Roy Marble had a plan.
It centered around his five children — watching them become adults and parents, and taking pleasure in their lives, their careers, their sports. The plan: just be Dad for the next few decades.
That's still the dream. With time tragically compressed. Marble, 47, is dying of cancer.
The former University of Iowa and Flint Beecher High School basketball star was diagnosed in August with Stage 4 cancer, which began in his lungs and spread elsewhere. A droopy eye and headaches turned into unthinkable news.
"It's just jaw-dropping," Marble said. "You're done. It's like, 'Whoa!?' Your mind — 'I'm supposed to be doing this. What about, 'I'm planning on watching him play pro ball? I'm going to her wedding?'"
Both time and place have become precious to Marble since his diagnosis. Whatever time he has left, he plans to spend back in his home state — moving from Iowa to live in Lansing, near his younger brother, Jeron, and closer to a large extended family.
The hitch, beyond terminal cancer, was his youngest son, Carlo, a 16-year-old junior at Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa.
"I wanted to see him grow up, and I knew I had to get back home," Roy said.
So a month after Roy's children learned their father's grim prognosis, Carlo moved with his father to Lansing, enrolling at Sexton High School in early October. He plays receiver for the Big Reds football team and is a Division I basketball prospect.
"Since he doesn't have that long to live, I want to be by him every step of the way," Carlo said, "and encourage him, and also have him to encourage me to keep going and keep fighting."
"Being so much alike and our love of sports and everything, he's pretty much medicine for me," Roy said.
If sports seem trivial against the backdrop of life and death, they're aren't for Roy. They're directly tied.
"It gives me motivation to take care of myself," Roy said. "Because I've got games to be at, I've got places to be, I've got kids to support."
A Marble legacy
It was once Roy Marble who others wanted to see. He was a legend in the mid-1980s at Beecher High, at a time the city of Flint was churning out basketball talent on pace with modern day Chicago.
Roy finished second to Flint Northwestern's Glen Rice in the 1985 Mr. Basketball voting, ahead of the likes of B.J. Armstrong, his future Iowa teammate, and Loy Vaught.
He helped Iowa to four NCAA tournaments, including an Elite Eight and Sweet 16, and remains the Hawkeyes' all-time leading scorer. Roy briefly played parts of two seasons in the NBA, after the Atlanta Hawks selected him in the first round of the 1989 draft.
In Iowa, where Roy lived most of his adult life, the Marble lore continued with his son, Deyvn, who starred for the Hawkeyes the last four years and is beginning his rookie season with the NBA's Orlando Magic.
Last week, Roy kept one eye on the clock while talking about his health and family — Devyn's first game with the Magic was about to start.
"How do I continue to be the great dad that they think I am?" Roy said. "Like most fathers, you try to have all the answers, do the best I can. Things are working out. The tumors are shrinking in my head and the other tumors all over my body haven't necessarily shrunk, but they've stopped growing."
Devyn Marble was at Okoboji Grill in Johnston on Friday, making a namesake sandwich and talking about basketball and his father on a quick trip to Iowa. Chris Cuellar
The good news, Roy knows, is temporary. "I will die from cancer at some point," he's been told.
It took him two weeks after learning his fate to muster the stomach to tell his children.
"The doctor is telling you, you need to get things in order, because we don't think you're going to be around. And when you're getting told that, everything flashes before your eyes," Jeron said. "And I can't put words in my brother's mouth, but I know how I felt. I was crushed by it.
"But I know at the same time, he's thinking about the kids, about what's my next step."
Lansing was the logical move for Roy. Jeron has lived here since 1998, and has the energy, means and desire to look after his older brother and Carlo, to make life as smooth and pleasant as possible.
"We're a tight family, with my sisters, my mom, my dad," said Jeron, 38, who works for General Motors. "We do what's necessary for our family. It was the better fit, as far as being able to be watched over, and he wouldn't have it any other way. He felt more comfortable with this situation than anything else."
With the understanding and blessing from Carlo's mother, Roy said, his youngest son left the life he knew a month into the school year. Carlo lives with his father when Roy is in Lansing. And when Roy is in Iowa City undergoing treatment, Carlo stays with Jeron.
Roy's other children — Roy "Devyn", Royonah, Merrick and Roichelle (who plays for Wisconsin's women's basketball team) — are all in college or finished with school.
"I needed to get to Michigan," said Roy, who lived and worked in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before he became ill. "And I started to think, you need to get (Carlo) going to make sure his high school experience isn't wrapped around cancer."
Sexton, by every account, has welcomed Carlo. He found a home immediately on the football team, his teammates offering a needed distraction.
He caught a pass against Everett, scored a touchdown against Eastern and played in front of his father against East Lansing.
"That was a really big deal," said Carlo, who can't participate in the ongoing playoffs because he enrolled after Oct. 1.
"He's still practicing, still part of the team, and I told him that," Sexton coach Dan Boggan said. "He's a good kid. And I just want to make sure we keep him involved. He needs to be focused on being a student, an athlete and enjoying a life as young people should be."
Carlo's dream is to earn Division I scholarship offers in both football and basketball. He's already halfway there. Central Michigan's basketball program wants him. There's a connection there, too. CMU assistant and longtime NBA guard Kevin Gamble played with Roy at Iowa.
"He's a big kid (6-foot-5), can handle the ball, like (my son) Denzel," Sexton basketball coach Carlton Valentine said. "That's different. You can play him anywhere."
Valentine's history with Roy has only made Sexton more ideal for this awful situation — though Roy said it had little to do with why Carlo wound up there. Sexton is "in the ballpark" of the home Roy is leasing and reminded him of his experience at Beecher.
Valentine, 48, played at Michigan State while Roy starred for the Hawkeyes, and the two played against each other in Flint's old summer pro-am basketball league.
"Carlton has body-checked me many, many times," Roy said, laughing.
"He called me to see how I was doing," Carlton said. "I said, 'You called me to see how I'm doing? How are you doing, man?' He called to check on me. That's crazy. Anytime he calls or texts, I'm nervous.
"He told me, 'I trust you with my son.' What else are you going to say? That's a dying man saying he trusts you with his son."
Roy doesn't want to coach Carlo. He just wants to watch. As long as he can.
"I'm just happy that his life is being filled with a lot of different things that he would want, where he doesn't have to just think about his dad having cancer," Roy said. "He can think about his dad watching him play."
Marble admits he took Ed Horton's free throws on purpose