IOWA CITY — Devyn Marble arrived in Iowa four years ago as a scrawny, 17-year-old legacy with a taste for candy and love for all things basketball.
Now, as his senior campaign nears its end, Marble is longer, stronger and more mature. He’s the son of Roy Marble, Iowa’s all-time leading scorer, but he’s carved out his own legacy as a Hawkeye. He’s provided a bridge from the program’s lowest depths and helped set the Iowa basketball program on a path toward prosperity.
And all the while, he still likes his sweets.
“He is a candy fanatic,” said Marble’s mother, Joi Thrash, a sixth-grade technology teacher in Southfield (Mich.) public schools.
They grew up in Southfield, Mich., a suburb of Detroit. Marble lived with his mother but remained close to both sides of his family as a youth. For much of his childhood he stayed out of the limelight and away from Flint, Mich., where his father remains a basketball legend.
Marble, 21, enjoys candy of all kinds but has an affection for Twizzlers and Skittles. He and his mother read the “Harry Potter” series of books and attended all the movies. Joi laughs when she talks about how he fought to keep food from touching each other and avoided all sauces and condiments. He ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day ... until she made him make his own.
She also taught him for one year, “which wasn’t necessarily a good thing.”
“He would come in and try to go through my desk drawers and try to sit in my chair, look for gum and candy,” Thrash said.
But sports are his passion and basketball is his game. He entertained scholarship offers from mostly midlevel Division I programs but received an offer from former Iowa coach Todd Lickliter. Marble met with Michigan head coach John Beilein and attended Michigan’s camp, but the Wolverines offered Tim Hardaway Jr. instead.
“He was undervalued as a recruit,” Beilein said. “We did value him. However, we took Tim Hardaway, which obviously became a good selection. What people did not realize and we studied was his young birthday. When he was a senior, he could be playing in 16-and-under leagues. So he had a very young birthday. What you saw wasn’t necessarily what you’re going to get because of his youth.”
Marble shined as a high school senior, averaging 24.5 points a game. He scored 40 in a playoff game. He was an ascending player, and the Hawkeyes appeared to have a bargain. Then Lickliter and his staff was fired, and Iowa was in a scrap just to keep him.
Thrash really liked former Iowa (and current Michigan) assistant coach LaVall Jordan. She and Marble considered looking around, but Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery and assistant Andrew Francis put on a full-court press.
“He had to feel like some good things were going to happen for him when he got here, so there was a lot of discussion there,” McCaffery said. “But, again, he’s a really good person, and he’s reasonable and he’s thoughtful. He thought it through. He wavered a little bit. We’ve talked about that before. I understand that. I didn’t get angry at him. I didn’t wonder. Kids are going to waver in those situations. They want to be sure.”
“He was very up front and basically told Devyn, ‘I’m not leaving until you feel comfortable,’” Thrash said.
Thrash still had concerns. She always worried about Marble dealing with his father’s legacy. A new coaching staff just added to it.
Marble recommitted to Iowa, graduated from high school on June 4 and drove to Iowa on June 5 for summer school classes. He was only 17 until the following September.
“It happened so fast we didn’t have time to mourn,” Thrash said. “I knew he was excited. He was ready. You get the quick hug. My brother and I brought him, and I was really quiet for the first hour on that first drive back. I just kept thinking, ‘It was such a long drive.’”
Fast-forward to this season. Marble is just the 14th player in Iowa history to surpass 1,500 points. When he scores another 22 points, he’ll move into the top 10. If he posts his 16 points-per-game average over a minimum of 10 games (eight regular-season, one Big Ten Tournament, one NCAA tournament), he’ll move into sixth all time.
It’s possible he could finish with 1,700 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists and nearly 200 steals in his Iowa career. That’s in B.J. Armstrong territory right there.
“What I was most concerned about really has never been an issue, and that was how he compared with his dad,” Thrash said. “He’s not going to score as many points. His game is not structured anything like his dad’s, and that doesn’t lessen what he does or how he is or his own legacy.”
Among Big Ten players Marble ranks ninth in scoring (16.0), fifth in steals (1.9) and 14th in assists (3.0). He draws the most attention on offense, often plays point guard and usually locks up with the opponent’s primary guard on defense.
In a head-to-head matchup against Michigan State’s Gary Harris, Marble scored 21 points and grabbed five rebounds in 37 minutes. Harris shot 3 of 9 and scored nine points in 41 minutes. Marble’s defense is underrated, and he’s become a Big Ten player of the year candidate.
“I think you can argue that,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “I think what he’s done is certainly put himself in a position to be a first-team all-conference player. I think what’s happened is, in terms of the NBA, they’re looking at him a lot differently, and I think they’ve been more and more impressed as more guys look at him. That, to me, was to be expected.
“He’s not just a scorer, plus he’s a legitimate point guard. So he’s having a spectacular year, I expected him to have a spectacular year, and I’m happy for him.”
At nearly 6-foot-7, Marble is a mismatch on the court. He’s too quick for most forwards and too big for opposing guards. His versatility serves him well.
“He’s one of the few guys that can take it to the rim and pull up,” Beilein said. “There’s very few that can do both of those things. ... Devyn can do that.”
In Iowa’s last two Saturday games — both on the road — Marble has recovered from tough first half showings. At Illinois, he missed all four shots and had three first-half turnovers. He rebounded to score 17 points after halftime. At Northwestern, he scored all 14 points in the second half.
“What I like with Devyn is he’s in a couple of weekend games in a row now, at Northwestern and then at Illinois, where he struggled in the first half, and then he’s bounced back from adversity to have a really good second half and lead his team in both cases to victory,” ESPN broadcaster Mike Tirico said.
Marble performs almost effortlessly, which leads some to question his resolve. It bothered some of his previous coaches, who questioned his desire because he rarely showed his emotions.
“Whatever makes him tick is not external,” Thrash said. “It is an intrinsic motivation.”
A FULL LIFE
Basketball clearly is Marble’s passion, but it doesn’t define his personality. He carries himself with a humble swagger that sounds contradictory. He speaks with eloquence and invitation but never shies from a question.
On his right arm he wears a Bible verse, Deuteronomy 8:18 — “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.” Marble said it was one of the first pieces of Scripture he ever had studied.
Marble attended Word of Faith International Christian Center in Southfield and considers himself spiritual. He’s not picked up as much as a speeding ticket while in college and he’s seven hours from graduating college in May. He praises his mother’s intelligence and drive along with her guidance.
“I probably get my work habits when it comes to education and school from her,” Marble said. “She’s always been on me about that. She’s made me a responsible person. I’ve stayed out of trouble. I wasn’t a guy growing up that hangs with the wrong people. I was always with the right group of kids that could help me become a better person and help me in the future.
“I’ve got people around me that are working toward doing a lot of successful things outside of sports and none of my friends really play sports that are close to me. ... I’ve got a diverse group around me that my mom helped me build. So all the people in my life are the people that growing up she’d have in hers.”
Marble’s Iowa career will be defined by his team’s results rather than his statistics. Even his mother, who travels to Iowa for games about twice a year, sees the NCAA tournament as vital for helping Marble reach his goal of playing in the NBA.“We are going to support him through that goal,” Thrash said. “Make that trip to the Big Dance. that we haven’t taken yet. As exciting as the NIT was last year, that’s the not goal. It looks like we’re going to make that step this year. Then it’s graduation and the draft and we’ll see what happens.”