By Ryan Casey
Josh Fields/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Despite averaging 1 point per game his senior season at Mater Dei High School in California, David Bagga was asked by men's basketball head coach Lute Olson to walk on. 'He's a good kid,' associate head coach Jim Rosborough said. 'Kids from Mater Dei know how to play.'
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, September 23, 2005
It's a question eager basketball players at the Student Recreation Center would love to hear: "Are you ready to walk on?"
Unfortunately for them, David Bagga, a freshman walk-on for the Arizona men's basketball team, has already heard it.
The Foothill Ranch, Calif., native said the phrase, uttered by Arizona head coach Lute Olson, caught Bagga off guard as he vacated his plane at Tucson International Airport in June.
Bagga attended Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., and played for a team that produced past Wildcats Reggie Geary, Miles Simon and Dylan Rigdon. But his senior year, Bagga averaged only one point, 1.5 rebounds and 0.3 blocks.
How did he make the team?
"He's a good kid," said Arizona associate head coach Jim Rosborough, who handles walk-ons. "The guys like him, he's a personable kid, he's a good student - we're not going to have to worry about him in the classroom or anything - and kids from Mater Dei know how to play."
College coaches usually recruit high school players. But in a roundabout way, Bagga recruited Olson, with the aid of Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight.
"Coach O. was coming to our practice like twice a month, but he was always coming there for all these teammates," said Bagga from the McKale Center floor, noting 7-foot-1 center Alex Jacobson. "I expressed interest: I told him, 'I would like to walk on, I'll do whatever you guys want me to do in practice.'"
From there, McKnight worked on Olson, always keeping Bagga in their conversations.
"I don't think (McKnight) gets enough credit from everyone for what he did to help me out," Bagga said. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him."
Notable Wildcat walk-ons
Jason Ranne (2000-2004) - guard
Career stats: 48 games played, 0.6 points per game
Key stat: Appeared in 23 games his senior year
Josh Pastner (1996-2000) - guard
Career stats: 42 games played, 0.9 ppg
Key stat: Arizona undefeated (42-0) in games in which he appeared
Matt Brase (2003-2005) - forward
Career stats: 26 games played, 0.8 ppg
Key stat: Hassan Adams convinced him to walk on after two seasons at junior college
Sophomore forward Bret Brielmaier, a walk-on who was on scholarship last season, helped break the ice between Bagga and his new teammates.
"I didn't really know anyone," Bagga said. "He did an icebreaker, asked me some questions and started saying some jokes in the weight room.
"I kind of let loose when I went out with him one night and partied," he said.
After adjusting to life away from home, the next in the line of Arizona walk-ons - a group that includes current assistant coach Josh Pastner - began to settle into his role, something that Rosborough said he thinks will be extremely important.
"He'll really help out in practice, and be on the scout team once we get to playing in games," he said. "He'll have a role. It's actually a very valuable role."
Bagga said he got a variety of scholarship offers from smaller schools, notably Concordia, Hope International and Chapman, but Tucson is where he wants to be.
"It's a dream come true," he said, a slight smile evident. "I go to sleep every night and I thank God for everything that's been going on in my life. I can't ask for anything more.
"Just being a part of this, every home game just sitting on the bench with those guys - rooting them on, maybe getting in for a couple seconds here and there, you can't ask for anything more."
Arriving on campus for the first time during the Lute Olson Elite Camp in June, Bagga played among Wildcats past (Richard Jefferson, Andre Iguodala and Mike Bibby), present (Hassan Adams, etc.) and future (2006 recruit Chase Budinger).
"That was my first time actually being in a basketball camp - ever," Bagga said, reliving the experience that drew thousands of fans.
Again, the question lingers: How did he make this team? First and foremost, Rosborough says, it's Bagga's team-first attitude.
"He's a guy who's going to come in here and not have high expectations of playing time or anything else," Rosborough said. "David's just a kid that's happy to be here. He'll do whatever we want in practice to help the team, whether that's run the scout team or work down low with the big guys ... whatever we need him to do."
Bagga recalled a conversation he had with Olson on that topic.
"He said, 'I'll give you a chance to show me what you can do, even if you don't play 30 to 40 minutes a game - even if you're on the bench, rooting everyone on," Bagga said.
"I told him, 'I can give you 110 percent in the weight room, 110 percent in the classroom. I can do whatever you need me to do. I can run the scout team for you - anything you need.'"
Bagga said there's no doubt in his mind that he belongs in a Wildcat uniform.
"I've always known I can play Division I basketball if I was given a chance," he said. "The best thing about coach O. is that he's not one to ruin someone's dreams."
Would Bagga have taken a scholarship offer had it been offered by another Division I school?
"This is the school where I've always dreamed about playing," he said. "There's no school I'd rather be playing for. There's no coach I'd rather be playing for."