"Silent Assassin"

Two weeks ago I made my way up to Suffolk Virginia to see the Nansemond River Warriors. In particular, I wanted to check out one of NC State's top prospects from the class of 2004, Marquie Cooke.

I was very excited about my trip up to Virginia. I had received word that NC State was on yet another wonderful point guard prospect and this one only lived a couple of hours away. I love to watch great point men and from all I heard and read while researching Marquie for this story, I knew I would not be disappointed.

Marquie has the reputation of putting his team first but the ability to take over a game when necessary. Nansemond Coach Franklin Chatman told me in advance what kind of player Cooke was for his team. "When he plays with lesser talent, he knows what to do. I had a writer who watched one of our games, and he told me that he could not recognize who the best player was in the first half. Then Marquie took over in the second half. That's the type of player he is. He doesn't look to take over the game, but if he has too to win, he will."

When I arrived at the Warrior gym, the JV players were warming up. The varsity team was watching game film in the library. The local television station was there preparing to continue their work on a video journal of Cooke. As I walked into the library, I was greeted by Coach Chatman, who seemed genuinely glad that I was there to do a bit of on-line journalism as well. He quickly informed me that Marquie would not be starting in the game because he had missed a practice on Monday. On Sunday, Coach and Marquie had made an unofficial visit to watch NC State manhandle the Tarheels and on the way home, it seems his star player had come down with a bad headache. Maybe it was the flu or maybe it was a migraine. At this point, I am thinking, well, maybe I should just call it a night and try to come back when Marquie was up to par. But Coach Chatman told me even though he would not start, he would be ready to go at tip-off.

Coach pointed me in the direction of Marquie, who was behind the periodicals laying on the floor. He was isolated and I assumed he was just not in the mood to worry with traveling webmasters in search of an interview. So I deferred the introduction and told Coach I wanted to head out to the gym. I really like spending time with other members of a team's program when researching a player. I have learned that you can get some really good information on players by talking to the worker bees of a solid program such as Nansemond.

When I got back into the gym, I noticed a student perched up atop of the bleachers, pretty much on his own, setting up a video camera. The team's videographers always know the scoop, so I headed directly to the top where Jarmar Simmons, the team manager and part time video man was busy at work. It turns out Jarmar is a big ACC basketball fan that loves to pull for UNC. After telling him I was the editor for the NC State site, he seemed to give me a pass probably just for Marquie's sake. I told Jarmar that I was there to watch Marquie. I asked him what he could tell me about him as a player. "I call him the Silent Assassin. He can kill you and you not even know it. The other night he scored 40 points. No one thought he had done that. He did it in such a quiet way."

Even though Marquie was laying beside the World Atlas in the library with a busting headache, I was now having a blast. "Silent Assassin! What a name", I told Jarmar. "Coach told me that sometime you cannot recognize who the star is on his team." I was making good progress here with Jarmar and taking notes on some very good information on Marquie.

As I looked down on the court, the varsity was making their way to the opposite stands to watch the JV team. Marquie was holding a bag of ice to his forehead and things were not looking good for me to see the action I had traveled to view. I conversed with the man in the know, Jarmar, until the JV halftime.

I saw Marquie with his bag of ice and his teammates heading to the locker room to get dressed out. Things were still looking bad. I was thinking that maybe I could do a story on student managing a high school basketball team. But then I thought, who would pay $7.95 a month for that, as interesting as Jarmar had been, I am not sure our subscribers would buy the story.

So I looked around the now cheerless gym and spied the TV Video Crew making notes and talking to an elderly lady sitting behind the Nansemond River bench. I was thinking, this may be "Channel Norfolk's" home turf, but I knew how to read the lay of the land. This women had some information worth checking out. Maybe this was Marquie's grandmother that Coach Chatman and Coach Boo Williams, Marquie's AAU coach, had told me about in the background interviews I had done the week before. Coach Chatman told me he thought the relationship with his grandmother might keep the point guard near Suffolk. "He will probably stay close to home. He lives with his Grandmother and he will want to stay near her. There is no difference in distance between Virginia and NC State. So it could come down to those two."

