Tom Davis on the late Roy Marble: He was a winner
When Roy Marble first told me that he had three tumors, and was waiting for biopsy results, he said something I've never forgotten.
"I've never been one to run from a battle," Marble said that August day in 2014. "But I'm not afraid to admit I'm scared."
A week later, those biopsy results returned the worst kind of news. Stage 4 cancer. But Marble kept his word. He battled, in the face of long odds. Cancer won, as it often does. Marble, 48, died Friday morning at his home in Michigan. Services are pending.
"He was fun to be around and fun to coach," said Tom Davis, Marble's coach at Iowa. "I've got great memories of him."
Fran McCaffery coached, Marble’s son, Devyn, at Iowa. McCaffery also gave Roy advice, support and encouragement out of the public eye as Marble fought the disease.
“We are deeply saddened and mourn the loss of Roy Marble,” McCaffery said. “Roy had a huge impact on Iowa basketball and was one of the elite players to ever wear a Hawkeye uniform. Roy will be missed by all of us in the Iowa basketball family. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Marble family during this difficult time.”
It was Marble's fighting spirit in the face of fear that I'll remember, as much as the athleticism he brought to the basketball floor or the school-record 2,116 points he scored in a career that stretched from 1985 to 1989.
Marble was heading into his sophomore season when Davis was hired to replace George Raveling as Hawkeye coach. The first time he watched Roy, Davis felt like he'd won the lottery. Marble was a perfect fit for the pressing-up-tempo style of play Davis coached.
"Him, more than anybody else," Davis recalled. "He was a guard who could play forward. He could handle the ball, but he could dunk it."
More importantly, he was coachable.
"The big thing was his willingness," Davis said. "You can get a great athlete, but a lot of them aren't willing to do what has to be done to be on a winning team, or to be a winning player. Roy was certainly that."
Marble helped make Davis a home-run hire. Iowa rolled to a 30-5 season in 1986-87, spent a week at No. 1 in the Associated Press poll for the first time in school history and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
"He just had 'it,'" Davis said. "The 'it' factor. He could run, he could jump, he had good hands, he was a terrific athlete. He had the timing and athleticism that you need to be successful in basketball."
But that wasn't the most impressive thing about Marble, Davis will tell you.
"The thing that impressed me so much was, No. 1, his intelligence," Davis said. "And No. 2, his coachability. Because he was a really sharp guy, very intelligent. He graduated with his class, which was really hard to do back then. At the same time he was so coachable on the court."
Davis can't remember a time when Marble didn't embrace what the coaching staff told him.
"He was certainly bright enough to figure out what you wanted done, and why it should be done," Davis said.
Marble's legacy wasn't without flaws. Atlanta made him a first-round NBA draft pick, the 23rd player selected, in 1989. He violated the NBA's substance abuse policy in his rookie season, and his pro career never took flight.
He had other legal issues, including drunken driving and drug-related offenses. The flood of 2008 destroyed his Cedar Rapids business, an entertainment center and clothing store.
But he got to see Devyn work his way up to fifth on Iowa's career scoring list. Roy also saw Devyn start an NBA game for Orlando.
He saw his other children succeed in their own endeavors as well.
"It's not that he didn't have faults," Davis said. "You can't gloss over the fact that he had problems. But he had a lot of real positives as well."
It's those positives that have stuck with Davis, three decades later.
"He was a good guy to be around," Davis said.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.