Meet Marvin Bagley III, the Coveted Recruit with Unique Game and Pedigree

C.J. Moore@@CJMooreHoopsCollege Basketball National Lead WriterAugust 31, 2015

Credit: Jon Lopez/Nike

The next potential superstar in basketball has grabbed a rebound and is barreling into the frontcourt when a pesky guard tries to interrupt his path by darting in for a steal. Marvin Bagley III, a 6'11" uber-skilled teenager, barely breaks stride and dribbles the ball behind his back, leaving the guard in his dust.

Seated on one side of the court is Kentucky coach John Calipari, and on the opposite end is Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. Both coaches have already offered Bagley a scholarship, which isn't all that unusual for such a talent. But the timing is.

Marvin Bagley III had just finished his freshman year of high school basketball.

"He's arguably the top prospect in high school right now," 247Sports recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer said. "He's got great upside, and he's extremely talented already. There's not many that come down the road that are [that tall], athletic and has the skill package that he has."

"He reminds me of Chris Bosh, but he's ahead of where Bosh was at this stage," a major-college assistant coach told Bleacher Report.

Bagley, who lives in Tempe, Arizona, got his first offer in seventh grade—from nearby Northern Arizona—and just about any coach who has seen him since realizes he's worth dangling out a scholarship offer.

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"Have you seen Marvin Bagley III yet?" echoed around the facility at Peach Jam last month, as Bagley started the tournament by putting up 68 points and 27 rebounds in his first two games and ended up leading the youngest roster in the Under-16 division to a Final Four appearance.

Too much too early can be scary when a talent like Bagley attracts the parasites of the game, and all that hype goes to the head of what was once an innocent kid.

But meet the Bagleys, and Grandpa Joe, and you see something entirely different ahead for Marvin Bagley III. 

Pogo Joe Caldwell was one of the country's best high school basketball players in 1960, and he played his high school ball just down the road from UCLA.

Caldwell was so good that UCLA coach John Wooden wanted him—UCLA is one of the schools that has, coincidentally, already offered Bagley a scholarship. Back in those days, Wooden usually got what he wanted. But Caldwell's grades were not good enough to get into UCLA.

So the UCLA coaches came up with a clever plan for landing Caldwell on campus. If he passed Spanish and history at a nearby junior college in the summer of 1960, he'd be able to get into UCLA. That summer, he lived on the UCLA campus and pulled weeds outside of the basketball arena for $3.50 an hour.

One night after a 3-on-3 on game with other UCLA players, he was back in his dorm room when someone knocked on his door. It was Dr. Jose Burruel, who was his Spanish teacher, and two other men. Caldwell thought he was in trouble because he was struggling in Spanish.

“My heart swelled because I’m flunking Spanish,” Caldwell said.

Turns out, Burruel was an Arizona State booster, and the other men were Arizona State assistant football coach Gene Felker and assistant basketball coach Fanny Markham, who was hiding in the background with a hat on and sunglasses covering his face.

They wanted Caldwell to go for a ride, and he started to understand their intentions.

"Uh-uh. I'm not coming to Arizona," Caldwell said he remembers telling them. "It's too hot."

"Well, just get in and take a ride with us," the men pleaded.

Caldwell agreed to go for a ride, and he ended up in Tempe with just the clothes he was wearing.

"Next thing I know we're on I-10, and they kidnapped me from UCLA, and I've never been back,” he said. “If they want you that bad to come and get ya, you might as well go with them.”

Credit: Arizona State

Caldwell had a decorated career at Arizona State and beyond. His 1963 team was the last to knock off UCLA in the NCAA tournament before Wooden and the Bruins started their run of 10 titles in 12 years. Caldwell averaged 18.2 points per game over three seasons at Arizona State, and he was the charter member of the school's Hall of Fame. He helped the United States win gold in the 1964 Olympics.

After his impressive run in Tempe, Caldwell was the second overall pick in the 1964 NBA draft. He was a two-time All-Star in the NBA, and after the best year of his career in 1970, when he averaged 21.1 points for the Atlanta Hawks, he bolted to the ABA in pursuit of a better contract.

