WOSTER: Parkston's Marking had great attitude about life, basketball
Back when I wrote for the newspaper in Sioux Falls, one of the treats of a Sunday afternoon came when Nancy would answer the telephone, track me down holding the receiver in her outstretched hand and whisper, "It's Jim Marking from Brookings."
I used to write a column the paper published in its Sunday edition, and every so often, the topic would tickle the old coach enough for him to pick up the phone and give me a call. I thought about those rambling, rollicking Sunday afternoon chats this past week when I read that Jim Marking had died.
He moved from assistant to head coach of the basketball team at South Dakota State University during my time on campus, so I had a chance to watch his teams and his sideline manner. He got excited, no question about that. That little man in the dark blazer and tie got into the game, and sometimes he turned and pumped up the student fans. But I liked that he always seemed positive, exasperated with his players when they loafed or made boneheaded decisions, but invested in them and their successes, and always aware that the fans were in the house, too.
He coached state championship teams in Class B at Hayti in 1954 and Class A at Watertown in 1959 before moving to SDSU. He had good players, but he made them champions. He had good players at SDSU, too, and he made them better. He could name players and years they played and season records from those years. He could recall humorous, sad, triumphant moments involving his players, what the gyms or arenas looked like and sounded like and smelled like, what the players' faces looked like when they scored or missed or won or lost. And he could describe in colorful detail how he reacted to those moments. My word, could he tell those stories.
Our conversations covered three or four generations of South Dakota basketball players. Anyone I could name -- and I could name quite a few -- he could tell me things I didn't know about that person. Many times, what he shared was not an on-court success but something noteworthy the athlete did later in life, in real life. He kept track of an incredible number of kids as they become adults.
In my high school days, Chamberlain ran an offense called the Drake shuffle. It featured all sorts of passing and cutting and options and resetting -- in theory. The way the Cubs often seemed to play it was "first guy down the court with the ball shoots, next guy hopes to rebound so he gets a shot."
I mentioned that in a column once and Marking didn't even wait until afternoon to dial. His teams in high school ran the Drake shuffle for quite a while, he told me. It was a great offense, if a team had patience. Problem was, he said, 17-year-old kids like to shoot a lot more than they like to pass.
Marking told me of being a young coach at a seminar where veterans were handing out tips and tricks. Late in the event was a session on a thing by a coach who invented or perfected the Drake shuffle.
"You saw the guy from Drake?" I asked, excited. Silence for a moment, then, "No, he was from Oklahoma," Marking said. He was remarkably gentle with my embarrassment.
I sealed our telephone friendship in an early column about playing my last high-school basketball game in a tournament in Parkston. Marking grew up in Parkston. He knew the gym, the players on that 1962 team, a couple of players from my team and, it seemed, most of the fans in the stands. I learned a lot of informal South Dakota history on Sunday afternoons.
I learned this, too. When we talked sometimes of scandals in sport, efforts by some athletes to gain an edge, intense coaches and players who went too far in their competitiveness, Marking would say, "People try to make basketball too complicated. It's a game. It's a wonderful game, but it's just a game."
Sunday afternoons were just Sundays, too, but Coach Marking's calls made them wonderful.