Keirsten Sires, Founder and CEO: “Highlighting college athletes is important for our high school student-athletes. They need to understand that if they work hard that one day, their dreams of playing basketball for a college like Lehigh can come true. I hope that they can learn something from Marques’ story.”
“I was never flashy and I was never the type of player to have some crazy dunk,” he said. “I had to be the most skilled and had to be the best shooter – all things I could control outside of natural athleticism and God-given abilities. I had to make sure I was working harder than everybody. That’s my DNA now and it’s just what I do.”
A top-five ranked player in the state of Oklahoma coming out of high school, Wilson has always had something to prove. Even when he stood out within his team, someone else in the region would overshadow him.
“Even if I believed I was the best player and my friends and family believed it, I was never perceived as the best,” said Wilson. “Every time I had a good game, it was overshadowed by Brady Manek or Trae Young (who led the nation in scoring and assists at the University of Oklahoma this past season). I would score 30 and Trae would have 60.”
Because nothing has ever been given to Wilson, he knows how to fight through adversity by simply working harder. Wilson’s high school team, Edmond North, won just 19 games over his first two seasons, leading to a coaching change midway through his career.
“The experience taught me about loyalty,” said Wilson. “I believed in my school and believed in my teammates enough to know this was my home. I also learned about patience, teamwork and leadership – things that I carry to this day.”
What was the end result?
“We became a top 25 team in the nation,” said Wilson.
When he could have easily transferred, Wilson’s patience paid off by leading Edmond North to the school’s first-ever Oklahoma Class 6A State Championship. Wilson scored a game-high 23 points in the title game and graduated as the program’s all-time leading scorer.
The intangibles Wilson learned quickly translated to his first season of college basketball with Lehigh. Through the non-league schedule and several Patriot League contests, Wilson was seeing time, but only in short spurts. In a day and age of instant gratification, it would have been easy for him to mentally quit.
Instead, Wilson did the only thing he knows how to do… work.
“Marques was similar to a lot of freshmen who have to figure things out on the fly,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “Through everything, he never hung his head and never fought the process. He actually engaged in the process and appreciated being coached and pushed. He was self-aware enough to see where his deficiencies were, but competitive enough to try to enhance them.
“Because he had that mentality, Marques continued to put himself in a position where he was going to improve. You could see his improvement take place at a very rapid rate to the point where it was impossible to keep him off the floor.”
Early in the season, there were plenty of frustrating times. One came on December 2 at Virginia.
“I played in high-level tournaments with many high-major players and would hold my own,” said Wilson. “At that point in the season, I wasn’t playing well enough, so I shouldn’t have played much against UVA and I didn’t. However, it was frustrating for me because I knew I wasn’t playing up to my potential.”
“During that time, I was just angry. I wanted to play in those games, knowing I was capable,” said Wilson.
Wilson turned that anger into positive action.
“I had a realization one day that I’m a freshman and there’s so much time for me,” he said. “If I just trust the coaches, trust myself and trust my ability to play at this level, then everything would work out.”
Wilson was right. He continually got better at practice and in games, leading to his breakthrough moment on January 20 at Army West Point.
Wilson made a strong first-half impact. Even though he scored just three first-half points, the eye test told a different story. Marques started the second half and he broke out with 18 points after halftime.
“All of a sudden, I hit one shot in the corner and it felt like the whole world was off my shoulders and I could play again,” said Wilson. “It felt like in Space Jam when they got their powers back and could make shots again.”
Even though shooting is admittedly Wilson’s biggest strength, his defense helped him earn that second-half start. Wilson continued to be in the right spots, making the correct plays.
“If I had to be the best defensive player on the team purely because I was playing the hardest, then I would do that,” he said. “I like to score, but that wasn’t my role at that point in the season, so I focused on being the energy guy.”
After the Army breakout, Wilson posted double-figure points in six of his next nine games, including a career-high 28 points at Colgate on 9-of-10 shooting. He helped Lehigh finish the regular-season on an eight-game winning streak.
Wilson was putting up some individual numbers, but most importantly, the team was winning. Lehigh posted a 7-3 record in his 10 starts.
“I had to find my role at Lehigh and over the course of the season, it changed a little bit,” said Wilson. “At the beginning, the focus was bringing energy and being a good teammate in practice. My job was to boost morale and make sure I brought out the best in everyone.
Wilson’s role certainly expanded, to the point where he didn’t leave the starting lineup. Although he has tasted success, he will never be satisfied, dating back to the way he was perceived before his time at Lehigh.
Wilson has proven that perception isn’t reality.
“That chip on my shoulder will never leave,” said Wilson. “Even if most people believe I’m the best player, I’m going to find that one person who doesn’t.”
Wilson is motivated individually to prove people wrong, and to help the team reach its goal of a Patriot League Championship.
“The most important thing going forward is sacrificing some of your personal aspirations for the potential of the team,” said Wilson. “At the end of last year, we hit our stride and we realized what playing good basketball looks like on defense and offense, sacrificing your body and sacrificing your personal ambition for the team goal.”
In many ways, Wilson has modeled the importance of becoming the best version of yourself, bringing the right mindset and being ready for your opportunity.
“At a time when it’s very challenging to get young men to be patient and work towards something without immediate gratification, Marques breaks the mold,” said Reed. “He didn’t have to get rewarded to work hard. He worked hard because it was the right thing to do and because of his hard work, he earned the rewards. That model is critical for success in basketball, and in life.”
Images courtesy of Lehigh University Athletics