Written by Corbett Smith
'Sheer will to win' has FM Marcus near a rare repeat
FLOWER MOUND — Danny Henderson didn’t know what he had when he became Flower Mound Marcus’ boys basketball coach in May 2009.
Even after watching promising freshmen Marcus Smart and Phil Forte during the spring, he thought his foray into 5A basketball would be a steady climb to formidability, not a rapid ascent.
“I thought by their senior year, with our defensive system, and the development of these kids, we could be the surprise team in this region that challenges the Duncanvilles and the Cedar Hills,” Henderson said.
Those expectations were too modest.
Flower Mound Marcus (37-2) is making its third straight trip to the UIL state basketball tournament in Henderson’s third year at the helm.
Smart, Forte and A.J. Luckey are 113-6 in three years as starters — six losses by a total of 21 points.
This core group, along with senior forward Nick Banyard — who transferred to Marcus from Arlington Grace Prep in 2010 — and eight other seniors, will try to help Marcus win its second consecutive Class 5A title. Only eight teams in the state’s largest classification have repeated as champion.
“Special doesn’t even describe what their hearts are like,” Henderson said.
A constant over three seasons has been the work rate of Marcus’ core group.
Luckey is a tireless lock-down defender. Forte is the consummate gym rat, staying hours after practice to make 600 3-pointers every day.
Smart, a consensus top-15 player nationally, has sprouted into a 6-4 forward who can do it all.
“On and off the court, I’ve never been as close to a group of guys,” Luckey said. “We’re basically just a big family full of brothers. We just love having fun with each other.”
When Henderson took the job, coming from Class 2A Peaster — where he won state titles in 1999 and 2000 — Marcus had just won its first district title in a decade. Smart and Forte were pulled up to varsity at the start of district play.
“Marcus was a 6-1 post player,” Henderson said. “Phil’s a 5-9 little guard. And they played in basically a suburban district, with Southlake and all of those guys. It wasn’t a real athletic district. So I was thinking, how good can those freshmen be? I knew they were good, but no one had any inkling.”
His opinion soon changed, after Marcus beat Cedar Hill and DeSoto in scrimmages before the 2009-10 season. Competing for a regional title didn’t seem out of the question.
Then came the final of the 2009 Whataburger tournament, where Marcus overcame a 10-point deficit to beat nationally ranked Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, 45-40.
“That was the eye-opener,” Forte said. “We were like, ‘This guy knows what he’s doing. And we are actually pretty good.’ We started believing in ourselves.”
Henderson said his team hasn’t looked back since.
In Marcus’ loss to Findlay Prep of suburban Las Vegas on Dec. 3, Henderson was left dumbfounded by the depth of his team’s fearlessness.
Findlay Prep came in at 5-0, averaging 105 points per game. All 12 players on its roster are likely Division I players. Three were 6-11 or taller.
Findlay Prep scored just 18 points in the first half on the way to a 47-39 win, its lowest point output this season.
“We led for good portion of that game,” Henderson said. “Until we missed five straight free throws, we had a good chance to win it.
“I can remember sitting there, getting lost in the game, kind of like being outside myself, looking at the game and going, ‘My God. These kids that we’re coaching, they’re beating these guys.’ They couldn’t score on us.”
“It was just their sheer will to win.”
Henderson at Marcus
Nov. 28, 2009: Rich. Berkner, 61-57
Jan. 5, 2010: DeSoto, 44-42
Mar. 12, 2010: FB Bush, 45-43
Dec. 4, 2010: Conv. Judson, 52-50
Dec. 3, 2011: Findlay Prep, 47-39
Dec. 29, 2011: Richland, 58-55
Back-to-back champs In the UIL’s largest classification
Sugar Land Willowridge (5A), 2000-01
Kimball (5A), 1996-97
Bryan (5A), 1983-84
Hou. Kashmere (4A), 1974-75
Hou. Wheatley (4A), 1968-70
Pampa (4A), 1953-54 and 1958-59
Hou. Davis (2A), 1942-43