Seven games into his junior season, soft-spoken Chris Marcus
finally got riled. After nearly 30 minutes of being jostled,
tugged and hammered by the Louisville frontcourt in a 68-65
Hilltoppers win, the 7'1", 285-pound center, who's typically
about as high volume as C-SPAN, got hot after he went up for a
dunk and was clobbered by Cardinals forward Ellis Myles.
"[Myles] was chirping because he had gotten a piece of the
ball," says Western Kentucky coach Dennis Felton. "He got in
Chris's face, and Chris went right back at him and shoved him.
It was a tough time to get a technical, late in a tight game,
but it was one of the best things that happened to him all year.
He showed us an aggressiveness and an emotion he had not shown
That new persona was prevalent for the rest of the season, as
Marcus, in only his third year playing competitive basketball (he
took up the sport at Felton's urging while a senior at Olympic
High in Charlotte, primarily to earn a scholarship), blossomed
into the nation's top big man, led the NCAA in rebounds (12.1 per
game) and carried the Hilltoppers to their first NCAA tournament
berth since 1995. "When he first got here, you couldn't pay him
to talk," says senior guard Derek Robinson, "but he's become more
outspoken, more sociable, and that helps him a lot."
During his first year, when he sat out because he was
academically ineligible, Marcus rarely went off campus. Now,
with the help of Robinson and senior Tremain Rowles, he easily
mixes into the party scene. Robinson says Marcus's newfound
confidence was put to the test last fall at Club 302 in Bowling
Green. "We rolled in and everybody said, 'Oh, there's Chris
Marcus,'" recalls Robinson. "A bunch of girls started dancing
around him, so Chris just smiled and busted out his own moves."
Marcus, a potential NBA lottery pick next June, has also
broadened his repertoire at the offensive end of the court. Over
the summer he added left- and right-handed jump hooks to a
devastating low-post turnaround.
Felton will surround his big man, who's usually double-teamed in
the post, with a three-guard lineup of able perimeter shooters.
After two years of running the point, Robinson will cede primary
ball-handling duties to junior Raynardo Curry and return to his
natural off-guard slot; junior Filip Videnov and Rowles will
share time at the third guard spot. Felton pulled off a
recruiting coup when he signed Marcus, and he may have
replicated the feat with guard Patrick Sparks, the top scorer in
Kentucky with 31.4 points a game as a senior at Muhlenberg North
Felton has repeatedly shown his team a lowlight reel of the
Hilltoppers' first-round tournament exit against Florida,
pointing out the botched defensive assignments and rushed shots
that led to a 69-56 loss. "Not a day goes by that something
about Florida doesn't come out of Coach's mouth," Marcus says.
"We know we did it to ourselves, and we'll be back there."
--Daniel G. Habib
GRADUATION RATE: 30%
AVERAGE NUMBER OF WINS: 17.7
NCAA TOURNAMENT RECORD: 2-4
MCDONALD'S ALL-AMERICANS: 0
PLAYERS IN NBA: 0
COMMENT: Last season's Sun Belt championship title was marred by
preseason shoplifting arrest of two players who pleaded guilty to
a misdemeanor, served three days in jail and were suspended by
NCAA for one game. School self-reported possible NCAA violation
by coach Dennis Felton, who signed three $1,000 surety bonds to
get players out of jail. (NCAA levied no sanctions.) Graduation
rate is low, but Felton has graduated all eight players who have
become seniors in his three seasons.
POS. PLAYER HT. CL. KEY STAT
SF Filip Videnov 6'4" Jr. 6.5 ppg[#]
PF David Boyden 6'8" Jr. 5.1 rpg[#]
C Chris Marcus 7'1" Sr. 16.7 ppg[#]
SG Derek Robinson 6'1" Sr. 8.9 ppg[#]
PG Raynardo Curry 6'0" Jr. 2.2 apg
2000-01 record: 24-7 Final rank (coaches' poll): not ranked