Individually, Marvin Bagley has a lot to be proud of these days.
The 6-foot-11 power forward is the No. 1 basketball player in the recruiting class of 2018, he’s leading the highly competitive Nike circuit in scoring and rebounding, and he’s already generally regarded as the most likely No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft two years from now.
On Friday night, he scored 35 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out four assists. After the game, he wasn’t in much of a mood to talk.
“We’re 0-5 now. It’s embarrassing,” Bagley said, shaking his head in frustration, after his Nike Phamily squad dropped their fifth consecutive game to start the travel season. “We gotta figure it out.”
The majority of high school players — win or lose — would have been thrilled with an individual performance like the one Bagley turned in Friday night. He was 12-for-18 from the floor, knocked down an NBA-range three-pointer in front of an incredulous John Calipari, and looked every bit the part of the No. 1 recruit in the country, on both sides of the court.
But Bagley already knows he’s good at basketball, and he’ll have his pick of any college in America when it’s time to make that decision. That individual success isn’t what’s driving him right now. It’s wins and losses.
“Being the competitive player I am, I want to win every game I play,” Bagley said. “Losing five straight, it’s tough. We have to figure out how to get over this hump. … We’ll get it together, but, right now, it’s frustrating, losing games like this.”
It’s not something he’s used to.
Bagley averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds per game as a junior, leading Sierra Canyon (Calif.), which was ranked No. 1 nationally for much of the season, to a 27-3 record. He was making up for lost time after being forced to sit out almost all of his sophomore season following a transfer flap when he moved to California from his native Arizona.
Even while he was sidelined, his game continued to improve.
Bagley is currently ranked by Scout.com, Rivals.com and ESPN as the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2018 class. Scout.com national analyst Evan Daniels evaluated Bagley last weekend and called him the “clear No. 1 player in the class” — a group that includes the likes of fellow UK targets Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford — and referred to him as the “odds-on favorite” to go No. 1 in the 2019 NBA Draft.
“I thought he was the most dominant player I saw last weekend,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “At 6-11, he’s so versatile. He’s honestly a man among boys out there. Offensively, he can score facing the rim or with his back to the basket. He can fake guys out and drive by them. He can make jump shots.
“And he’s so mobile and athletic for his size. He’s physically very aggressive.”
It’s a great program. It speaks for itself. A lot of great NBA players went through Kentucky.
Marvin Bagley, No. 1 basketball recruit
Bagley recently announced a list of six finalists — Kentucky, Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Southern Cal and UCLA — and he said Friday night that they’re all in the mix at this point in his recruitment. “There’s not one favorite,” he said.
The 18-year-old deflected pretty much every question related to his recruitment back to the fact that his Nike team hadn’t won a game yet, saying that’s his only priority at the moment.
As is usually the case at these events, there were several questions about UK. On one of those, Bagley finally bit.
“It’s a great program,” he said. “It speaks for itself. A lot of great NBA players went through Kentucky, and they’re doing well in the NBA right now. Obviously, that’s my goal, to get to the NBA. So seeing that is always great. Kentucky is a great school.”
A reporter pointed out that one former UK star — Nike league alum Anthony Davis — had his image splashed on huge Nike-themed banners that overlooked the court behind where Bagley was standing.
The young player turned around, looked at the images of Davis, and — for the first and only time of the interview — cracked a quick smile.
He politely answered the next recruiting-related question, before bringing the conversation back to its overarching theme: winning basketball games.
“I’m just trying to work hard and make sure that I’m ready when I get to that level,” Bagley said. “But, most importantly, we gotta win first. All this doesn’t matter if we don’t get wins.”