Born: Jan. 26, 1957
Where: Pennington Gap, Va.
Residence: Harrogate, Tenn.
High School/College: Pennington/Lincoln Memorial University
Then: Pennington basketball coach Mike Olinger spotted Steve Marsee standing on a street corner and asked why he wasn’t in school. The teenager, homesick for Indiana, said he wasn’t sure he wanted to return to the classroom.
Roy and Lorene Marsee had moved from Pennington to Indianapolis when Steve was 6 years old. Roy found a job there and the family stayed. Eventually, the couple would have six children. When their home burned, they headed back to Pennington.
Even though the school term was already in progress, Olinger assured young Marsee he could work things out with the guidance counselor to get him established. Perhaps he already suspected Marsee was an athlete, but it didn’t take Olinger long to learn that one of the best basketball players in Southwest Virginia annals had just dropped out of the sky.
Marsee’s apprenticeship on the jayvee team was brief. After scoring 108 points in two preliminary games and watching the varsity lose on both nights, he was called into Olinger’s office and promoted. Marsee, reluctant to accept because he didn’t want to take away an older player’s uniform, finally consented and the rest is Cumberland District legend. People from miles around came to see Pennington play. Packed gymnasiums were the norm.
Marsee had an overall feel for the game. He brought style and substance to the district with behind-the-back dribbling, no-look passes, playground moves and long-distance shooting. An unselfish player, Marsee still could be a showman when prodded. Once during a fast break, he stopped abruptly in the three-second lane and slammed the ball against the floor. It bounced into the basket.
Marsee had shooting range up to 30 feet.
“Some people said I shot from the parking lot at times. I considered myself a scorer, not a shooter. The bottom line was just getting the ball in the basket,’’ he said.
Playing 93 games over four years, he became the state’s all-time leading scorer with 2,459 points. Underneath his name on the elite list were such superstars as “Clyde the Glide” Austin, Moses Malone and Ralph Sampson. Marsee’s 1976 record stood until Laurel Park’s Odell Hodge broke it in 1992 with 2,530. Stacy Ervin of Twin Springs eclipsed Hodge’s mark with 2,687 in 1997.
Until Marsee’s arrival, Pennington had never had a 1,000-point career scorer. Remarkably, he hit 1,032 field goals. Marsee sank 50 percent of his shots from the field and 77 percent from the free throw line. Additionally, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound guard grabbed 1,265 rebounds and dished out 492 assists. As a senior he averaged 30.6 points and had a 26.4 clip for his career.
Marsee scored 56 and 42 against J.J. Kelly, 47 and 45 against Dryden, 43 against Jonesville, 52 against Flatwoods and 46 against Thomas Walker. He got 30 or more points 34 times. All of this was before the advent of the 3-point goal. It was calculated by a videographer who reviewed game film many years later that Marsee, by playing the entire 32 minutes, could have been credited with 71 points against J.J. Kelly and 69 against Flatwoods with the trey in effect.
“We’ll never know what my scoring totals might have been with the trey,’’ Marsee said. “It was an era of basic basketball and I just played by the rules.’’
He passed for 14 assists in one game, made 15 straight field goals against Thomas Walker and twice hit 22 consecutive free throws.
It was a thrill for him to play at the Buck Van Huss Dome and a disappointment that Pennington lost 12 of 13 games to Powell Valley during his career.
Basketball wasn’t his only sport. For two seasons, Marsee played shortstop for the baseball Bobcats. A switch hitter, he batted over .500 in the cleanup spot and was skillful as a fielder. While leaving baseball practice one day, he threw the shot put 52 feet on a whim. He ran cross country four years for conditioning.
In Indiana, Marsee had competed on the playground with boys a foot taller and four years his senior. His favorite player was 6-9 George McGinnis, the playground supervisor. An Indiana Pacers security guard let him enter the back door to watch ABA games and Marsee soon became a ballboy for the team.
Three high school coaches had their sights set on the youngster, who had scored 69 points in a middle school game. He practiced diligently on his own.
“I spray-painted circles on walls to improve my passing,’’ Marsee said. ‘’I nailed rims to telephone poles to shoot. I always had to be outside doing something. It wasn’t a burden to shovel snow off the court or to shoot in a drizzle of rain.’’
He still has a personal letter legendary coach Bobby Knight of Indiana wrote him at an early age. Marsee liked the Big Ten Conference and feels confident he could have played there. Instead, he chose LMU and scored 1,501 points for the Railsplitters over four seasons.
Marsee played in the NAIA national tournament at Kansas City as a senior, but his most enjoyable season was as a freshman when the team went 31-5 with two 7-footers and three 6-9 players around him.
Playing forward, guard and post, he was an all-conference choice three years in a row. His top game was 37 points against Union. Marsee was selected MVP in a tournament at Tennessee Temple after scoring 35, 30 and 25 points.
Now: Marsee works in Middlesboro, Ky., for an assets protection company. He is married to the former Theresa Mason.
Marsee’s daughter, Amber, teaches at Lee High where she played basketball. Her husband is Brian Coomer, formerly Lee’s head football coach. Brycen Kyle Coomer, a grandson, is Marsee’s pride and joy. “You bet he’s going to be an athlete,’’ Marsee said.
Bill Lane is a Times-News sports writer. E-mail him at email@example.com.