Mike Marra, the senior shooting guard from Rhode Island who Louisville coach Rick Pitino once called the greatest high school shooter he had ever seen, re-tore his ACL this past week and his season and basketball playing career is over. According to Pitino, the injury took place literally within the first 10 minutes of practice on a simple pivot move. Marra has been a constant topic of debate amongst Cardinal fans and media members since he has been at Louisville, and while he occasionally showed flashes, he never quite lived up to the billing Pitino created for him. Then again, to ask a kid from a small school in Rhode Island who had never played in front of a major crowd and was not considered a major recruit by most standards to live up to those lofty expectations was a task that never should have been placed on his shoulders. His playing career now over, he will chase another dream of becoming a coach, and will become a graduate assistant for the team in hopes of one day being another member of Pitino’s coaching tree to become a head coach.
The recruiting class of 2009 seems to be cursed with injuries. Marra has torn his ACL twice, Stephan Van Treese strained his patellar tendon last preseason and re-injured it during the season, Rakeem Buckles tore his ACL and missed all of last season, and Peyton Siva has had numerous ankle and concussion-related injuries. There is not a bad kid amongst them, and it is terrible to think of the frustrations they all have went through, especially with the high demands of the Louisville fan base. Just as the other three did, Marra always had a positive attitude, despite the constant criticism thrown his way. He was always seen smiling on the sidelines, seemed to genuinely get along with all of his teammates, and was just a solid-person. Most people, especially fans from opposing teams, would look at him with his several tattoos and think of words like “punk,” “thug,” and “Eric Devendorf clone.” I heard all of them, and not one of them was true. He is a well-spoken young man, never taunted or ran his mouth on the court, and was selfless on the court. Fans especially need to remember that last one. Was he the great shooter Pitino made him out to be? No. In fact, he was far from it. Whether it was the transition of playing for a small team with rational expectiations to a basketball-crazed town and fan-base in a huge spotlight, hyperbole on Pitino’s part, or just nerves in general, he never lived up to that billing. He finished his freshman season shooting 24% from 3-point range, 28% his sophomore year, and 25% in a small sample size for his junior year (stats courtesy of ESPN.com). He had some solid shooting games, too, of course, including his freshman year at #2 Syracuse, when he hit 4 three-pointers to help the Cards upset the Orange at their place. However, his stats were overall subpar and several badly missed shots over the years would make fans collectively groan. What fans did not groan at, nor did many even acknowledge, was Marra’s high basketball IQ and ability to make his teammates better.
He was not the shooter Pitino made him out to be, but he was an above-average passer for his position, a solid defender, a good rebounder from the guard/small forward position, and a superb athlete. He was also not the one-trick pony fans believed he was after hearing Pitino’s statement. He was a solid contributor for his team, and there was never one time where he appeared selfish on the court. If anything, he was TOO good of a teammate. There are fans and media who will chalk this up as no big deal, that Louisville was not going to use him much anyway. It is incredibly insensitive, but also inevitable, to look at how this will affect the team on the court. The people who say it is not a huge deal are right, in a way, as there was little chance Marra was going to beat out players like Wayne Blackshear, Luke Hancock, Kevin Ware and other teammates for playing time. Yet, he was a guy who knew how to find open teammates, played great defense, and would have been a very valuable reserve in minimal minutes. He also would have pushed the other guys hard during practice, particularly Blackshear and Hancock.
As Marra begins a new career path to become a head coach one day, his high basketball IQ, his work ethic and likable nature will be invaluable to his progression. While those traits would be used in only limited minutes on the court, and at times under-appreciated by the fans who look at box score stats only, they will take him farther as a coach than they would have as a player. Pitino told the Courier-Journal Marra handled the news like a professional. He said Marra understood minutes would be hard to come by, but it was more important to him to help the team rather than play big minutes. That selflessness and willing to help is why he has what it takes to become a very successful coach.