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14 Western Kentucky When star center Chris Marcus decided not to go into the NBA draft, a good team got even better

After Hilltoppers coach Dennis Felton learned last spring that
his star player, 7'1" center Chris Marcus, would be returning for
his senior year, boy, was he mad. "I was very frustrated for
Chris," says Felton of Marcus, who hobbled through last season
with a stress fracture in his left foot. "The plan all along was
for him to go to the NBA. We saw no reason for him to stay."

Uh, what about, say, winning the Sun Belt Conference? Or maybe
advancing deep into the NCAA tournament?

Nope, says Felton. Pressed on whether he isn't just a bit happy
to have back a player-of-the-year candidate, Felton remains
steadfast. "We expected Chris to be gone, and we expected to be
good anyway."

Regardless of Felton's spin, he is right about one thing: The
Hilltoppers would be good even without Marcus. With three
starters returning from a team that went 28-4 last season--and
won 15 of those with Marcus on the bench--they are deep and
talented. Sophomore point guard Patrick Sparks, who averaged 10.7
points and 3.7 assists, was also fourth best among the nation's
freshmen in three-point shooting, at 43.0%. Senior forward David
Boyden averaged 11.3 points and 6.1 rebounds, helping fill the
void left by Marcus's absence. Senior shooting guard Filip
Videnov made 10 straight three-pointers in one stretch last year,
though his long-range shooting percentage was off for the year.
All figure to be even better with Marcus back in the lineup.

Even though he didn't practice with the team after Oct. 28 and
often played in pain, Marcus averaged 15.9 points and 8.9
rebounds. "I probably shouldn't have been playing, but I wanted
to so bad," he says. "Now I've learned to listen to my body."
That's what he did last spring, when he opted not to enter the
NBA draft and instead had surgery to install pins that should
alleviate the pressure on his foot.

"Last year didn't end the way I wanted it to," says Marcus, who
isn't expected to return to the lineup until January. "This year
we're playing 11 to 12 guys, and everybody's unselfish." He
pauses, then adds, "There are no superstars on this team." --C.B.

COLOR PHOTO: JOE IMEL/THE BOWLING GREEN (KY.) DAILY NEWS SPARK PLUG Though only a freshman, Sparks ignited the Hilltoppers' offense, averaging 10.7 points and 3.7 assists.



SF David Boyden 6'8" Sr. 6.1 rpg
PF Nate Williams 6'8" Sr. 5.2 ppg
C Chris Marcus 7'1" Sr. 15.9 ppg
SG Filip Videnov 6'4" Sr. 6.9 ppg
PG Patrick Sparks 6'1" So. 3.7 apg

Returning starter

2001-02 RECORD: 28-4 (13-1, 1st in Sun Belt East)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Stanford in 1st round

Times in 75 career games that center Chris Marcus has had double
figures in both points and rebounds.

An opposing coach's view

The best way to cut the Hilltoppers down to size? Make them run

"Chris Marcus is the best center in the country, but in a lot of
ways they're better without him. They have great balance and a
bunch of guys who can shoot it. When we played them, they were
bringing guys off the bench we barely knew, but they were all
good players.... If Marcus is healthy, he's a man among boys. If
he gets the ball on the block, it's pretty much over.... Patrick
Sparks had a great freshman year, just shot the lights out. He'll
turn it over if you pressure him, though.... They love to run the
high-low game with David Boyden and forward Todor Pandov. They're
both extremely skilled, and Boyden is athletic.... They love to
force tempo and knock down threes. But it's not a bad idea to let
them run up and down the court, because they will turn it over,
and their main weakness is transition defense."