Ruskin coach Gerry Marlin never stopped pacing the sideline Friday night. He chalked it up to a nervous tick.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
He had every right to be nervous. Sitting on 499 career victories, Marlin watched leads slip away in back-to-back games. They all count the same, but No. 500 sure was beginning to feel elusive.
So there he walked Friday night. Back and forth. Back and forth.
Finally, with only two minutes remaining and Ruskin holding a 16-point lead against visiting Park Hill, Marlin stopped. He could breathe a little easier.
Or maybe not.
"We can’t blow this one, can we?" he said as he turned to his assistants.
No, coach, this one’s all yours.
Ruskin prevailed with a 65-50 victory against Park Hill, giving Marlin the 500th victory of his career in his 26th year of coaching, the last 11 of which have come at Ruskin.
The school honored him with a brief ceremony following the game. He hugged his players — who were kept in the dark about the milestone until a week ago — and then saved a special embrace for assistant coach Matthew Ramsey, who was a player on Marlin’s first team at Ruskin.
"I feel relieved, to be honest about it," Marlin said. "I feel relieved that we didn’t screw it up. More relief than anything else."
A career that spanned has spanned five high schools — including two in Louisiana and two more in Florida — made its way to Ruskin 11 years ago with the program’s future looking bleak.
Five years later, nobody in the state was better than the Ruskin Eagles. In what Marlin called the highlight of his career, Ruskin won the 2007 state championship, compiling 29 straight victories in the process. He was named The Kansas City Star Coach of the Year following the season.
The conference, district and tournament championships have been too numerous for Marlin to track over the past 26 years.
The impact on his players is even more difficult to measure, Ramsey said.
"Coach Marlin is very demanding, but it pays off," Ramsey said. "He’s going to challenge you. Sometimes that’s hard to deal with, but he makes you endure, and you’re better for it."
There’s little fancy in Marlin’s coaching style. He runs a basic motion offense and sticks with a man-to-man defense.
He doesn’t yell often. He doesn’t cuss often.
More than anything, he demands two principal attributes from his players — toughness and hustle.
Ruskin showed both from the opening tip Friday, racing out to a 30-7 lead in the second quarter behind 12 first-quarter points from junior Jamari Chalmers, who finished with a game-best 17 points.
"I’m happy for him," Chalmers said of Marlin’s accomplishment. "He wants us to do well. He just wants us to do better. We wanted this one for him."
Perhaps to keep Marlin pacing a little longer along the Ruskin sideline, Park Hill cut the 23-point advantage to 10 by halftime. Ricky Trammell sparked the rally with 15 points, including 10 after the break.
But Ruskin freshman point guard Nate Washington, scoreless after the first quarter, rallied Ruskin with 15 points to close out No. 500 for his coach.
"I’m appreciative of the kids and they effort they give me," Marlin said. "It all comes down to them. For about five minutes, it’s about me, but then it’s all about them and the other teams (before them). I’m grateful I have kids that want to hustle and play for me."
One career milestone down.
A few more to go?
"I’m not retiring tomorrow just because I got 500," Marlin said. "We’ll get 600, 700, 800, whatever. But none of them will be as important as this one."