Former WKU basketball star Chris Marcus dies at 40

WKU men’s basketball center Chris Marcus (2) goes up for a shot against the Florida Gators in South Regional opening-round action of the 2001 NCAA National Championship Tournament on March 16, 2001 in New Orleans.

Drake Kizer

Former WKU men’s basketball star center Chris Marcus died Thursday evening in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. He was 40 years old.

News of Marcus’ death began circulating on social media in the early hours of Saturday morning, and the WKU men’s basketball program confirmed the death of one of its all-time greats at 11:22 a.m.

“We are saddened to share the loss of Hilltopper great and All-Century Team member Chris Marcus, who passed away Thursday evening at the age of 40 in his hometown of Charlotte,” the WKU men’s basketball program stated in a tweet posted on the team’s verified Twitter account on Saturday morning.

{{tncms-inline account=”WKU Hilltopper Basketball” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">GALLERY: Honoring the legacy of Chris Marcus with a collection of photos from his time on The Hill📸 | <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p>— WKU Hilltopper Basketball (@WKUBasketball) <a href="">April 25, 2020</a></blockquote>” id=”″ type=”twitter”}}

The cause of death has not been revealed. WNKY reported Saturday that Doug Gorman, a Warren County magistrate and the public address announcer for the WKU men’s basketball team, spoke with former WKU head coach Dennis Felton, who coached Marcus during his time with the Hilltoppers, and Felton told him “Marcus was experiencing tightness in his chest and collapsed while at his home.”

{{tncms-inline account=”Doug Gorman” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">He was unbelievably talented. He was unbelievably shy. He was unbelievably misunderstood. He was a Champion. And he was the origin of “Access Denied”. So very sad to hear of his passing. RIP Chris Marcus. <a href="">#WKU</a> <a href="">#SunBelt</a> <a href="">#Champion</a> <a href=""></a></p>— Doug Gorman (@DougGorman1) <a href="">April 25, 2020</a></blockquote>” id=”″ type=”twitter”}}

{{tncms-inline account=”Melanie Felton” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">RIP Chris Marcus- a gentle giant, humble and a hell of a basketball player! We have so many great basketball memories of Chris and his teammates <a href="">@wku</a>! A true champion on and off the court. God bless! <a href="">#champion</a> <a href="">#sunbelt</a> <a href=""></a></p>— Melanie Felton (@MelanieFelton) <a href="">April 25, 2020</a></blockquote>” id=”″ type=”twitter”}}

One of the most dominant Hilltopper big men ever, Marcus was chosen as one of the 15 finest players in program history as a representative of the WKU All-Century Team on Sept. 10, 2018.

Marcus received Associated Press All-American Honorable Mention honors in 2001 and 2002 and was the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year in 2001.

He was also Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 2001, as well as the league’s Newcomer of the Year in 2000.

In 2001, Marcus led the nation in rebounding at 12.1 boards per game and was the Sun Belt Conference Tournament MVP. He was a part of three NCAA Tournament teams during his time at WKU.

Additionally, Marcus ranks No. 1 in WKU history in blocks in a season (97, 2000-01), No. 2 in career blocks (214), No. 5 in career double-doubles (38) and No. 6 in career field-goal percentage (55.8%).

The 7-foot-1-inch center scored 1,113 career points and pulled down 795 career rebounds from 1999-2003, including 649 points in his first two injury-free seasons on the Hill.

Due to a left foot injury, Marcus played in just 19 games over his last two seasons at WKU, developing an alcohol problem and ballooning to 330 pounds, according to a piece published by ESPN in July 2005.

“I was sad that I was hurt,” Marcus told ESPN in 2005. “I kinda felt like I was alone.”

In 2006, Marcus was named to the Sun Belt 30th Anniversary Team, but by that time his promising NBA career had concluded before it could really get started. Once touted as a “first-round [pick] at worst, top-five [pick] at best” by national pundits, Marcus went undrafted in the legendary 2003 NBA Draft class.

The Denver Nuggets gave Marcus a chance to make the team as an undrafted rookie ahead of the 2003-04 season, but after missing several mandatory team meetings, Marcus left the team and returned home.

“I still get the itch to play, but I don’t let anything consume me,” Marcus told ESPN in 2005. “I want to have control of my life. Without the bottle.”

According to ESPN, Marcus was living in Charlotte with his parents at the age of 25. At that point, he hadn’t “had a drink in almost a year.” After that interview 15 years ago, Marcus disappeared from the spotlight, a place he never liked to be in during his storied tenure as a WKU basketball player.

“It’s a common phenomenon with giants,” Felton told ESPN in 2005. “They draw a lot of attention, so they grow up different than everyone else. There’s a certain awkwardness that makes them uncomfortable long before they have the social skills to deal.”

Information on Marcus’ funeral arrangements is not yet available, according to a release.

{{tncms-inline account=”Tony Rose” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">This is sad sad news. His life is a 30 for 30 story waiting to happen. He was an all time great on the Hill. RIP Chris. <a href=""></a></p>— Tony Rose (@tonyroseshow) <a href="">April 25, 2020</a></blockquote>” id=”″ type=”twitter”}}

{{tncms-inline account=”#PenGod✍🏽NappyRoots” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">So sad to hear this!! He used to come and get his haircut once a week faithfully and was one of my best clients. I loved when he sat in my chair because he was so tall (7 ft) that I cut his hair without having to hunch over at all 🪑RIP PHENOM! <a href="">#chrismarcus</a> <a href="">#wku</a> <a href="">#hooper</a> <a href="">#COVID19</a> <a href=""></a></p>— #PenGod✍🏽NappyRoots (@KyBuffalo) <a href="">April 25, 2020</a></blockquote>” id=”″ type=”twitter”}}

{{tncms-inline account=”Darren Phelps” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">RIP to Chris Marcus who was without a doubt the greatest WKU basketball player of my lifetime. Would’ve been a top 5 pick in 2001, but chose to come back to school & broke his foot. Thanks for the memories! <a href=""></a></p>— Darren Phelps (@DarrenPhelps81) <a href="">April 25, 2020</a></blockquote>” id=”″ type=”twitter”}}

{{tncms-inline account=”JT Henderson” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">RIP Chris Marcus. Chris was a gentle giant, friend & teammate. So many of my favorite memories from college involve #2. My favorite pic of Chris involves my Mamaw, who was 1/2 his height. To my fellow Topper coaches, players & staff- I miss you guys & we should get together soon. <a href=""></a></p>— JT Henderson (@jthendstory) <a href="">April 25, 2020</a></blockquote>” id=”″ type=”twitter”}}

{{tncms-inline account=”Matt Jones” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Very sad. Chris Marcus was a beast at at WesternHe and Patrick Sparks put it to Kentucky at RuppRIP big guy <a href=""></a></p>— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) <a href="">April 25, 2020</a></blockquote>” id=”″ type=”twitter”}}

{{tncms-inline account=”John Paul Blair” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Chris Marcus was a gentle giant and the most decorated collegiate <a href="">@WKUBasketball</a> player since Big Mac. The championships, wins over UofL and UofK, and national recognition for <a href="">@WKU</a> will not be forgotten. <a href=""></a></p>— John Paul Blair (@JohnPaulBlair) <a href="">April 25, 2020</a></blockquote>” id=”″ type=”twitter”}}

Sports Editor Drake Kizer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Drake on Twitter at @drakekizer_.