ACC Men's Basketball Legends: John Bagley

Feb. 14, 2012

During his sophomore season at Boston College, John Bagley moved from a nominal forward spot to point guard. The fact that he barely stood 6 feet tall and would benefit from the backcourt was a good part of it. And then there was something even more practical.

“Every time I looked up,” Wake Forest guard Frank Johnson marveled after the Eagle landed with 35 points on the Demon Deacons, “Bagley had the ball.”

Whether creating for others or keeping it himself and working his way through people who were supposed to swat his shots into the arms of the popcorn vendors, Bagley made BC a viable power in the early years of the Big East Conference. His time came nearly three decades before the Eagles migrated to the their new conference home, but you can safely assume he’d have made his mark in today’s ACC, which is 50 percent larger than the league of his college era.

“I was at the FSU-BC game and had a really good feeling,” the Eagles’ 2012 ACC Legend said. “It felt like something big – bigger than what I had ever known because there are a lot of schools in the ACC now, and to me, that means major competition and visibility.”

The versatile player from Connecticut led the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 in his sophomore season of 1980-81 and a round farther the following year. He averaged 19.6 points a game in those seven contests, one of which stands among the best any ACC team has faced.

The Demon Deacons were ranked 11th in the country in that season’s final Associated Press poll and were presumed headed for the regional semifinals. But this was the same quadrant of the draw in which St. Joseph’s had shocked No. 1 DePaul, and Bagley ensured the upsets didn’t stop there. His 10-for-16 performance included the game’s biggest shot, a 10-footer from the left baseline with 54 seconds left that put Boston College ahead for good at 63-62 in an eventual 67-64 triumph.

His total of 35 points remains the highest by an Eagle in NCAA Tournament play.

“We had a system that worked and had proven to be successful for us,” Bagley said. “Going into the NCAA tournament and playing against Wake Forest, which had a national reputation and players with All-American honors, we were excited to see how we measured up.”

BC would lose to St. Joe’s in a slowdown game that predated the shot clock. By modern standards, the 42-41 final score seems like an unreasonable facsimile of basketball, but in the early 1980s, Bagley said teams didn’t feel deprived.

“Everybody had to play under the same rules,” he said. “If you could dictate the tempo, you could dictate the game. There were always strategies going on in an era when you didn’t have the mechanisms to speed things up.”

The Eagles got back at their earliest opportunity.

In March of 1982, Bagley-led clubs dispatched 40 percent of the consensus first-team All-Americans, edging Quintin Dailey’s San Francisco team in the first round and Terry Cummings and DePaul in the second. Bagley went 10-for-18 in a 26-point effort against the Blue Demons.

“Having had success the year before, we knew we were capable of playing on a national level,” he recalled. “Without being cocky, we liked our chances.”

Bagley produced similar stats in the regional final, going 11-of-18 in scoring 26 against Houston. BC dropped that one, but the run to the national quarterfinals is tied for the best in Eagle history, matching the 1967 and 1994 teams’ showings.

Bagley declared for the NBA Draft after that season and went on to a 13-year career in which he continually elevated his play to match the occasion. Primarily a distributor in the pros, he averaged six assists a game in the regular season but 8.4 per playoff contest.

“It becomes a pride thing,” he said. “You want to be able to brand yourself, put your name out there and let everybody know what you’re capable of doing.”

These days, Bagley brands himself by teaching the game and life skills to the youth of Bridgeport, Conn., and he’ll return to the most frequent site of his NBA playing days when he sets foot in Philips Arena, which was once home to The Omni. Bagley played several seasons for the Hawks.

“I’m just excited about having an opportunity to be in that atmosphere,” he said.