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Key Reserve - David Bagga
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 03/13/2007
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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David Bagga is the most popular reserve on the Arizona basketball team but there's nothing reserved about his enthusiasm for teammates, the school or campus life.

A 6-foot-5 sophomore walk-on from Foothill Ranch, Calif., Bagga exudes the kind of leadership - from the bench - that many coaches wish they had on the court.

He is the reigning Wildcat "Gumby," a term not only endearing but honored at UA since the colorful bench brigade of 1988 cheered the starting rotation to the school's first-ever appearance in the Final Four.

When Bagga enters a game at McKale Center the fans cheer wildly.  When he scores, the place goes crazy.

"I can't thank the fans enough for their support," Bagga says.  "I've been a Wildcat since I was 10, watching them play on TV and cheering for them in the NCAA Tournament.

"Everyone has a role and mine is to work hard in practice wherever they need me, whatever they need me to do.  My job is to do that with enthusiasm."

And boy, does he!

Though he rarely plays more than a minute or two himself, when a game is pretty much in the "bag,"

Bagga is constantly encouraging his teammates.

"David is a credit to our basketball program, our athletic department, our university and his family," Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood said.

"He is truly one of those young men who stand out and people are referring to when they say, 'Wow! I'd be proud for him to be my son."

Livengood adds, "Our university got better the day David enrolled."

It's a mutual admiration society.  Listen to Bagga's account of his first meeting with Livengood:

"We were at the Maui Invitational in Hawaii my freshman year. At the airport picking up our bags, Coach Roz (Jim Rosborough) said, 'Do you know who that is?' He pointed to Mr. Livengood.

"I said, 'I think it's the athletic director.' And Coach Roz said, 'Why don't you go say hi?'

"So I walked up to introduce myself and Mr. Livengood stuck out his hand first.  He said, 'David, it's a pleasure to meet you.'  I couldn't believe it."

Rosborough says Bagga fills his role perfectly.

"To be honest," said Rosborough, "in all the 31 years I've been coaching, I've never seen a better walk-on player than David Bagga.  I've coached walk-ons at Iowa, Tulsa, Northern Illinois and UA.  But none of them could equal David in terms of being exactly what you need out of a walk-on.

"He's just about perfect.  He has a positive attitude, the guys love him, he's great on the bench and he has no unreasonable expectations about playing time.

"He's upbeat, has no ego and he's just a great representative of our program. David's also a hard worker who has gotten better in his two years here."

Bagga, in addition to giving a lot of effort in practice in exchange for very little playing time in games, serves on the Student Athlete Advisory Board.

"Mr. Livengood is always at our meetings, throwing out ideas and things," Bagga said.

"At SAAB we talk about issues and problems of student-athletes.  Things like study hall and, one of the recent issues debated, whether there should be male practice-players for women's sports.

"It's a very worthwhile group and I'm proud to represent the basketball program on SAAB.  Becky Bell is our coordinator and she does a great job.  She's very professional."

Bagga played high school basketball at Mater Dei in Santa Ana, Calif., one of the traditional powerhouses of that state.  It's the school that produced former Wildcats Reggie Geary, Miles Simon and Dylan Rigdon.

Simon is an assistant to UA head coach Lute Olson.

David had opportunities to play, and would almost certainly have started, at numerous smaller schools.

But his heart was set on Arizona.

One day Olson showed up at Mater Dei, recruiting another player.  Bagga was on the scout team and he hit six three-point field goals.  He wasn't sure the Hall of Fame Wildcat coach paid any attention.

But Lute did, and eventually there came the invitation to Bagga to walk on at Arizona.

The day his acceptance letter arrived, Bagga walked into his house and was floored by a 15-foot-long sign put up by his parents:

"Congratulations, David!"

His mom had bought him a Wildcat sweatshirt and had the acceptance letter in a frame.

The celebration honoring his acceptance to UA didn't quite end there.

"I called Jack Murphy (now with the Denver Nuggets front office, but at the time the Wildcat administrative assistant and video coordinator) to give him the good news," Bagga said.

"I had put our telephone on 'speaker.'  Murph was with the team at the NCAA Regional in Chicago.  Suddenly there was this enormous cheer  -- Salim Stoudamire had just hit that 15-foot jumper to beat Oklahoma State in the Sweet Sixteen.

"My mom thought they were cheering my acceptance."

When David Bagga's sneakers squeak across the floor during warm-ups, he knows it's about as much action as he will see.

If that's the way it turns out, that's fine with him - as long as the Wildcats win.

"To me," he says, "success is my team winning."

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