Coach Williams agreed with Chatman. Even though schools as far away as UCLA were on him hard, it looks like he might stay within quick trip distance of Suffolk. "Coaches like his size and physical ability. He is 6'3", 6'4" that can defend the one or the two. He gets after it. I can't see him going out West or Mid-West. He'll stay in Maryland, Virginia or North Carolina." Virginia is about 150 miles from Suffolk while NC State is around 160 miles. Duke and Maryland are both around 200 miles. He is also considering Kentucky and Georgetown among others.

After a quick check with the TV crew, I did learn that the lady behind the bench was indeed Marquie's grandmother, Ms. Beulah. I made my way over and introduced myself. I asked her if she thought her grandson would play. "Oh yes. He will do his best, even though he feels bad. He is just like that. Whatever he does he always does the best he can."

I asked Ms Beulah about the recruiting of Marquie and what kind of things had happened. What she told me was what I was expecting, yet it is still amazing to hear. Marquie is one of the top point guards from the class of 2004 and that gets fast attention from college recruiters. "He gets about 15 letters per day. He has over a thousand letters already. He gets personal cards from the coaches", said Ms. Beulah. "One coach Fed Exes a personal card six days per week. If he misses one, he will send two the next day."

I asked the nice lady if she hoped her grandson would stay close to home. "It is his choice if he wants to stay close or not. I don't want to put that pressure on him. He is the better one to choose his future."

I was enjoying my chat with Ms. Beulah. She surely was being nice and patient with me. But, it was getting close to the start of the second half. The JV Team and cheerleaders would be back on the court soon, so I knew quality conversation would soon be drowned out by the spirited crowd that was watching what was really a very exciting JV game. I saw the TV crew heading to the locker room to do some more shots of the pregame activities, so I followed my media brethen as if i belonged on their turf.

I am starting to feel a little better about actually watching Cooke play now. Coach Chatman told me he would be ready to go and now Ms. Beula confirmed it. As I entered the back office of the locker room, I found the team and coach listening to some hip hop. Marquie was laying on a couch off to himself, ice bag on head. Everyone was quiet, with just the music being the only sound coming from the little room. The whole team was one. They were silent but you could tell it was close to game time. Music has been played forever before battles. I was thinking of a bugle charge or the drummers that beat as the troops marched to a front line. The little office in the back of the locker room was hip hopping and every teammate and coach were one in motion as they kept the beat, saying nothing, but thinking of the game ahead.

With about five minutes before the JV game was to end, an assistant coach informed Chatman of the countdown to game time. With the music now turned off, Marquie was told to join his team in a regular steal fold chair, Chatman proceeded to go over the gameplan. As Coach spoke, Marquie never looked up. He had his head in his hands and was slumped over in his new chair. Coach expected a tough game from Deep Creek from Chesapeake, and I was thinking "it can't be any tougher than that headache that Marquie had".

With the game plan in head, the team went out into the runway that leads into the gym and all the players began to stretch. Cooke stretched his legs a couple of times and made his way to the end of the hall where he watched the ending of the JV game. The ice bag was gone and he no longer showed any outward signs of head pain.

One of the first things I noticed that night about Marquie was his quiet demeanor. It could have been caused by that BC headache, but you could see beyond that when you watched him. While players were talking in the hall and just carrying on with pre-game jitters, Cooke just kind of stood there watching Nansemond JV win in a thriller. Totally unassuming, but focused all the same.

After a few high fives to the victorious JV, the varsity and Cooke took to the floor for lay-ups. While Marquie might of been quiet in the runway, I knew when he took to the court who the leader was on the floor. It was not a vocal presence that Cooke had, but it was the way he carried himself. Every lay-up or jump shot he took during the warm-ups had the look of silk. I would have to disagree with the reporter that told Coach Chatman that "he could not recognize who the best player was". I knew what I was looking at here. The game had not even started but when Marquie hit the floor, it was obvious to me. I was looking at a very special player.

After I had taken a few digital shots of the "Silent Assassin" going through the drills, the buzzer sounded for game time and introductions. The cheerleaders formed the traditional cheer alley and I saw Marquie run to the end of the greeting formation. He was the only non-starter to make the gesture. As his teammates were introduced they found Cooke greeting each and everyone at the end of the formation. My first thoughts were, here is a player with a busting headache who has been sick for two days. He was not starting because of team rules that do not reward missed practice time, yet he took it all in stride and even was showing leadership from the bench. There was no pretense here that you often see with superstars. This kid was a team player first.

