|Tornado scoring king Weddle ready to gun for Skyhawks |
When last seen in a basketball uniform, Purple and Gold-clad Marquis Weddle was hoisting the Class A state championship trophy, the plaque for Mr. Basketball and the state tournament Most Valuable Player hardware as a Union City High School senior.
You can catch him Monday night in his new colors — hopefully showcasing some of the skills that earned him those accolades — against the nation’s top-ranked college team.
Weddle — 19 months removed from his last organized game — will make his official UT Martin debut in three days when the Skyhawks open their 2007-08 campaign against preseason No. 1 Memphis in the 2K Sports College Hoop Tip-Off Classic at the FedEx Forum.
UTM head coach Bret Campbell said Weddle will start against the highly-touted Tigers and is expected to get significant minutes — maybe as many as 30 — while playing both the point and shooting guard.
A sharp-shooting backcourt scoring machine who became the Tornadoes’ all-time leading point-maker with 2,526 at the end of his decorated prep career, Weddle was a non-qualifier upon his UCHS graduation. He originally signed with Three Rivers (Mo.) Community College, a widely-respected juco program, but never officially enrolled there.
Citing a desire to play at a Division I university, Weddle instead went to Martin prior to last year’s fall semester and sat out the season due to his academic shortcomings. He used that year to get himself into good classroom standing and is now looking forward to playing in something other than pickup games or practice.
“I’m ready to play with the lights and the scoreboard on,” he grinned Thursday, prior to scoring 14 points in the Skyhawks’ 96-63 exhibition victory over Bethel College. “I think I have a lot of the same ability I had in high school, and I think I’m better in some areas. I’m excited to get back out there in a game situation.”
The soft-spoken Weddle, who was not allowed to practice with the team last season, said he actually considered giving up the game during the most difficult of times away from organized competition last year.
“To be honest, I thought about quitting and just becoming a regular student,” he said. “But I didn’t won’t to sell myself short. I’m not a quitter, and I looked around and saw a lot of other people my age getting into trouble and not making anything out of themselves.
“I didn’t want to get 20 years older and look back and have regrets that I didn’t make the sacrifices I needed to make to continue playing.”
Campbell, who admitted he may be counting too much on the ex-Twister standout, said the natural maturation process of young people has fueled his high hopes for Weddle’s college freshman campaign.
“The last three months, his maturing off the floor with things like time management, accountability and responsibility, he’s made good strides,” the UTM coach said. “There’s so much with college basketball that has nothing to do with what goes on between the lines. Marquis had some work to do there, and he’ll be a work in progress. But I like the direction in which he’s going.”
Campbell recruited Weddle out of high school but admitted he may’ve underestimated his talents, despite his gaudy numbers.
“He’s better than I thought he was, and he has a chance to get even better once he adapts to this stage and the physical nature and speed of the game. He still has some things to learn at this level, but he has a chance to make an impact with our program as a freshman and be a very good player for us,” Campbell added.
Weddle is expected to team with the Skyhawks’ returning leading scorer and rebounder, 6-9 Gerald Robinson, and Tennessee’s junior college player of the year in 2006, Lester Hudson, who sat out last year due to academics, to give UTM an up-tempo attack that appears to suit all involved with the program.
“I think this is the best place for me,” Weddle said. “I think our style will fit my game, and I think I’ll learn more in four years here with Coach Campbell than if I played two years at a junior college and then transferred somewhere else for two more.”
That education process will likely begin Monday night.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.