Josh Bagley disappeared after he and his Sheridan College teammates knocked off No. 13 Gillette College at the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome Saturday. While his teammates trickled out of the locker room for hugs and high-fives from the fans who stuck around after the final horn sounded, the leftovers of a packed house, Bagley was absent. Surprising for the star of the show — his career-high 26-point evening certainly helped his team avenge an earlier 24-point loss to its rival.
But I went looking. Eventually, I found the freshman point guard stretched facedown across a table in the little training room just outside the home team’s locker room.
He was getting the knots rubbed out of his back; he earned it — the sore muscles and the ensuing rub down. And when I congratulated him on his performance, his smile filled that little room. He earned that too.
Not too long ago, finding a smile on Bagley’s face was harder to find than he was Saturday night. OK, maybe not quite true. Bagley’s a nice kid; he’d force a smile if he had to.
But the smiles weren’t nearly as big or as infectious.
The Durham, North Carolina, product spent pretty much his entire summer in Sheridan, getting a jumpstart on his first college season. Any time I made my way to the dome, there was Josh pounding through dribble drills or chucking jumper after jumper after jumper on The Gun. And when I poked my head into the gym just to see how things were going, without looking away from the hoop, he’d hit me with a, “What up, Mike?”
So when the season started off shaky — and that might be putting it lightly — for Bagley, it came as a bit of a shock. He had put the time in, but the solid starting point guard many expected him to be — his coaches included — never broke through.
Instead, he got bumped to a reserve spot and his minutes fluctuated. With each errant pass or missed 3-pointer, the confidence evaporated until it was seemingly gone by semester’s end.
Then it clicked.
Maybe it was the trip home for the holidays to see his mom and dad. It could have been the extra film sessions he put in while on break that eventually led to a tweak in his shooting motion — probably.
Maybe it was just the fact that Bagley was a hardworking kid who had battled adversity before. Almost four years ago, Bagley’s twin brother, Aaron, died unexpectedly. Aaron loved basketball. It’s not hard to see that Josh Bagley love basketball too.
Something changed. He returned to Sheridan with renewed confidence, and a ton of it. All part of the plan, I think.
When I asked Bagley how he got from early-season struggles to a starting role in the conference season to leading his team to a win over the 13th-ranked team in the country, it seemed obvious.
“Just kept working,” he said.
“And I’m just having fun.”
Now he sees himself as a leader on a top-20 squad. He gets it done in the classroom, takes time to chat with his teammates — not always about basketball — and makes plays like diving on the floor for a loose ball late in the biggest game of the season.
Plays like that earn a pat on the head from often-stoic head coach Matt Hammer.
“First to the floor always gets it,” Hammer told Bagley after the play. It’s a saying the coach uses all the time in practice and in the film room. Bagley got it Saturday.
And Bagley seems to be getting it a lot now that he’s finding his place on the team. All the work and perseverance has exploded from the 5-11 guard.
“It couldn’t have happened to a better kid,” Hammer — who watched Bagley shoot the leather off the ball all summer — said after Saturday’s performance.
For Bagley, though, it’s all part of his journey. He’s “a killer on the floor and a gentleman off it,” as advised by his father. He’s turned into the killer Sheridan needed him to be, and he’s been smiling the whole time.
Aaron Bagley’s obituary said, “his smile was enough to have a positive impact on [people’s] lives while leaving a strong lasting impression.”
Twins. They share many of the same traits. That strong lasting impression might be Bagley’s most prominent.