Coach Chatman had given me fair warning the week before when we were talking about Cooke in AAU ball. "Marquie gets lost in AAU, where they run up and down the court. He is a team player first. He does not try to look for stardom. He does not try to force the issue. He just wants to win."

Coach Boo Williams expanded on Marquie's ability to win. "He is a real leader. He is the kind of kid that knows how to make things happen and he knows how to win."

Marquie got into the game about halfway through the first quarter. With his team struggling, he came into the game and proceeded to quietly calm the sporadic play of his teammates. When I look at a point guard, I look to see what they do during the times of stress. I watched Mustafa Shakur a couple of times last year. While he may be a lottery pick one day, I thought he lacked the ability to help his teammates grasp victory from defeat. I'm not talking about his ability to take over a game, but his ability to raise his teammates level of play. Winning point guards have that ability. I saw that gift displayed by Marquie in the first half in Suffolk that night. He involved his teammates by running the offense, then he looked to score as almost a second thought. There is no doubt that Marquie could probably score 40 points every night, but basketball is a team sport. To win the State Championship which is Marquie's goal, he has to have good play from his teammates. Marquie gets that, just like his coach told me.

The stat sheet proved the observation. In the first half, Marquie had 2 assists and 1 turnover. He scored when he needed to. He was 3 for 7 from the field while being 2 for 4 from beyond the arc. He also was 3 of 4 from the line. Cooke had scored 11 points in a very quiet way.

The second half was more of the same. He continued to lead his team first. Whenever Deep Creek would make a little run, Marquie would slow his team down, run the set offense and squelch the comeback. He continued to hit three pointers and he was very tough to defend when he drove to the basket. For the game he had eight lay-up attempts and drew fouls on five of those. That tells me that Cooke has a different speed than his opponents. They were always a step late and the best they could do was get a piece of Cooke, because most of the time the shot was already on the way.

The second half stats again were similar to the first. He was 2 for 4 beyond the arc and 4 for 8 overall. For the game, Marquie had 26 points, 4 rebounds and 8 assists.

You can overlook the defensive ability that Cooke has by just watching his smooth leadership for his team and his "nothing but silk" three point shot. For the game, Marquie finished with 4 defensive deflections and 3 steals. When I had asked Coach Chatman who Marquie's game is comparable to, he talked about defense first. "He kind of reminds me of Gary Payton. Not so much his style on offense, but how he puts defense first. He gets after it on defense."

Marquie Cooke had helped kill a pretty good Deep Creek team with his leadership first. His stat sheet was filled in a very quiet way. Jarmar was exactly right. I was looking at a "Silent Assassin".

Coach Chatman had told me that his player was their leader and that Marquie knew how to lead. "We expect big things from him and he expects big things from himself. He is a coaches dream player. He has worked hard ever since I have known him. Sometimes in practice, if we didn't do something as well as we could, he will make the team do it over again. That makes it easy on us." I saw with my own eyes. The hype is being translated into real wins for Nansemond River. Marquie had lived up to his billing.

For the season Marquie is averaging 25 ppg, 8 assists, 7 rebounds and 4 steals. Coach Chatman knows what he has in Marquie. "Marquie is a special one. He is our leader in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals and shooting percentage. His goal is to win a state championship and he's not going to back down from anybody to get it."

According to Coach Chatman, the colleges are seeing the talent that Marquie has as well. "Virginia, NC State, FSU, and UNC-Charlotte are on him hard right now. That is probably the top 4. Duke and UNC were on him earlier, but they got commits from other guards. NC State and Virginia are trying to get him to commit early. He has not really looked hard at schools yet. He can take visits in the spring. He will probably go ahead and take visits to Virginia and NC State."

Nansemond River High School currently has a 19-2 record and recently clinched their 2nd consecutive Regular Season Southeastern District title in a rivalry game against cross-town rival Lakeland Cavaliers. Marquie continues to kill the competition. He scored 22 points, had seven assists and five steals.

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