It wasn’t the way Western fans expected or wanted to see Chris Marcus go out.
And yet, his meager 10-point, two-rebound performance in the Toppers’ first-round NCAA tournament loss to Stanford last March appeared to be the last glimpse they’d get of him in a college jersey.
Marcus – the project turned gentle basketball giant – decided he wasn’t going out like that.
Citing the nagging foot and ankle injury that forced him to miss all but 15 games last season, Marcus announced May 31 he was withdrawing his name from the NBA draft to return to the Hill for his final year of eligibility.
“I’ve decided to pull my name out of the 2002 NBA draft because of the injury to my foot,” Marcus said at the press conference. “I am physically unable to perform up to my capabilities right now.
“So, I will be back at Western next year and take time to completely rehab my foot and prepare myself for the 2002-03 season, and for my future in professional basketball. The injury has forced me to change my plans, but I feel fortunate to be able to come back to Western to continue my education, continue my development as a basketball player and be a part of Hilltopper basketball for another season.”
Though his decision to return came as a welcomed surprise even to coach Dennis Felton, he won’t have to do much roster shuffling to accommodate the big man. Marcus will simply take the scholarship created by the dismissal of Raynardo Curry last season.
Marcus took a single Spanish class this summer to complete his undergraduate degree. With that behind him, Marcus can focus solely on improving his stock among NBA scouts and helping the Hilltoppers improve on last year’s 28-4 mark. He’ll be taking graduate classes this year.
“I don’t want to make it sound like I’m trying to get out of work, but I’m going to use this year to concentrate on basketball because I’ve already got my degree,” Marcus said. “If I had been healthy all year, I wonder where I would have been picked (in the draft).”
Instead of the draft, the seven-footer had successful surgery to repair a bone in his injured left foot in June and was fitted with a cast he wore over the summer.
“I certainly believe that Chris will ultimately be one of the first, second or third picks in the NBA draft,” Felton said. “In the meantime, any time that he gets to spend in a Hilltopper uniform is a great time for us.”
But after spending three-plus months in a cast, it is unclear whether Marcus will have time to fully rehab when the Toppers officially open practice in October.
He decided to have surgery and return to Western on the advice of two internationally recognized foot and ankle experts, Dr. John Gould of Alabama Sports Medicine and Dr. Richard Ferkel, a California-based consultant for the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball.
“Both doctors were fully supportive of all measures taken in the treatment of Chris’ injury,” Western Assistant Athletic Trainer Mike Gaddie said. “. And, they pointed out how unusual Chris’ injury was. It is not typically seen in athletics.”
Marcus said last month that he’d love to start playing as soon as his cast is removed but thinks Felton is going to be a little overprotective in an attempt to avoid the pitfalls of last year.
“I’ve never had any expectations. My only hope is that he is healthy this time next year for his future,” Felton said last month. “I don’t have any expectations as to when he might play again for Western Kentucky.”