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An Ode to Kuya Marcus

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Five years ago, you were — in the eyes of people newly-acquainted to you — basically a “nobody”.

Head Coach Rajko Toroman of Smart-Gilas I kept saying we were a big man away from becoming a powerhouse, or at least being as competitive as the giants of Asian basketball.

He was right, and so the process began. It was a long, tedious search.

From CJ Giles to Jamaal Sampson to Darian Townes to Milan Vucicevic, it was tough.

Nobody seemed to fit the mold. Well, it’s tough to do that in the first place, because you will not only play hoops, but you shall also be under the scrutiny of millions of basketball-loving fans.

Basketball here is different; it is already embedded in Filipinos’ lives, which makes the task even more challenging. People will look after you. They will pin their hopes on you and the rest of the team. Succeed or fail, even if you do your very best, there is still a possibility to be criticized.

The Smart-Gilas program was looking for the perfect fit to bolster the roster, and make it the best team assembled for a chance to crack the 2012 Olympic basketball tournament.

You were brought here for the 2010 MVP Cup, which had Jordan, a Chinese club team, and PBA teams Talk ‘N Text and Ginebra. It was primarily to test whether you’ll be a good naturalization candidate for the Gilas program after failed attempts.

We won that tournament, and you showed flashes of brilliance. An ability to shoot from the perimeter, an ability to put the ball down, post up, face up, and finish strong. Plus, you had the mobility, and you were a legitimate rim protector.

And so, the process of making you become one of us began. While waiting for your papers you worked tirelessly and quietly under the radar to become Smart-Gilas I’s go-to guy.

What I liked about your attitude even more is you never seem to complain, and you were down to earth. You always perform the task at hand, and do what is required from you.Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times An Ode to Kuya Marcus

There came the debate between fielding an all-Filipino team instead. A division between you and the 11 other players who will banner the Philippines in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship.

Because you know, this naturalization thing is new to them, so you have to be really patient and understanding about it, and you were.

You’re mindset was always, “you’re with us.” You connect with us. It was never 11 plus 1. It was always 12. Twelve Filipinos presenting the red, white, and blue.

I remember that exhibition game against Jordan at the San Juan Arena just a few days before you guys flew to Wuhan, China for the FIBA Asia.

That was the final game Smart-Gilas I played on home soil in its close to 4-year existence and I was grateful to be part of that crowd at the Arena.

After the game, you approached some fans holding markers and shirts, and you signed them voluntarily just by noticing it even if you were in the middle of talking to somebody at one corner of the court.

We came just a bit short of fulfilling the Olympic dream in 2011, yet you dominated that tournament, proving you were doing it for the team, as you were sacrificing blood, sweat, and tears for the nation as well.

You led the entire league in scoring (21.9) and rebounding (12.2), yet you were still not named part of the All-Star 5 in the end. We seriously felt you got robbed, but it is what it is.

Stakeholders were impressed with the entire Gilas I program even if we failed to reach the ultimate destination, and so they pushed for the program to continue.

With Gilas 2, you were back as our main big man. We won the Jones Cup in 2012, and booked a ticket to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain after a silver-medal finish in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship at home.

My best recollection of that tournament? The second round game against Qatar.

We went on an onslaught and led by a sizable double-digit margin. Then, you went down on the floor, grimacing in pain. Something hit your knee, and it, we could see, was something serious from the way you reacted.

You were taken out of the game, which was initially fine because we were already ahead by a good distance.

However, Qatar suddenly bounced back and trimmed the deficit down to a manageable one. You were forced to return, played with virtually one leg, and still managed to make impact by putting the game away for good.

That was indeed the #Puso game for you, and you earned more respect for that. With that courageous performance you put up, you erased every bit of remaining doubt if ever one still existed.Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times An Ode to Kuya Marcus

And it did not end there. Gilas 2 struggled to put away Hong Kong the next day, and you played heavy minutes despite nursing an injury.

You showed you were willing to help no matter what.

After you blazed the trail for players wishing to play for the nation, a handful of top-level centers expressed their desire to play for us.

Then Andray Blatche arrived to the fold after his naturalization papers was signed into law.

People would say perhaps the move is quite disrespectful, or that the team just should have rewarded you with a slot for the World Cup, since you were the one who worked hard for it anyway.

But the Philippines surely wanted to field the strongest team for the 2014 World Cup, and being the ever-professional athlete that you are, you accepted it whole-heartedly, passing the torch to the next after serving the country for about half a decade.

Until the very end of our World Cup stint you were there at the sidelines, assisting our players during pre-game shootarounds and egging them on from the bench.

Just last month it was made known that your contract is officially expiring by September, and that you will not be renewing it anymore.

It’s been a fun-filled last five years for you, and we are all grateful and appreciative of your contributions to Philippine basketball.

We will always remember how you kept fighting, and your contributions will always transcend the hardcourt.

Everyone is talking about June Mar Fajardo’s stratospheric rise right now. For sure, all those years of training with you helped him become who he is today — the best center in Philippine basketball.

You made us realize we can compete in the highest level of hoops, and because of that, Philippine basketball is enjoying success in this new era.

We enjoyed the ride. Thank you, Kuya Marcus.

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