Baird got back to the locker room after his 3-pointer, he was chosen to lead the team in singing Michigan’s fight song. Minutes later, he checked his phone and found a flood of calls, texts and tweets, several of them from his parents who are celebrating their 25th anniversary in Italy this week.

Nobody was happier for Baird than Simmons, the player whose encouragement paved the way for the walk-on’s moment in the spotlight.

“He never gets the opportunity to get into a game, especially an NCAA tournament game at that,” Simmons said. “I just wanted him to be able to get a shot up and for him to knock it down.”

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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