He got, on paper, a better deal.

The Cougars gave Caldwell a contract worth $1.1 million, but as was customary in the ABA, much of the money was to be received in a pension plan. Caldwell was to get $600 a month for each year of service as a professional basketball player, starting when he was 55. 

Caldwell was a good player for the Cougars—he made two All-Star teams—but he was also an outspoken voice who was the president of the players' union. In 1974, when his teammate Marvin Barnes was in a contract dispute, the Spirits of St. Louis—the Cougars moved to St. Louis in 1974—believed Caldwell was the voice in his ear convincing him he needed more money, and the team ended up suspending Caldwell.

Despite averaging 14.6 points and 5.1 assists in 25 games that season, Caldwell never played another minute of professional basketball.

The aftermath put Caldwell into bankruptcy from numerous lawsuits from both sides, including an antitrust lawsuit filed by Caldwell against the ABA for conspiring against his ability to continue playing professional basketball that dragged on for 21 years before the Supreme Court dismissed it in 1996.

St. Louis owner Ted Munchak also sued Caldwell, claiming that there was a typographical error in his contract. The $600 was supposed to be $60, the owner claimed. Caldwell eventually won that battle in court.

"If you sign something and you believe it's right, then you stand up to it," Caldwell said. "That's what I've been fighting for the last 40 years."

Joe Caldwell jumps to take a shot during an Arizona State game in the early 1960s.
Joe Caldwell jumps to take a shot during an Arizona State game in the early 1960s.Credit: Arizona State

Caldwell said he wanted to change the game. He played above the rim and had a 50-inch vertical, which is how he got his nickname. When he jumped over the front of a Lincoln Continental, his college roommate called him Pogo Joe.

The way he attacked the rim as a 6'5" wing, he was ahead of his time.

His grandson is coming around just in time.

It was not long ago when a common complaint you'd hear from the guardians of the game was that big guys no longer wanted to be low-post players anymore. Every big guy wanted to be a guard, and it was hard to find a good old-fashioned back-to-the-basket post player.

The game has evolved to make those non-traditional bigs with actual guard skills the most valuable assets in the game. We're no longer looking for the next Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; we're looking for the next Anthony Davis, who can score, rebound, pass, dribble and defend every position. 

Bagley is already doing all of the above at a high level, and he mixes in some post-up game as well.

"We don't want to put a label on him," his father, Marvin Bagley Jr., said. "A label equals a limit. We just ask him to play. You have to be able to do it all, especially at this young age.

"I hate to see when guys are considered guards or forwards, and then you have big guys, especially when they're young growing up, just because a guy is the biggest on the floor, you tell them not to dribble the ball. I hate to see that. That's one thing I always tried to not do with Marvin."

Credit: Jon Lopez/Nike

Marvin Jr. has put great thought into how to develop his son, giving him the tools outside of great genetics from both sides of the family tree—Marvin Jr. married Caldwell's daughter, Tracy, whom he met in Arizona while playing football professionally as a wide receiver in the Arena Football League for the Arizona Rattlers. Marvin Jr. nearly made the NFL, making it until the final cut with the New Orleans Saints in 1997 in his first year out of North Carolina A&T.

That football background will come in handy over the next few years as Bagley tries to get stronger. His dad has already had him in the front yard pulling around a weighted sled. If you put Bagley in a college program right now, the focus would be adding weight and strength to his upper body.

"The weakest of his game right now is physical strength and being a physical-type player. That would show up in the college game, but he's good enough to still play. He's got stuff that overcomes that," Meyer said.

Bagley has not started lifting weights yet, because his dad doesn't want to interfere with his growth. Most of the strength work that he does is using his own body weight.

That strength will come with age, and it's proof of the long-lens view Bagley's father has. The focus right now is on his skillwork, and he aces all the fundamentals from the form on his lefty jumper to his footwork in the post.

