Heartache, Breakout Have Defined Denmon's Year
COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - To characterize the past year as a whirlwind for Marcus Denmon, you'd be speaking the truth, but you wouldn't fully capture what he's been through since summer 2010 -- both on and off the basketball court.
His year can't be described in a word, and it can't be told in a sentence either.
Instead, you've got to have a wider scope to truly appreciate what the past 12 months have been like for the guard from inner-city Kansas City in the lead up to his selection last Sunday as one of 14 finalists for the 2011 USA Basketball Men's World University Games Team.
"It's amazing what that young man has been through to get to where he is today," says Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin, an assistant coach for this year's 2011 USA Men's World University Games Team.
For starters, Denmon's career path got a big bump last summer when he inherited the leadership baton for his Missouri Tigers after the graduation of backcourt stars J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor. That duo's graduation left a huge void in a program that had been to three straight NCAA Tournaments, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2009.
Denmon took the promotion in stride and turned himself into All-Big 12 first team player, averaging nearly 17.0 points a game while shooting at a sizzling 50.0 percent clip from the field -- the best mark at Mizzou in nearly 10 seasons.
He also started in 33 of 34 games for Missouri and splashed down nearly half his 3-pointers on the season (44.8 percent).
But those are just stats. Just numbers and filler in a media-guide biography page.
To add a little context to Denmon's junior-year story, consider that in the season in which he transformed himself into one of the best guards in the country, he also dealt with the shooting death of his cousin, Marion, who was the victim of crossfire in early December back home in Kansas City, just hours after Denmon led Missouri to an 83-80 road victory at Oregon.
Denmon and his family then had to deal with more heartache after gunfire riddled the Macedonia Baptist Church Façade during his cousin's funeral.
Miraculously, no one was injured, but the sequence of events was a sharp contrast to what should have been a quiet celebration of a life cut short.
And then, after the Tigers' season ended with a frustrating one-and-done loss to Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament, Denmon's head coach, Mike Anderson -- the man who recruited him to Missouri out of Hogan Prep High School -- left for the top spot at Arkansas, leaving Denmon prior to his final season in Columbia.
So, maybe his invitation to the USA Basketball World University Games Team Training Camp in early June came at just the right time. After all, it gave him something else to focus on and the opportunity to get back to work earlier than he would have in previous seasons.
"It's been a crazy time for me," Denmon said, "but being able to get the jump and play for real this early -- before everyone else is playing, while everyone else is paying attention to football -- I'm playing basketball and getting a chance to represent my country.
"It really means a lot. Coming from (the University of) Missouri and being from the state of Missouri, it's been great being able to represent my family and my city and my state. But now, getting to represent my country ... I've been blessed with my opportunities, and I'm really honored to be here in Colorado."
Things have started to settle down for Denmon back at Missouri. Frank Haith was brought on board as his new head coach in April, and with that, Denmon was introduced to the man who would be in charge for his final collegiate season.
All reports are that the transition has gone smoothly, but there's always an adjustment period when a new coach and new assistant coaches are brought in.
That's another benefit, though, of earning a finalist spot on this USA World University Games Team. To have success this week in camp and ultimately claim one of the final 12 roster spots, Denmon will need to learn on the fly and absorb all he can from head coach Matt Painter (Purdue) and assistants Brad Stevens (Butler) and Martin.
For Denmon, this week in Colorado Springs offers a bit of a sneak peak at what his life will be like once classes resume in Columbia later this month. Both situations will require a willingness to change, but Denmon's used to it.
Afterall, he's been dealing with change for much of the past year and for most of his life.
"If you're a player, you can play in any kind of system," Denmon says, "I'll definitely have to make an adjustment, though, (at Missouri). So coming here has really opened my eyes to other kinds of coaching styles, which I think will help as I get back to school and really get down to business with Coach Haith."
Haith, who came to Missouri after seven seasons as head coach at Miami, was an assistant coach for Bo Ryan (Wisconsin) on the 2009 USA Men's World University Games team.
Denmon said that twist of fate actually gave him a little bit of a leg up before heading here to the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
"Coach Haith just told me to come here and showcase my game and show them my God-given ability -- do what I do," Denmon said. "He told me a little about the process and just the importance of playing hard and really coming out here and competing. So that's what I did, and I guess it paid off."
Twenty players arrived on campus late last week, vying for a spot in this week's training camp. Denmon had a few good practices in front of the USA Basketball coaching staff and USA Basketball Men's Junior National Team Committee members, and he was tabbed Sunday to hang around for the rest of the week.
The selection was a reward for a young man who's experienced a memorable year, for reasons good and bad.
Martin, who was just hired by the Volunteers in March after a remarkable rebuilding job at Missouri State, has followed Denmon closely throughout his prep and collegiate career, and he said Denmon's path to Colorado Springs has been inspirational, to say the least.
Add in Denmon's passion for basketball, and his selection as one of the finalists was a no-brainer for the committee prior to the Sunday cut down.
"The thing I like about Marcus -- and I've had the chance to watch him play a lot of basketball being in the state of Missouri at Missouri State -- he competes at a high level and plays extremely hard," Martin says. "He wants to win and has an unbelievable passion for the game.
"The thing about him that's so special nowadays, when Marcus is done with practice he wants to go play on the playground. He's trying to find a game to play. You love to have guys like that around, guys that just can't live without it. Basketball has been good to Marcus his whole life, and he just wants to play basketball, plain and simple. And it's fun to be around guys like that."
There's only been two University of Missouri players to ever suit up for the United States in the World University Games, dating to 1965, so Denmon says he's looking to further cement his spot in the annals of Tiger basketball.
He embarked on this journey with teammate Kim English (Baltimore, Md.) in tow -- he was also one of the first 20 in camp -- but a few rough shooting days from the floor ended English's chances of representing the Black and Gold in Shenzhen, China, later this month.
Still, getting to share the experience of the first days with English and now marching on with his Missouri torch in hand, there isn't a place Denmon would rather be then fighting to turn his mesh practice USA jersey into the bonafide real thing.
"It would have really been great for two Missouri players to make the team," Denmon says, "but for that to happen was really out of my control. My focus out here was to work on the things I really could control.
"I feel like hard work always pays off. With everything that's been going on in my life, all I've been doing is trying to continue to work hard and get in the gym and just try to elevate my game to that next level. This season people got to see that, and I got to showcase then and here that I'm one of the better guards in the country."