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The Best is Yet to Come

Communications major and basketball player awarded a scholarship from the Class of 1970.

By Claire Swenson ’19

August 06, 2019 | 3 p.m.

Zeke Carver-Bagley

Zeke Carver-Bagley has been playing basketball at Bethel for two years.

As a high school basketball player, Isaiah “Zeke” Carver-Bagley ’21 found himself at Bethel during the annual holiday basketball tournament, which featured his Minnetonka High School team. That trip to campus ended up changing the course of his future because soon, he was being recruited for the Bethel men’s basketball team. 

After attending a total of eight schools throughout K-12, Carver-Bagley has been struck by the relationships that have been created at Bethel. “Here, I’ve had a lot more genuine conversations and relationships with people who actually care about what’s going on…” he says. “You can really tell at Bethel that there’s a presence that’s different… People have integrity. People are real genuine here.”

Today, Carver-Bagley is a junior communications major with a double emphasis in relational studies and health communication. He is on the basketball team, attends a Bible study led by Vice President for Student Life William Washington, and is a member of the United Cultures of Bethel’s Black Student Union.

His current involvement and success echo the progress Carver-Bagley has made since a rocky freshman year. Coming into college with high expectations for basketball playing time, he found that while he trained diligently in athletics, he would have to push himself harder in academics. After not having the grades to play sports, Carver-Bagley realized something would have to change. Peggy Kendall ’83, professor of communication studies, encouraged him during this transitional period. “She gave me the support to be myself,” Carver-Bagley says. “I am a diverse person. She gave me the ok to just keep being me.” 

Many people chipped in to help him figure out scheduling and balancing school work, including Sara Shady, professor of philosophy, and Donna Johnson, director of internship and placement at Bethel Seminary and former campus pastor for Bethel University. Brianna Millet ’11, an adjunct instructor of biblical and theological studies, made a big difference for Carver-Bagley during the only half-semester that she taught him. “The impact she made on me spiritually really helped my faith as far as staying at Bethel, being myself, being honest with God, being honest with other people, and it really helped me personally,” Carver-Bagley says.

Leaning into relationships with professors helped Carver-Bagley utilize the support systems he needed in order to become a successful student. Still, there ultimately had to be a whole mindset shift. “Being ineligible [for basketball] really helped me understand my priorities,” he says. “I started to understand through basketball and academics that the result wasn’t always what I should strive for.”

Carver-Bagley

Carver-Bagley gets the team pumped up for a game.

Quoting his basketball coaches, Carver-Bagley summarized one of the biggest lessons he learned through that experience: “There’s a difference between the road to success⁠—which everybody always talks about⁠—and the success road,” he says. “The success road basically means that you find your success in the process of going through your trials and tribulations and working hard. You find little successes in your improvement. It doesn’t always mean the [end] success.” He continued to push forward, applying that philosophy to his academics, “If I don’t get the best grade, if I feel like I still tried my hardest, I learned something in that class, that’s my success.”

As Carver-Bagley worked hard to improve his academic life, he found that his faith began to grow as well. Growing up in relationship with God, he saw that relationship change at Bethel “Through my hardships in college, I really searched for God and before, I would search for myself,” he says. “As I started searching for God, He started showing me places in my life where I could improve.”

Carver-Bagley has known Washington for two years. “I think God spoke through him to help me,” he says of the man who encouraged him to attend Bethel. Washington has also seen God work through Carver-Bagley throughout those years. “His growth has been in leaps and bounds! Last year especially, I saw a spiritual maturity begin to emerge. He wants to make a lasting impact and desires continuous growth,” Washington says. “I would describe him as kind, considerate, curious, has a heart for people, and has a dedication to be the best person and basketball player he can be.”

Carver-Bagley’s basketball coaches echo Washington’s sentiments. “People gravitate to Zeke. He has an infectious and positive personality that draws others in,” Assistant Coach Alisha Hvistendahl says. “One thing I admire about Zeke is his willingness to be vulnerable in order to grow. It has been exciting to celebrate his accomplishments in school, in basketball and in life!”

Isaiah “Zeke” Carver-Bagley ’21

Isaiah “Zeke” Carver-Bagley ’21

Recently, Carver-Bagley was awarded a scholarship from the Class of 1970 for the 2019-2020 academic year. For him, the support could not have come at a better time.  “My parents help me out a little bit, what they can, but they were questioning if they could keep providing that support,” he says. “So when I found out I got that scholarship, it was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, that God is providing a way for me to continue going to Bethel.”

Not only was the scholarship financial help, it was also a reminder of what the Bethel community is about. “It means a lot more, especially since I’ve been paying for my own school, that people would come along the way and help me out. That speaks to what type of place Bethel is and why I want to be here,” Carver-Bagley says. “It shows me the direction I want to go in life. That’s why I want to work with youth, because it’s about more than going out in the real world and making your own money. It’s about going out and giving back to the world.”

Carver-Bagley dreams of giving back in his own way: starting a lawn mowing business that will teach responsibility and build character in young people. He envisions himself showing kids how to care for lawns with straight lines and fertilizer, as well as how to work with clients. His passion for being a role model for youth is obvious. Currently, Carver-Bagley works at both 43 Hoops Basketball Academy in Hopkins, Minnesota and as a fifth grade boy’s coach for MN Retro Athletics in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. He also often helps out at Bethel summer basketball camps

“It has been a joy to watch Zeke’s growth in consistency and effort,” says Doug Novak, head men’s basketball coach. “He has a charismatic personality combined with an uncommon drive. The best is yet to come!”

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