"He's doing stuff that, shoot, I didn't do until I got into college," Caldwell said. "I'm saying, 'Who is this kid?' I'm looking at him, even though he's my grandson; I'm saying, 'Golly, this kid is so far advanced, it's pathetic. Where does he learn all this stuff?'

"Then I go out and watch him and his dad work out, and I say, 'Wow, I see.' He's doing the right things. He's telling him the right things."

Credit: Jon Lopez/Nike

The hardest part about managing a phenom's career is not developing his game; it's the circus that can surround recruitment. It might not touch the no-limit approach Arizona State took with Caldwell—"You do stuff like that, you'll go to jail nowadays," Caldwell said—but Bagley is already getting followed by a number of high-profile coaches who aren't even allowed to contact him yet.

Marvin Jr. has tried to limit the number of voices that influence his son in the process, and he has some actual perspective when it comes to recruiting.

"Too early," he said. "You know which teams have always been good and successful, but you don't know what the scene will be like in three years."

Bagley is already pumping out the company line when asked about college.

"I'm just thankful and blessed to have offers like this at this early of an age," he said. "I'm very appreciative of every offer of every school that offers me. I'm going to go out and keep working hard."

Marvin Jr. spends the summer with a camcorder in his hands, taping Bagley's every move from the sideline. He goes over the tape with his son, suggesting improvements he can make. He will continue to be a big part of his son's development, as Bagley recently transferred to Hillcrest Hoops in Phoenix, where his father will be an assistant coach. 

Bagley became the star of the Arizona prep scene last year when he led Corona del Sol to its fourth straight state title. He averaged 19.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 2.3 assists in his first high school season, and he helped Corona del Sol win the state title by 25 points with a dominant all-around stat line of 16 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks, five assists and three steals.

"His athletic ability is off the charts," said Neil MacDonald, who was an assistant coach at Corona del Sol last year and is now the program's head coach. "I can remember one of our former players came to watch a practice early in the year, and I walked over and said, 'What do you think of the big kid?' He said, 'It's like a video game. Who has the joystick? It's like someone is controlling him.'

"His footwork, as smooth as he is and his hands, all of that, it's unreal for someone his age. It's not something you ever see. I've never seen a freshman in high school that looked like that, and I've been around a long time, and I've seen some pretty good players when they were in high school, but I've never seen a freshman that looked like that."

Caldwell has stories about playing with the legends of the game that go on for days. Now he's adding to his catalog. He sits in the stands and watches what he believes is a great player in the making. He's biased, obviously, but his opinion carries some credence considering the opportunities he's had to see greatness up close.

"I've seen Oscar Robertson. I've seen Wilt Chamberlain. I've seen Bill Russell. I've seen Willis Reed. I've seen the dominant player Elvin Hayes," Caldwell said.

"I've seen guys who were just unbelievable, and this kid here, he hasn't even gotten to the threshold yet. He's going into his second year of high school. What's going to happen to him? What's he going to do? Is he going to develop better than this? That's what I'm saying. How do you talk to this?

"He says, 'Grandfather, what do I need?' I say, 'S--t, I don't know. Just keep doing what you're doing. Just keep getting better.' That's all I can tell him."

Bagley said his grandpa has given him some secrets of the trade. Such as? "I don't think I can say," Bagley said with a grin.

But the more important tips are those grandpa gives outside of the lines:

• Stay away from "fast women and fast cars."

• "If you're good, you don't have to tell me. Everybody else will."

• "If you're happy, you'll play basketball the best you can play. If you're not happy, you always got turmoil in your life."

That last one is a recruiting lesson. Caldwell got kidnapped, but "I made it a happy situation. I had a good run," he said.

Now he just hopes he lives long enough to see his grandson in college and the NBA.

"I keep waking up every morning, and I keep saying, 'What is this? Is this the way God is telling me everything is due in time?'" Caldwell said. "This kid here, if he plays the way he's playing right now and keeps getting better and better and better, who in the hell is going to be able to stop this kid?"

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.