As Marvin Bagley III anxiously sat in ESPN’s studio while the clock ticked past 11 p.m. on the East Coast, the Phoenix native prepared for one of the more unique college announcements in recent memory. 

After all, most highly-anticipated commitments come in front of a gym of screaming students or simply on the Internet. To make matters even more interesting, Bagley was not only choosing where he would be going to school, but also when he would take the college court. 

If those two idiosyncrasies weren’t enough, Bagley was just moments away from donning a Duke jersey that featured a number hanging in the rafters at Cameron Indoor Stadium. None of this was normal for a high schooler. 

“That was different. That was my first time doing something like that,” Bagley said at the team’s media day in October. “Just being in there on live TV, you don’t get to stop and go back and say it again or redo it again. You had to get it done on the first try. It was a blessing to first of all even be there and know that people were watching, and me being in there with my family was nerve-wracking.” 

But doing things differently has come to define the 6-foot-11 forward’s route to Duke. 

Unlike most of the top-ranked prospects preceding him, Bagley turned down an invitation to play for USA Basketball. After starring at Corona del Sol High School as a freshman, Bagley moved to Hillcrest Academy when his father accepted a job at the school an assistant coach. 

Bagley’s time at the school was short-lived after the NCAA raised concerns about coursework at the high school basketball powerhouse. The star and his family moved to Sierra Canyon High School just months later, only for him to be ruled ineligible for his sophomore season due to a rule banning out-of-state transfers. 

Once he took the court as a junior, Bagley returned to the dominant form that made him one of the most hyped recruits in high school basketball. But after being named California’s Gatorade Player of the Year, Bagley’s path veered again as the possibility of reclassifying up a year loomed. Instead of the normal summer of a high school junior, Bagley spent months reading books and writing essays. 

“I gave up hanging out with my friends and going out on the weekends, and it was pretty much just school work to get to here,” Bagley said. “I pretty much gave up my summer to get here and be a part of this team and I’m glad I did.”

For as many different turns Bagley’s journey has taken, the freshman has slowly felt a sense of normalcy since hitting Duke’s campus. The forward has embraced the challenge of playing catch-up as he adjusts to the style of his new teammates and coaching staff. 

“The main thing you’re worried about is how he gets along with the guys, and Marvin’s terrific,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s got a great motor and he’s as hard a worker as we have. He’s unlike any player we have, so he fits in great—on and off the court, it’s worked out.” 

But Bagley’s propensity for doing things differently does not just stop with his route to Duke. 

On the court, the freshman’s versatility makes him a wild card that even the best teams may not have an answer for. Despite towering over the majority of his teammates at 6-foot-11, Bagley possesses some of the ball-handling skills of a guard. In high school, he spent nearly as much time playing on the perimeter as he did near the basket. Although his jump shot is still a work in progress, the forward does have the mechanics to improve with more repetitions. 

Perhaps nothing illustrates the freshman’s immense athleticism more than his ability to get out in the open floor and make plays in transition. Even considering his size, Bagley has the strides of a gazelle as he runs the court mixed with a one-of-a-kind ability to elevate as if he was on a trampoline when needed. 

“When I first met him, I was surprised to see that like this guy is actually 6’11”, and yeah, his head is going to be above the rim on almost everything,” senior Grayson Allen said at ACC media day. “That’s something you learn to play with. I mean, in Countdown, when I saw him running down the middle, I threw the ball way too high, and he still went and got it.” 

The Blue Devils will use Bagley in a number of roles early in the season, and it could take all of nonconference play for Duke to really determine how it plans to use each one of its bigs. Even with the number of weapons the Blue Devils have on the perimeter, Bagley will likely see double teams throughout nonconference play and against smaller ACC opponents. 

In his first couple appearances, Bagley has shown an ability to take pressure from multiple defenders and use it to free up Duke’s guards. 

“I’m real comfortable working out the double teams, especially the way I look outside,” Bagley said. “I’m really comfortable making that outside pass to spread the floor out a little more. Once they start knocking those threes down, the double teams start backing off a little bit. I’m just trying to make the right basketball plays and the right reads.”  

After moving from school to school for much of his high school career, Bagley will likely find himself on the move once again following this season. 

But this time, he won’t be doing something so different from others. If Bagley can meet even some of the mountain of expectations laid before him, he will be just one more Blue Devil freshman making the leap to the NBA. 

Ben Leonard, Hank Tucker and Mitchell Gladstone contributed reporting.