Marvin came recommended to CoachV and me by Dan Doyle, the idealistic dynamo who runs the University of Rhode Island's Institute for International Sport and its World Scholar-Athlete Games. But when he arrived in Vermont, Marvin dropped a bit of a bombshell. He told us he wouldn't be able to share a room on the road.
Single rooms on the road aren't in our budget. So I demanded the full story.
Turns out that Marvin suffers from a social anxiety disorder. Even as a two-year-old, his mom remembers, he'd play under the porch of their shotgun shack in Alabama.
Yet with a basketball, few had a greater gift. He's a legend in his hometown of Worcester, Mass., where he led Holy Name High to the 1973 state title. When he made his recruiting visit to Southern Cal, O.J. Simpson picked him up at the airport. In his junior season at USC he led the Pac-8 in scoring and earned honorable mention All-America.
But by his senior year he had also discovered a way to throw off the shackles of his shyness. College campuses were awash in recreational drugs at that time, and a few hits turned Marvin into the at-ease, interactive person he'd always wanted to be.
Though the Portland Trail Blazers chose him in the third round of the NBA Draft, he didn't stick. He played two seasons for the Quincy (Mass.) Chiefs of the CBA, then turned to coaching high school and college, where he had his successes; after a season as an assistant at San Jose State and two more as head coach at San Mateo High, Marvin returned to his hometown and led St. Peter Marian High to the finals of the state tournament.
But for stretches betwixt and between he stumbled into addiction. Having been clean for more than a year now, he tells anyone who'll listen about his journey. He believes it's his duty to do so -- or has ever since the day he spoke to a group about his struggles, and an adolescent girl came up afterward to say that she now had the confidence to share her eating disorder with her parents.
In the three weeks since camp opened, the players have taken to calling him Coach Catfish, on account of a few missing front teeth. He cooks for the guys once a week. (With Marvin the 12th of 13 children, his mom made sure all her kids knew their way around a kitchen.) His human touch has already paid dividends, whether it's been Marvin finding a quote in a book about how pianists achieve harmony through diligent practice, and photocopying it for distribution to the team; or leading a rendition of Happy Birthday for one of the Golden Rimmers, the aging pick-up players who have graciously ceded to us their traditional court time at our practice facility.
Most important, thanks to our team statistician, Matt Saltus, who doubles as a social worker, Marvin is back on medication for both his social anxiety disorder and high blood pressure.
I'm beginning to think we can put Marvin in a double on the road. More important, I'm beginning to think Marvin thinks we can too. I certainly hope we've had a breakthrough -- for his sake every bit as much as for our bottom line's.
We had a promising sign the other day: Marvin called Matt "roomie."
THURSDAY, OCT. 26 --
Three of the coaches on our staff are from the microscopic north-central Vermont towns of Cabot, Marshfield and Morrisville. How is it that all of them -- coach Will Voigt, assistant Wayne Lafley and strength and conditioning coach Scott Caulfield -- are professionally tied up in basketball?
I think I know why: One of the byproducts of growing up in small-town Vermont is a reflexive fascination with the big-time beyond -- big-time basketball most definitely included, especially if you're male and came of age during the era of Larry Bird's Celtics.
You try really hard to make up for the deprivation of your upbringing.
I know: For three summers I played and reffed in the summer league in Woodstock, Vt., spending idle time plotting with buddies ways we could establish a kind of Fresh Air Fund in reverse. ("Give a country kid a chance to spend a summer in the city and get game.")
Today you see this phenomenon in Slam, in letters from readers who try just a bit too hard: "Wassup Slam, ya mag is phatter than Oliver Miller." Signed Tyler in Keokuk, or Lars in Malmo, or -- for all we know -- Ethan in Peacham, Vt.
I suggested to Coach Voigt, the Caboter, that the hometowns of our suckled-on-syrup coaches couldn't have three stoplights among them. He clarified that: Cabot and Marshfield don't have any -- but Morrisville is, relatively speaking, a neon-fired sprawl: "Mo Vegas," as dubbed by assistant coach Lafley's cousin Jughead (who answers now to Jarhead, seeing as he's serving in Afghanistan).
A Lamoille County hip-hop group called The Home Team ("reppin' Central Vermont") has even recorded a rap that goes by Morrisville's nickname. (Mo Vay-gus/The small city that raised us.)
Mo Vegas has a 24-hour Dunkin' Donuts, a 24-hour Price Chopper, AND a McDonald's. If you're looking for late-night entertainment on the Mo Vegas Strip, you pull some lobsters out of the tank at Price Chopper, get bets down on the most athletic looking ones, and hope the races finish before the night manager catches on.
"What goes on in Mo Vegas," coach Lafley explains gravely, "STAYS in Mo Vegas."
Next post, I'll introduce our other assistant, Marvin Safford, a.k.a. Coach Catfish, who is most emphatically not from small-town Vermont. And brings more than a little real life to our white-steepled world.