TEMPE – In 2020, coach Bobby Hurley pieced together an impressive recruiting class for Arizona State men’s basketball, highlighted by Josh Christopher and Marcus Bagley, both among the top 30 recruits in the country. The class finished top-10 in the country, which earned Hurley his best ranking in eight seasons with the Sun Devils, according to 247Sports.
Now, a first-round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Christopher is in his second NBA season with the Houston Rockets. Meanwhile, Bagley is entering his third season with ASU, having only played 15 games over his first two years due to injury.
No matter. Along with teammate DJ Horne, Bagley was named to this season’s Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference Second Team and approaches ASU’s upcoming 2022-23 season with a clean slate. The Sun Devils open the regular season Monday at home against Tarleton State.
“Essentially it’s a blank start for me, that’s how I want to approach it,” Bagley said. “Just come every day, put the work in, put the time in and whatever stems from that I’ll accept because I know I put the time in.”
⚡️ Preseason Buzz ⚡️
— Sun Devil MBB (@SunDevilHoops) October 24, 2022
Bagley said he’s feeling 100% entering the season after “an unlucky two years” of dealing with a variety of injuries. Bagley started 11 of 12 games as a freshman and averaged 10.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. He looked healthy at the start of last season, scoring 12 and 18 points in the team’s first two games, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game.
“I’m resilient. I’m a determined player that went through a dark time the last couple of years,” Bagley said of what he has learned about himself after being sidelined. “To see myself gradually just fighting to get back, I’m just super proud of myself, and I can’t wait to see what’s in front of me.”
Bagley said that the most challenging part of his journey back to the court was “just being patient.”
“It was tough because of the injuries I had, I couldn’t really do much,” Bagley continued. “I couldn’t really be active, so just keeping my cardio up was the toughest thing. So I tried to find ways to challenge myself. And I’m happy I was just able to persevere and get back to where I was at.”
The Sun Devils were picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12 in the conference’s preseason media poll after two consecutive losing seasons. ASU will work seven newcomers into the mix this season, one year after welcoming 14 new incoming players in the previous offseason.
In the midst of what appeared to be a revolving door in Tempe, Bagley entered his name into the 2021 NBA Draft and the transfer portal, but in the end stuck with the team and Hurley, and he continues to show his loyalty to ASU.
“Something keeps pulling back,” Bagley said. “I love it here, the coaches, coach Hurley believing me. I know I’m not gonna get that type of belief system anywhere else, so that was big for me. I love them for it, and I hope Tempe loves me the same way I love it.”
Hurley offered some comments on Bagley’s time at ASU on the Dave Pasch Radio Show: “A lot of guys that have NBA in their future sometimes can look past the present and not be as invested, but he loves Arizona State. His grandfather was one of the legends (at ASU), Joe Caldwell. As a little kid, he would always attend ASU games, so it’s in his blood, and he wants nothing more than to have a great season.”
Hurley is confident that Bagley will bring instant offense to this year’s team and is looking forward to having him healthy.
“Having a chip on your shoulder, being hungry and (having) something to prove, all those clichés, I think that’s a bullseye for Marcus,” Hurley said. “He’s heard a lot of people talk about him not being able to stay healthy and will he ever be able to play here and stuff. He’s highly motivated.
“It’s as good as he’s looked, really since his freshman year. So, we have high hopes for the season that he hopefully can put together for us.”
During his freshman season, Bagley mostly played at the 4 spot because of all of the talent the Sun Devils had at the guard position, including Remy Martin, Alonzo Verge and Christopher. In contrast, this season’s team features a handful of players over 6-foot-9.
With ASU’s current size advantage, he will primarily play the 3 position, adding that growing up, he’s “always gravitated towards the perimeter game” and is excited to get back to playing there. “I’m kind of (moving) back into my natural habitat,” the 6-foot-8 Bagley said.
However, Bagley said no matter where is put on the floor, he will do his best. “It’s gonna be a lot of mismatches and matchup nightmares for the opponent,” he said.
“At the next level (in the NBA), I’m gonna have to be interchangeable in a lot of different ways,” Bagley continued. “I’ve got to be able to learn the 2, the 3, the 4. So, just having that experience under my belt is definitely going to help me going forward.”
Hurley added that he’s excited for the versatility and depth his team has this season, especially with Bagley more in a perimeter spot. He also noted the team’s size, alluding to Bagley’s game against USC during his freshman season when he had 13 defensive rebounds.
“Even if (Bagley’s) not making shots, teams have to honor and guard him, so it opens the court up then for our guards to penetrate,” Hurley said at Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day. “And defensively he’s a guy that can rebound for us and a very good positional defender.”
Carrying on the Legacy ⭐️🧬
— Sun Devil MBB (@SunDevilHoops) October 16, 2022
One of the team’s longest-tenured players, Bagley will assume a leadership role by default, despite little playing time. Still he has supreme confidence in his teammates.
“We know it’s a big year, not only for this team but for the university (as well),” Bagley said. “It’s going through a lot, as an athletic university. So we’re excited to get out there and try to turn some things around.”
Over this offseason, Bagley worked on better decision-making with the ball and increasing his effort on both ends of the court. He also played the hat of recruiter by helping bring in his third-grade teammate and projected starting point guard, Frankie Collins, from Michigan.
“When I heard he was coming on a visit, I was like, ‘Yeah, I got to lock this in,’ and then the day after the visit, he committed,” Bagley said. “I couldn’t be happier. So we’re glad to have him. He’s a great guy off the court and a great guy on the court. And he’s definitely going to be a leader for us at the point guard position.”
Collins added: “We just talked, and he just really just broke it down to me like how hungry he is this year and how he really wants this year to be the year because he’s kind of been robbed his last few years with injuries.“
Collins also highlighted the ease in finding Bagley wherever he is on the floor, thanks in part to establishing an early chemistry on offense.
“If (Bagley) goes through a healthy year and just plays the way we know he can play, you might not even be able to see him here next year,” Collins said. “He will be an NBA player. Because a healthy Marcus is an NBA player.”
Bagley’s brother, Marvin, signed a three-year, $37.5 million contract over the summer with the Detroit Pistons after a resurgence last season. Marvin had a dominant career at Hurley’s alma mater, Duke, and he ended up being the second overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
“I talk to him pretty much every day,” Bagley said of his brother. “He just is big in telling me what to expect. If he sees something I’m not doing right on the court, he’ll call me, let me know and stuff like that, vice versa. So it’s just good to have that guy in the NBA that’s doing it at the highest level giving you advice.”
Bagley’s personal goal for the season is simple and will only help the team succeed, if his body cooperates.
“I just want to be consistently available,” he said. “I want to be an everyday guy. Every practice, every game, I want to be available.”
After doing his best to stay healthy last year, “the ball didn’t bounce (his) way,” Bagley admits, and now he wants to look ahead to the future and put the past behind him.
“If I stay in the past, it doesn’t serve me anymore,” he said. “So I just think of everything I could do now to stay on the court and stay healthy. And if I do that, if I do everything I possibly can, I’ll live with the results.”
The Sun Devils won seven of their last eight regular-season games last season and look to build on those strengths early to avoid a second straight poor start.
In the team’s quest to prove the conference preseason rankings wrong, Bagley, his teammates and Hurley enter Monday’s opener with a chip on their shoulder.
“Everybody’s just really hungry, we want to win,” Bagley said. “We all have the collective idea that if we do what we got to do as a team, all the individual stuff will take care of itself. So we’re just excited, we really can’t wait to get out there.”