Stephon, who's 6'2", embellishes this legacy with skills entirely his own: dial-8 range on his jump shot; a predator's appetite for on-the-ball defense; and an aura, a New York ease with his station that in other precincts might be called cockiness. In November, Marbury suggested to the New York Daily News that he would leave for the NBA after this season, a comment that touched off much hand-wringing in Atlanta, where Georgia Tech likes to think of itself as more than a trade school for aspiring pro basketball players. But Marbury now says that there was much more nuance in his remark, and that he had simply addressed a hypothetical. "If I'm guaranteed to be in the lottery?" he says still. "I wouldn't even hesitate. I'm leaving. In fact, I would hope the people at Georgia Tech would tell me to leave. Because if not, they wouldn't be thinking about anything but themselves.
"I don't feel I'm totally ready. The NBA and college are two totally different games. The NBA is just pick-and-roll, and if the pick-and-roll's not there, throw it to Hakeem and he scores. How hard can that be? It's just physical strength. Being ready means adjusting to being around older players. Right now I don't have anything in common with those guys."
As Marbury ruminates over the differences between college and the pros, his coaches at Georgia Tech think there's still much for him to learn about the differences between high school and college. Mount St. Mary's senior Chris McGuthrie, a 5'9" guard, lit up the Yellow Jackets, and often Marbury, for 37 points—a reminder that even the best on-the-ball defender is of little use if he can't fight through the picks a well-coached college team will set to spring a shooter. So far this season the Jackets have run a gantlet of a schedule, over which Marbury has been reliably inconsistent: horrid against Georgia and splendid against Louisville; a first-half terror at Kentucky (he went for 17 as Tech forged a halftime lead) and a second-half bust (he failed to score as the team collapsed over the final 20 minutes); and just the reverse at Duke (he followed a four-point first half with 23 in the second of a 86-81 victory). With exhilarating wins over Maryland and North Carolina, and excruciating losses to Bradley and Santa Clara, the Jackets (10-7 after a 91-78 defeat of Western Carolina on Saturday) have been every bit as mercurial as their freshman point guard.
The NBA does not make lottery picks of floor leaders whose teams lose to Mount St. Mary's at home. With Tech up a point and a minute and a half to play, Marbury threw away a blind wraparound pass. "We don't need to be forcing it in a close game like that," says Drew Barry, Marbury's fifth-year senior backcourt mate. "Stephon's a great talent. He's going to be a great player. But right now he has a lot to learn."
With Barry and forwards Michael Maddox and Matt Harpring, Yellow Jacket coach Bobby Cremins has the nucleus of a pretty good team, and he wants to let Marbury, who was averaging 19.3 points and 4.4 assists at week's end, grow naturally into the role of leading it. "Why is he not there yet?" Cremins says. "He's stubborn. And there's the pressure to perform. The expectations are ridiculous. All this pressure. All this hype. It really pisses me off. He's had his mind on other things."
Cremins and his staff have sat Marbury down on several occasions for what Cremins calls "long, heavy talks," sessions referred to around the Tech basketball offices as "de-recruiting." The coaches tell Marbury that the word is out on him: Apply the man-to-man screws—that's what Kentucky and Georgia did—and he panics. Reverts to his roots. Just tries to break everyone down one-on-one. Stephon, they say, you've got to play with their minds. Give the ball up, get it back, then make them pay. "Stephon should never shoot under 50 percent in a game," says Tech associate head coach Kevin Cantwell. "If he does, he's taking shots he shouldn't."
In the aftermath of the Mount St. Mary's debacle, Marbury was the lone Yellow Jacket to ask a manager for a copy of the game tape that night. He watched it in all its horror until 3:30 a.m. But he also spent an hour on the phone with Donnie back in Coney Island. Donnie hadn't seen the game, but his advice distilled to this: Got to play like Stephon. Got to go through the middle, got to get to the basket.
Cremins fears counsel like that only interferes with the message he's trying to get across. The next morning Marbury pronounced his diagnosis: "I've been so focused on what Coach wants me to do—be a leader, get everybody involved—that I haven't been Stephon."
"There's a lot of talk about Stephon's making it to the NBA for his family," Cremins says, "but his mother once told me, 'We're a family, and we're going to be a family whether he makes it to the NBA or not.' And they're a happy family. They could live there the rest of their lives and be happy."