With Bagley III, Corona del Sol locks in prep hoops title


High School hoops fans finally got a look at what Corona del Sol High School will be bringing to the party this season as the Tempe school begins its quest for a fourth straight Division I boys’ state basketball title.

That’s because Marvin Bagley III made an early return from a foot injury and was able to play in the Aztec’s 86-48 romp last Friday over North High in central Phoenix.  In his first high-school game, the freshman center scored 21 points – in a little over two quarters of play, as his time on the floor was kept short since he has missed fall practices, scrimmages, and season-opening games because of the nagging injury.  He wasn’t expected to be on the floor until mid-month.

Yes, he’s just a freshman, playing on a team that is already loaded with college-scholarship talent.  But he can score under the basket and outside as well, runs the floor like a guard, and can defend just about any position on the floor.

Oh yeah, he’s also 6-foot, 10 inches tall.  That helps.

The 15-year-old youngster didn’t arrive quietly and take his place in the Aztec program, patiently awaiting his chance to play at the varsity level, like most freshmen do.  This freshman has been on the radar for a couple of years, not just among the high-school coaching community, but he has also been a target for college recruiters. His first letter of interest from the colleges arrived while he was still in seventh grade.

That first offer in April of his seventh-grade year came from Northern Arizona University and was followed shortly thereafter by one from Arizona State, and recently University of Arizona has joined in the bidding war.  A handful of other suitors includes the defending national champion, Connecticut.

He’s considered by several recruiting services right now to be the No. 1 college prospect in the Class of 2018.

With his size and advanced skill set, Bagley wasn’t able to play on his middle-school team for fear of dominating the competition.  But he’s been working with trainers to continue developing his talents, which are already well beyond his years.  He has the ball-handling skills of a much smaller and quicker player, can dunk with either hand, blocks shots, passes like a point guard, can hit from behind the arc, and has a sweet soft jumper with either hand.

He has apparently inherited his athleticism from his father, who played college and arena football, and his mother, who is the daughter of an Arizona State legend, Joe Caldwell.  Caldwell, known fondly as “Jumpin’ Joe” because he was a 6’5″ player that could touch the top of the backboard, didn’t have his grandson’s height but could dunk with both hands in seventh grade; he went on to become an NBA All Star.

Actually, Corona del Sol has been doing pretty well without Bagley, going undefeated through the Hoophall West tournament to open the 2014-15 season, and then beating Kofa High by 29 points and North by 38.  Their record winning streak against Arizona opponents has been extended now to 44 straight games.

The second game of the Hoophall tourney was a 79-74 win over Pinnacle High School, the No. 3-ranked team in Division I, but the final score was misleading; Pinnacle trailed by as many as 16 points early in the second half. And its final victory over Shadow Mountain High School was against one of the better teams in the state; Shadow Mountain is the defending champion in Division II and came into this season ranked No. 1; their only loss so far is to Corona.

Pinnacle, which took last year’s state championship game into overtime before losing to Corona, is considered to be the best bet for keeping the Aztecs from another title this year.  The No. 2 team in Division I, Chaparral High, is 4-2 this season, with losses to Pinnacle and Shadow Mountain.

Corona’s roster is arguably the most talented in the state, led by 6’7″ senior wing Dane Kuiper and 6’5″ 220-pound senior forward Cassius Peat, two of the top players in the state this year.

But it’s the towering freshman that plays like a senior that will be the key to this championship run.

It appears right now that injuries are about the only thing that can keep this squad from collecting a fourth straight title trophy.