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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The Legend of David Bagga

    David Bagga yells at the Zona Zoo section from the top of a media table after an 84-72 win over then-No. 11 UCLA in McKale Center on Feb. 14.
    David Bagga yells at the Zona Zoo section from the top of a media table after an 84-72 win over then-No. 11 UCLA in McKale Center on Feb. 14.

    Hoops Senior Week

    There’s a legend that has been a bright spot for the Arizona men’s basketball team for nearly four years.

    His name is David Bagga.

    Talk to him about almost anything and he’ll flash you that boyish grin he can’t seem to ever wipe away. Ask him about his first interaction with legendary head coach Lute Olson, and you’ll think that smile might split his face in two.

    If you looked at his career stat sheet, you’d wonder why he isn’t frowning. But if you peer into his heart, you’ll know everything.

    The legend of David Bagga began in the most implausible way. He attended basketball powerhouse Mater Dei High School.The Monarchs went 119-16 in his career, but Bagga only averaged 1.0 point per game in his senior season.

    But numbers never did define the 6-foot-4 guard.

    He called the Arizona coaches and told them he could give the UA practice team a boost during his senior year in 2005. The Foothill Ranch, Calif., native didn’t have much high school game tape to send to Tucson because he didn’t play much, but luckily Olson visited Mater Dei a few times to scout current Wildcat Alex Jacobson.

    In his senior year at Mater Dei, Bagga didn’t know if he would even attend a major university- maybe he’d go to a junior college instead. But when he ran into a lady at his hometown gym who had gotten a college education by walking-onto the USC water polo team, he found inspiration.

    “”She told me, ‘If you think in your mind you can keep up with them, and you believe you can go out and do it, then you can do it,'”” Bagga said. “”She said, ‘All you need is that little window of opportunity.'””

    And just like that, Bagga found himself in Olson’s McKale Center office as part of a freshman class that included J.P. Prince, Marcus Williams and Fendi Onobun. The coach had a few words of wisdom for the baby-faced freshman.

    “”You’re going to get a great education, you’re going to work harder than you’ve ever worked, you’re going to make a lot of friends,”” Bagga recalled Olson telling him.

    Statistically, Bagga hasn’t been a factor in Arizona’s success over the years. The lefty has played a total of 40 minutes and has scored 19 career points.

    He has a 21-2 record when he gets into a game, and he suffered a broken nose in practice once – a big sacrifice that wasn’t rewarded with any more playing time in games.

    But that’s not what defines Bagga.

    He’d just as soon be pushed around the middle of a team huddle like a human pinball to pump his teammates up before games, and then watch the Wildcats win a game from his courtside seat at the end of the bench.

    “”He’s just one of those great guys that you just love to have on the team,”” said junior Chase Budinger. “”He never complained one time since he’s been here. He’s been our hype guy, he gets our crowd into it. The best thing about him is he’s a great person.””

    Added junior Nic Wise: “”He’s just our energy guy off the bench. He’s always clapping and even when we do lose, he’s always giving guys high fives in the locker room. He’s a great guy to be around.””

    Bagga described himself as a quiet, lanky, goofy kid in junior high school. When he got to Mater Dei, he developed the light-hearted characteristics that make him so popular today.

    Even UA interim head coach Russ Pennell has noticed his ability to capture a group’s attention.

    “”He needs to run for public office,”” Pennell said. “”(UA) President (Robert) Shelton ought to hire him and then figure it out, because this guy’s good – he’s good in front of people.””

    Bagga thinks back to the USC water polo athlete who inspired him. Now that he has an interdisciplinary studies major in his sights, if he doesn’t dip into the real estate business, he wants to have a job where he can return the favor of inspiration.

    “”I’d like to be a motivational speaker for high school kids and tell them the importance of going to college and getting an education and really finding out who you are,”” Bagga said. “”When you come to college you find out things you didn’t know about yourself.””

    On his first day of classes, for example, he learned he was taller than he thought when he walked into class and hit his head on the top of the doorframe.

    It’s his happy-go-lucky personality that makes him a favorite.

    The “”Da-vid, Bag-ga”” chants at the end of pull-away games in McKale are proof.

    “”I want to say thank you to all the fans for everything that they’ve done in the last four years for our team,”” Bagga said. “”They’re the greatest fans in the world. The games would not be the same without them, and they made the experience that much better.””

    The fans help embrace Bagga as an important part of the team, but he also remembers where his opportunity came from: Olson, the first of three head coaches at the UA since Bagga arrived on campus.

    “”If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here,”” Bagga said.

    But like Olson’s coaching status, nothing is ever guaranteed.

    “”I remember so clearly,”” Bagga said with a grin, of course. “”He said, ‘If you want it to be, this will be one of the best experiences of your life.’ I always remembered that last thing he told me: If you want it to be.””

    For Bagga, this was more inspiration. And for that, he became inspiration for the players who saw regular court time and to the UA basketball community as a whole.

    He often stands at the end of the bench during games with his signature rally towel around his neck. Sometimes he’ll lift one arm up -ÿthe single Bagga -ÿand sometimes he’ll lift both up – the double Bagga. And sometimes – like after Arizona’s 12-point Valentine’s Day victory over then-No. 11 UCLA – he’ll jump on the media table and throw his fists in the air while shouting at the Zona Zoo student section.

    After the Wildcats beat Oregon 67-52 in McKale Center early January, sophomore Jamelle Horne – who requests Bagga to be with him in most of his media appearances – said Bagga was the reason for the win, though the walk-on played just two minutes.

    “”It was Bagga, Bagga, Bagga, Bagga,”” Horne said. “”We needed him, and he came through for us. He was yelling all kinds of stuff that didn’t even make sense before the game. But it was loud and we fed off of it. We went from there and got the ‘W.'””

    Only two more regular season games in McKale Center remain for Bagga. This week will be his last chance to raise his fists, his rally towel, and most importantly, the community’s love for the team.

    Remember, stats don’t define him; his heart does.

    “”I’ve been kind of thinking about the last three-and-a-half years, and it’s gone by so fast. It really has been an unbelievable experience being a part of this team and being able to play for coach Olson for two years and learning from him,”” Bagga said. “”I’ve had so much fun as a Wildcat.””

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