With better defense, Marble boasts sky-high potential


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Devyn Marble is the Iowa basketball team's most versatile piece of artillery.

"He's almost 6-7 as a guard; he gets his shot off easy," head coach Fran McCaffery said. "He can finish with either hand. He's dunking the ball going down the lane now. He's becoming more and more explosive as he gets stronger, as he matures.

"He's got the total package."

But the 19-year-old is still one aspect short of being able to completely dominate a game: defense.

McCaffery said Marble's defensive shortcomings aren't because of a lack of physical tools or ability. It's a matter of focus.

And if he figures it out, forget about putting a ceiling on his potential.

"If he does that for us, we're going to be a better team," McCaffery said. "If he does that for himself, they're going to pay him to play."

The three-letter acronym that McCaffery is getting at — NBA — has been mentioned sparingly in Iowa City in recent years. Adam Haluska, the 43rd pick of the 2007 NBA draft, is the only Hawkeye to be selected in the last 12 drafts. Ricky Davis (1998) was the last Iowa player to be taken in the first round.

Marble's rapid ascension this year means pro ball — though not for at least a year, likely two more — may be well within reach. The sophomore ranks second among Iowa players in points (11.1) and assists (3.3) per game. His 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio is the Big Ten's fifth-best.

But endorsements from men such as Central Arkansas coach Corliss Williamson — who played 12 NBA seasons — speak better to Marble's prospects than any statistical measure.

"Watching him on film doesn't do his game justice," Williamson said on Dec. 19 after Marble scored 19 points in Iowa's 105-64 win over his squad. "The way he moves on the court and the way he sets up his plays to score or to get somebody else open — he's an exciting player to watch. He's got a bright future ahead of him."

The future will brighten even more if Marble displays better consistency on the other end of the floor. McCaffery said he thinks Marble sometimes lacks defensive concentration because of all Iowa asks him to do.

"We talk about, 'I need you to go get us 15 points,' " McCaffery said. " 'You need to run the offense, and now you need to go guard somebody on the wing who is really talented, and you have to play 36 minutes while you're doing it.' That's hard to do."

But the Southfield, Mich., native — who said he aspires to play in the NBA some day — doesn't excuse himself so easily.

"I have the potential to be a really good defender," Marble said. "At times, I just have lapses. At times, I can defend anybody in the country. For me, it's just getting into that mentality, where I just dig in for 40 minutes and limit as many of those mental lapses as possible."

There are moments when such focus is visibly palpable in Marble's eyes. He lowers his wiry 6-6 frame closer to the hardwood, his hands mirroring those of the ball handler's. His face is fixed forward on his man's chest, his feet coiled and ready to spring him to wherever he needs to go.

His 1.5 steals a game — the Big Ten's seventh-highest theft rate — aren't bad, either.

Marble need not look further than his own backcourt to find a model for defensive improvement. Matt Gatens transformed himself into one of the Big Ten's top perimeter defenders over the last four seasons. The senior guard, who regularly matches up against the opposition's best player, said he expects Marble to get much better, citing his quickness and length.

"I think it'll come," Gatens said. "It's a matter of, really — for me, at least — really buying in and giving my all on defense. Staying engaged for the whole 35 seconds [of the shot clock], which I think is difficult for young guys to understand … We watch tape all the time, and he's improving.

"Just never be satisfied, both ends of the floor."

Follow DI men's basketball reporter Jordan Garretson on Twitter.

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