Everybody loves David

Ryan Caseyassistant sports editor

Ryan Casey
assistant sports editor

John Ryan Casey

A masked man emerges from a tunnel and turns to walk in front of the teeming sea of red. No, he’s not a superhero; walk-on guard David Bagga had simply broken his nose.

Bagga, now a sophomore, became something of a fan favorite in his first season as an Arizona Wildcat, occasionally appearing in front of the student section before games to energize the crowd.

“”It started off as a joke one day. I think it was before we played ASU, and I had broken my nose a week before, and I had to wear that mask,”” the Foothill Ranch, Calif., native recalled from the floor of McKale Center after practice earlier this week. He looked toward where the student section would be as he replayed the moment in his mind. “”I remember one of my friends was like, ‘Yeah, they want you to come pump them up,’ and I thought he was kidding. …But then I went out there.

“”I just started kind of waving my hands up and down to try to get them pumped up, and I guess it worked.””

This season, Bagga plans to do more of the same.

“”It was cool because last year, all of my friends won tickets through the Zona Zoo – literally every one of them,”” he said. “”So it was kind of like visiting my friends before the game in a sense.””

But he’s not just a pregame type of guy. During games, if there’s a flailing figure on the Arizona bench telling the crowd to get loud with a towel in his hand, chances are it’s Bagga.

So it comes as no surprise that as the clock ticks away, the first half fading into the second, and Arizona’s lead grows larger, the chants of “”We-Want-Bag-ga!”” grow louder.

It’s something Bagga said he never would have come to expect when he first set foot on campus.

“”Not at first,”” he said, subtly shaking his head. “”At first, I was just trying to help out as much as I could with the team, to do whatever I could for the other guys. And once I got to know the fans, they embraced me. It’s a great feeling.

“”I’ve said it since day one, Tucson is by far the best basketball town in the country, hands down.””

When Bagga does see the floor (Arizona’s record in games he appears in is a very Josh Pastner-like 8-0, including a win over Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament), screams of “”Shoooooooot!”” rain down from the north side of McKale. More often than not, to their deafening approval, he does.

But it’s when his shots find the bottom of the basket – like his first career field goal attempt that happened to be from behind the arc against Virginia – that McKale roars.

“”It’s a great feeling,”” he said. “”It’s nice to know that the fans support me just as much as they support someone like (guard) Mustafa (Shakur) or (forward) Marcus (Williams) or (forward) Ivan (Radenovic). You know, I can’t thank them enough.””

Fans weren’t always as supportive as they are now. When Arizona’s 2005-06 roster was released before last season and included “”No. 11, David Bagga,”” the most common thought among the fan base was “”Who?”” followed closely by “”Why?””

They wondered how some walk-on who averaged one point per game in high school could possibly help UA head coach Lute Olson’s team. But Bagga, always the optimist, said those concerns didn’t affect him.

“”Not really, because I know in my own right, I’m here to help just as much as the next guy,”” he said, “”and anything they need me to do, I can do it.””

Upon returning to his parents’ California home this summer, Bagga – a career 40 percent shooter from the field – set out to work on his shot using drills the team used in practice last season.

“”I was just thinking to myself, ‘OK, this is stuff I’m going to be working on eventually,'”” he said. “”I know it will pay off sometime.””

Perhaps the most important thing Bagga brings to the squad is immeasurable. Even though he’ll never tell you that he’s a driving force behind the team’s improved chemistry this season, he is.

“”I think this year …everyone’s there for each other,”” he said. “”Last year it was kind of like someone took a bad shot, and a lot of us, myself included, were so quick to just criticize someone and, you know, point a finger, per se, at someone.

“”I think this year if I take a bad shot or someone takes a bad shot, there’s really no finger-pointing. It’s more of encouragement,”” he added. “”And I think that’s something that the coaches stressed a lot last year, and that’s something that we’ve been working on as a unit.””

It’s something that’s led Bagga – and his crowd-pleasing antics – to believe that this season, the student section will be cheering for something more than a pregame routine.

“”This year, (the students) will be naturally pumped, just because this is going to be a great season,”” he said. “”I believe we can go all the way, and I think the student section will be a big part of that.””

Ryan Casey is a journalism senior.
He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.