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JON FLEMING | Special to The Roanoke Times
Radford’s Marcus Finley goes to the floor against Chilhowie’s Brady McVey for a loose ball during the Region C, Division 2 playoff earlier this month.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
RADFORD — The gym fell silent.
An up-tempo, rough-and-tumble practice session — the kind Radford High School always has been known for — snapped to a halt that January day.
Oh, no, not Marcus.
The freshman point guard was down. He’d rolled his ankle — badly. Teammates had to help him to his feet, and he could barely walk as they nursed him to the sidelines.
Visions of what this team would look like without him began darting through everybody’s head. These were not pleasant visions.
What happened over the next few minutes that day said a lot about Marcus Finley. It helps explain why the veteran Bobcats so easily accepted a freshman as one of their leaders. It sheds light on how Finley could be so impactful so quickly for a championship contender. It helps explain why Radford will carry a 25-2 record and a 17-game winning streak into tonight’s VHSL Group A Division 2 quarterfinal against Virginia High at Salem Civic Center.
Marcus Finley would not quit.
Within moments of the injury, coach Rick Cormany glanced over to the sidelines and couldn’t believe the sight. Finley was over there stretching! Soon the kid was walking it off. Then suddenly, a hobbled Finley put himself back into the drills, running the offense even though he couldn’t actually run.
Cormany had doubts about this, but he let it go. Let’s see what happens, he thought.
Finley’s team lost the competition. That meant timed sprints. Naturally, Finley struggled at this. Cormany, impressed with the kid’s perseverance but concerned about his health, shouted: “Marcus doesn’t have to make his time!”
This did not provide relief to Finley. It angered him.
And on the next wind sprint, Finley finished first.
“This is my 31st year of coaching,” Cormany said Wednesday. “I’ve seen a lot of tough things. But I’ve never seen a kid do that.”
More and more, folks in Radford have been searching their memories to find somebody who resembles Finley. The most frequent comparison is Darris Nichols, a 2,000-point scorer for the Bobcats who went on to play at West Virginia.
In some ways, they know this comparison is grossly unfair. Nichols was 6-foot-2; Finley stands 5-11. Nichols could throw down impressive dunks; Finley is better known for his silky jump shot.
Finley and his older brother Sean once played a game of 2-on-1 against Nichols at the local rec center. There was no comparison that day.
“He wasn’t really trying,” Finley said with a smile, “and he still beat us pretty bad.”
But in other ways, the Nichols-Finley comparison works. It’s how they move — so fluid, so deceptively quick. How they take care of the ball — Finley has just 24 turnovers in 27 games, an absurdly low figure. How they see things develop. How they prefer setting up teammates to scoring themselves.
“He just gets it,” Cormany said. “He doesn’t have to hear it but one time. What you say to him, it registers.
“That’s the way Darris was as a point guard, too. When you said something to him, you never had to say it again.”
In the preseason, Cormany said something to Finley that would have made a lot of freshman excited and nervous at the same time: You’re starting. At point guard. On varsity.
To facilitate the move, incumbent point guard Josh Little unselfishly agreed to shift to shooting guard for his senior year. He was happy to do it after seeing Finley shine in practice.
“It didn’t take long for him to adjust to the flow of the varsity level, the difference in competition,” said Little, whose tight friendship with Finley features occasional freestyle rap sessions. “As soon as he laces up his sneakers, he’s ready to go. He’s focused all the time, and he’s ready to be at his best.”
Finley admits he was a bit hesitant initially — particularly playing for a demanding coach such as Cormany — but he had plenty of basketball experience to lean on. His parents, Ricky and Trina Finley, bought him his first basketball goal when he was 4. By 5, he was playing in a league for 7- and 8-year-olds. By 6, he was dunking on an 8-foot rim.
Responsibility does not faze him. A three-sport athlete, he prefers demanding positions in all of them. Point guard, quarterback, centerfielder. Challenge me.
“It’s just been remarkable how well he’s been able to adjust to Bobcat basketball,” senior forward Drew Cox said. “He’s brought a lot of confidence and a lot of drive. He’s been a true leader on this basketball team.”
They saw it against Floyd County on Jan. 15, when Finley scored 21 points in a 76-75, double-overtime victory. They saw it in the regional playoffs last week, when Finley calmly stroked those late free throws to put away Glenvar.
Most importantly, they saw it at that January practice, when Finley proved that nothing would keep him off the court when he was needed.
“When I saw that,” Cormany said, “I said, ‘This kid’s special.’ ”
No comparisons necessary.
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