Marvin Bagley III is methodical, and it’s apparent even before the opening tip. He has a routine during warm-ups: He first stands right below the rim, and pushes the ball tediously up into the hoop from a tight range about 20 times. Then, he shuffles his feet outside the restricted zone and shoots from there. Then, it’s back some more to the top of the key, shooting from both elbows and the free throw line, and eventually all the way out until the 3-point line, as his dad rebounds for him. It’s a process that teases Bagley’s skill set as a player who might one day thrive on all three zones of the floor.
Both his game and the burgeoning conversation around him has vaulted Bagley’s public figure to this moment. He’s now down to his college decision—presumably between Duke, UCLA, and USC, the three schools he visited this summer—and in very LeBron-like fashion, he’s chosen to turn it into his own version of The Decision and announce on SportsCenter on Monday night at 11 ET.
During high school national signing day for either football or basketball, many top recruits hold their own decision parties, which ESPN tunes into at the time of the decision. It’s a day-long affair that typically wraps everything up by the end of the work day. But Bagley, who is based on the West Coast and is from Arizona, is doing something different and opting for a near-midnight announcement on the East Coast. (RIP, newspaper deadlines.) Duke seems like the favorite, as the Blue Devils wouldn’t have to maneuver heaven and earth to get a scholarship for Bagley right away. USC, which has also offered a scholarship to Bagley’s 7-year-old brother, is hoping Andy Enfield’s run-and-gun system and USC’s overall depth this year could be alluring to a one-and-done prospect currently based on the West Coast. UCLA doesn’t have the best track record of signing multiple five-star recruits in a year, but this hasn’t kept Steve Alford from getting the Ball brothers and going after Bagley. However, the Bruins appear to be the long shot.
If there’s a player with the combination of talent and hype to pull this kind of prime-time announcement with the whole basketball world watching, it’s Bagley. His evolving game is as fascinating as his developing public persona—but don’t expect the drama the Ball family stirred up last season. The Bagleys are a reserved crew. A source who had spent significant time with the family during Bagley's training this spring described them to me as “the opposite of LaVar.”
Bagley’s game, though, is anything but bashful. I watched Bagley, a 6-foot-11 athletic monster, at the Drew League a couple of weeks ago and was taken aback by how he thrived in chaos and transition basketball. Like most teens, Bagley struggled to find his footing in a slower half-court offense, but put him in the open floor streaking or dribbling down the court, and it’s awfully hard to keep your eyes from widening. His dunks look as easy as layups; his shot comes and goes, but he’s shown he can hit a 3 before, opening up the possibility for an inside-out game that already has scouts drooling. Bagley has the potential to be the whole package and more, and could immediately become the best player on the team he picks.
Of course, the most important part of Monday night’s announcement isn’t the school Bagley chooses, it’s whether he is reclassifying or not. Bagley is not long for college basketball. If there was no rule in place that would require him to play a year in college, he likely would have been drafted in the top five in this past NBA draft. Bagley has already submitted the paperwork for reclassification, and we’ll find out Monday night whether or not it was met with NCAA approval. Should he reclassify and join a college team this summer, Bagley’s move will alter the NBA draft landscape as much as it does the college basketball title race. As an NBA exec told The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor: “If Bagley is in, then there are five guys that have a case to go first.”
Bagley’s decision Monday night has repercussions on all levels of the basketball world. His announcement may be coming in twilight hours, but you can bet many will be watching.