Marcus hoops driven to repeat last season's championship success

This story originally appeared in the Holiday issue of ESPNHS magazine’s Texas edition. Marcus is now 8-0 entering Friday's game against Lancaster.

Just about everywhere Phil Forte turned, the painful reminder was there. Plastered on his bedroom wall and hanging in his basketball locker was an article about Marcus’ 45-43 loss in the 2010 Class 5A state semifinals.

“I wanted it there because I knew it was going to push me and our team to work harder,” Forte says.

Marcus Smart couldn’t avoid the memory, either. So the talented guard made a pact with his best friend that the 2010-11 season would not end in defeat. The duo made good on that promise, leading the Marauders to the coveted state championship.

“Barely a year from that day, we had been on the ground crying because we lost,” says Smart, the reigning Gatorade State Player of the Year, “and now we were on the ground crying because we had won. It was amazing.”

Just as amazing is that Marcus, which has gone 75-4 over the last two years, returns its four top players in Smart, Forte, Nick Banyard and A.J. Luckey. With the talent and experience brimming from this squad, a repeat title might seem like a foregone conclusion. But Marauders coach Danny Henderson says not so fast.

“I know the fans mean well, but when you’re constantly focusing on a repeat, it takes the fun out of the season and pressure mounts,” the coach says. “Sometimes the journey can be just as good as — or better than — the end.”

The road will certainly be a tough one. On the Marauders’ schedule are games against POWERADE FAB 50 teams Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) and Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.). But Forte, who still keeps those articles in clear view, knows Marcus has the tools and drive to produce another happy ending.

“There’s a target on our back,” he says. “But we’re not going to let anyone outwork us.”

Brandon Parker covers Texas for ESPNHS magazine and ESPNHS.com. Follow him on Twitter @brandoncparker or email him at brandon.c.parker@espn.com.