Is top prep talent Marvin Bagley III a real option for Kansas basketball?
Within minutes, possibly even seconds, of the news breaking Wednesday night that William & Mary transfer forward Jack Whitman was leaving the Kansas basketball program, eager and uneasy KU fans alike were connecting the dots to Marvin Bagley III.
Late Thursday morning, KU coach Bill Self confirmed Whitman's departure, saying, "Jack called me last night and informed me that he would not be playing basketball at Kansas for his fifth year. I do not know what his plans are moving forward. All I know is he will not be part of our basketball program. We wish Jack the best with his future endeavors.” But that confirmation did not include anything about what the Jayhawks will do to replace him.
It sounds good on the surface, replacing Frank Mason III with Marvin Bagley III, who just so happens to be the No. 1 ranked prospect in the Class of 2018.
And, yeah, there were rumors floating around earlier this week that Bagley was at least considering reclassifying into the 2017 class so he could play college basketball this season.
But the whole thing is far from a slam dunk, and there are a lot of moves that need to happen before Jayhawk fans can even begin to dream of seeing the 6-foot-10, 230-pound big man in crimson and blue next season.
Before we look at what factors are stacked against them, let’s first look at what the Jayhawks have working in their favor.
• First and most obvious is the fact that Kansas, no matter who you talk to, is one of the few true blue blood schools in the country and one that most all of the top prospects in class after class at least like to check the temperature on to see if the program might be the right fit for them. It was recently for Josh Selby, Andrew Wiggins and Josh Jackson. And, in time, it could be for Bagley, too. So it’s not as if KU fans are crazy for thinking he might come to Lawrence the way it might sound silly for fans in Boulder, Colo., to think Bagley might want to be a Buff.
• Beyond that, Bagley does already have KU on his short list of finalists. Those schools, in alphabetical order, are Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA and USC. Big time programs, all of them, but Kansas is on the list.
• The big-picture timing of trying to woo Bagley to town really couldn’t be better for Bill Self and the Jayhawks, as Kansas currently has the reigning college player of the year in Mason and also just put Josh Jackson into the NBA via the No. 4 pick in the draft. Seeing that kind of exposure on the college level and path to professional ball no doubt would seem awfully appealing to a player of Bagley’s caliber. Beyond that, KU’s recent surge of putting players into the NBA — often via the draft lottery — has inspired top-tier prospects to look at KU’s ability to develop NBA talent in a fresh and more favorable light.
Now, let’s take a look at what might make this less than likely, both now and in the future.
• For one, reclassifying is not a slam dunk. It happens, but it’s not automatic and there is a process that Bagley would have to go through to make it happen. Beyond that, his family recently told Eric Bossi, of Rivals.com, that those rumors about Bagley’s reclassification were just that, rumors, and that the elite talent had not yet made any such decision. So it’s possible that all of the Bagley talk was much ado about nothing. And if that’s the case, Kansas will still continue to pursue him, but it won’t be as a replacement for Whitman this season. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish is absolutely convinced that Bagley is en route to reclassifying and Parrish said on his recent radio show that he had been told that Bagley (a) had the grades to get it done and (b) was moving forward full speed ahead. Having said that, one source familiar with Bagley's recruitment told me Thursday that it'll take "a miracle" for him to be able to reclassify and added that Duke and USC were the likely front-runners.
• Even if the reclassification comes and KU gets a real crack at him in time for the 2017-18 season, it’s not as if it’s automatic that KU would get him. Bagley already may have visited Duke, and he’s scheduled to visit USC on July 26-27 and Arizona during the first week of August, when KU is playing overseas in Italy. “The Duke visit was completely geographical and we can drive, and we chose those three because we can drive to all of them,” Bagley’s father recently told FanRagSports.com. “And then we’ll get UCLA after, and then Kentucky and Kansas. We plan to visit them all. We’re going to try to get them in the best way we can.” For what it's worth, most national recruiting analysts seem to believe Duke is the team to beat for Bagley.
• The timing of this whole thing is nuts. Because summer workouts get going almost as soon as the Jayhawks get back from Italy, it’s hard to envision them putting in the kind of work necessary to land him while they’re in Italy. Then again, three members of Self’s staff did not make the trip to South Korea for the World University Games a couple of summers ago, and given that these Italian exhibitions are much less intense and important than those games, it’s not hard to imagine someone such as assistant Kurtis Townsend staying back to make a run at Bagley if that’s on the table. Having said that, Bagley’s also the type of talent that you’d easily still welcome into your program even in September or later if that’s what it takes to get him.
• Perhaps one of the most important things to remember about this deal is that Bagley’s whole motivation for reclassifying is not because he cannot wait to play college basketball for his school of choice. Instead, it’s because doing so provides him with the quickest path to the NBA and the money that awaits there. If Bagley is able to play college ball in 2017-18, he would be eligible for the 2018 NBA Draft, where he would at least be in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick and certainly would be a surefire Top 5 choice. “I want to go the NBA,” Bagley recently told Andrew Slater of 247Sports. “That's my goal and those schools help get you there. They prepare you for that. That's why they made my list.”
• As for what he’s hoping to get out of whichever college program he signs with, Bagley said his whole mindset was focused on development. “I just want to get better,” he told Slater. “Wherever I feel like that is, wherever I feel like I'm around good people, around people who push me every day and tell me what I need to hear and not what I want to hear, that's where I see myself.”
At this point, it’s hard to picture exactly how all of this is going to play out. Bagley has not given any kind of time frame for a decision about his school or a decision about reclassifying and, even though there still is time to iron it all out, August is quickly approaching and things get a little tighter from there.
According to Slater’s report, Duke and now Kansas, thanks to Whitman’s departure, might be in the best shape of the bunch should Bagley reclassify because they have spots available immediately.
Regardless of KU’s chances of landing him or what his immediate future holds, this much we know: For at least the next few weeks, those interested in Kansas basketball would be wise to pay attention to whatever news comes out of the Bagley camp.