Marvin Bagley III becomes ‘The Man’ for Duke

Instead of playing his senior year of high school, he's the top player on the No. 1 team

Dec 2, 2017; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Marvin Bagley III (35) dribbles the ball during the second half against the South Dakota Coyotes at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke won 96-80. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

DURHAM — The most amazing thing about Marvin Bagley III’s season so far — and there are plenty of them — is that he should still be in high school.

Bagley reclassified and graduated after his third year at Sierra Canyon High. In other words, this should be his senior year.

The games Bagley has circled on the schedule this year shouldn’t be the No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown with Michigan State in Chicago or the battle with Texas big man and fellow NBA Lottery prospect Mohamed Bamba. He should be circling the games at Bishop Gorman High and Long Beach Poly.

In 10 games, Bagley hasn’t shown he’s ready for the college level — he’s shown he’s ridiculously overqualified for it. His eight double-doubles are second-most in the nation and the fifth most ever recorded by a Duke freshman. His 26 dunks are eighth-most ever by a Duke freshman. That’s with up to 30 games remaining in the season.

Of the nine weekly awards the ACC has given out, Bagley has won five of them — two Player of the Week and three Rookie. Only six Blue Devils have won as many weekly honors in an entire season.

There seem to be just two ways to contain Bagley: You can hope he gets poked in the eye early — that happened against Michigan State, the only game in which Bagley failed to reach double figures in points — or you can lose by 29. Furman tried that strategy, falling behind early and allowing Duke’s reserves to get extended playing time. It’s one of just two games — Michigan State is the other — in which Bagley didn’t get at least 10 rebounds.

“When I see it coming off the rim, I’m trying to go and get it,” Bagley said of his rebounding. “Just have heart, try to get every rebound, play the game the right way.”

All in all, not a bad start to a college career.

“I think what we’ve learned is we have two of the exceptional players in America in Marvin and Grayson (Allen),” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

Allen, Duke’s lone senior captain, disagrees with his coach. In his mind, Bagley stands alone.

“One thing we obviously know now is we have a solid guy in Marvin, who is going to produce for us every game,” Allen said. “He’s a guy we can count on. He’s going to be a double-double guy. He should average a double-double. That’s who he should be for us. We know that we have a strength with him down low. Playing through Marvin is an important thing. We’ve started to shift our offense toward him, because he scores so easily, and he’s really hard to stop around the rim.”

At the end of regulation against Texas, with one shot to win the game, it was Bagley who got the shot.

“I just wanted Marvin to have the ball,” Krzyzewski said. “We wanted to just go right to Marvin. I think that was a good choice.”

Krzyzewski isn’t known for hyperbole, but the Hall of Fame coach has gone into his thesaurus to find ways to praise the dominant freshman.

“He’s a special player,” the coach said after one game.

“There were some magical plays there,” he said after another. “Just the connecting of talent and instinct, really was beautiful for us.”

“I believe ultimately in this kid,” Krzyzewski said after the Texas win. “I knew he was going to be good, but coaching him every day, he is a treasure. He wants to be really good, and he comes to work every day. All of his teammates love him, because he’s as hard of a worker as we have. I coached the U.S. team for a long time, and he’s of that ilk. He has it, and he just has to keep developing it. We’ll see where it goes. I believe in him and so do his teammates.”

Bagley’s hard work is already showing. He wasn’t a threat from deep in the first few games, but he’s knocked down three-pointers in three of the last four. After making 18 of his first 36 free throws, Bagley has shot nearly 75 percent on his last 31.

“I’m working on everything,” he said. “I want to be an all-around player. I can’t focus on just one thing. I go into practice every day, just trying to get better at everything, inside out. I can’t put my finger on one thing, because I want to be an all-around player.”

Just think: He could be doing all of this against Windward High and the Brentwood School.