SHERIDAN — Josh Bagley can’t quite put into words how much a simple orange ball and a 10-foot hoop mean to him. He remembers falling in love with basketball at a young age. He recalls pick-up games and high school contests that meant so much to him at the time. The sport afforded the Durham, North Carolina, native a chance to see the Rocky Mountains and experience things he never fathomed. But more that anything, basketball helped the Sheridan College sophomore push forward and persevere through unspeakable tragedy. Simply put, basketball has helped Bagley heal.
“As soon as I could touch a basketball, I had to,” Bagley said. “That was the easiest way for me to cope with it.”
It has almost been five years now, but the painful memory still persists. During a hot North Carolina summer day, Bagley and his twin brother Aaron were working out with their AAU team.
With the heat index above 100, Aaron experienced some severe cramping.
Not thinking too much about it at the time, the two went home and it was there where Aaron’s condition worsened. The cramping didn’t subside, and after Aaron started vomiting, he told his parents he needed to go to the hospital.
At the hospital Aaron suffered a significant seizure that forced him into cardiac arrest before falling into coma. After a week, Aaron went brain dead.
Unexpectedly, and still without a definitive diagnosis, Josh Bagley’s brother was gone. The person with whom Bagley discovered the sport of basketball, the person with whom he played countless hours of one-on-one, the person with whom Bagley spent most hours of the day was no longer there.
“That was probably the hardest thing in my life to deal with,” Bagley said. “Having to go through it after having somebody with you your whole life. I had to just keep coping with it with basketball because that was something we always did.”
Not a day goes by where Bagley doesn’t think about his brother. He’ll simply sit in class when Aaron pops into Bagley’s head. Bagley recently purchased a tattoo positioned on the inside of his forearm honoring Aaron. It’s one of the first things Josh Bagley sees each and every morning, and it’s hard to miss when he dons the Sheridan College Columbia blue and gold.
SC head coach Matt Hammer stumbled upon Bagley’s talent. SC then-assistant coach Tom Parks attended a prep showcase on the East Coast with the intention of watching and recruiting Akeem White.
White’s team played Bagley’s and not one player on Bagley’s squad could stop White. At 6-foot-7, with the ability to handle the ball and get to the rim, White was a matchup nightmare.
Bagley, a 5-11 guard, took the challenge of defending White. Undersized and outgunned, Parks admired Bagley’s competitive fire so much so that he asked White and Bagley to come on a visit to Sheridan together.
Bagley fell in love with the West immediately. He admired the mountains, clicked with the SC coaching staff and practically committed on the spot.
After going back to North Carolina and talking it over with his parents, Bagley made it official. He was going to be a General.
Bagley went to a couple different schools during his high school years, attending a public high school and a prep school. The NCAA, however, didn’t accept some of preparatory credits, which made Bagley a non-qualifier and unable to go the four-year route.
Bagley and his family appealed the decision by the NCAA and won. Bagley, now eligible to attend to a four-year school, could have backed out of his commitment to Sheridan and go straight to a four-year, which is every junior college player’s dream.
But Bagley stuck true to his word.
“He’s a qualifier now, we could sign at a four year,” Harold Bagley, Josh’s father, told Hammer. “We feel as though everything happens for a reason. [Josh] likes it out here. We like that he likes it out here. He’s going to stick with his commitment and stay.”
Bagley’s first semester in Sheridan didn’t go smoothly. He struggled offensively, connecting on just 25 percent of his field goals. Bagley was shooting the ball too high.
When practicing on a shooting machine inside the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome, Bagley put a touch more arc on his shot to compensate for the netting that collects missed shots, and that resulted in a bunch of misfires come game time.
After returning home for the holidays, Bagley rediscovered his form and a year later, he’s adopted the nickname “Big 3 JB” from assistant coach Cody Ball. He garnered that name from his innate ability to make shots when the Generals need them most.
“JB is our point guard. He’s our floor general,” Sheridan’s Sean Sutherlin said. “He’s one of the most important players on our team. When he’s playing good, we are one of the best teams in the country.”
Bagley hit a go-ahead 3 with under a minute to play in a four-point win over Eastern Wyoming College this season. He connected on another trey from the wing late in a one-possession game at Central Wyoming College, which helped SC claim a five-point win. He tallied a season-high 25 points in a win at Gillette College where the Generals were without leading-scorer Adham Eleeda.
“It all comes back to how much work [Josh] puts in,” Hammer said. “There’s not too many guys we’ve had here in the last five years that spend as much time on the (shooting) gun as JB has. He’s a confident kid.
“Any time you can have a point guard with the characteristics and qualities that Josh has, you’ve got a good chance of being successful.”
Bagley’s time at Sheridan College is close to coming to an end. He’s embraced the western way of life, taking a firearms class, eating elk for the first time and simply driving around to catch a good view of the Bighorn Mountains.
The adjustment for the North Carolinian was tough at first, but now, Bagley knows he’ll miss Sheridan. The town has broadened his horizons, the school has set him up for future academic success and his coaches and teammates have helped him become a better basketball player.
“The people here, I love the people,” Bagley said. “I’m going to remember the fun times. “I’m going to remember the new experiences that I couldn’t have experienced back home.”