As the 2019-20 men’s basketball season neared, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo drew comparisons between his pair of incoming freshman forwards, Malik Hall and Julius Marble.
“Malik Hall and Julius Marble are a little bit (like) clones,” Izzo said at MSU media day.
Clones they were. Roommates, too. And while Hall began to crack the starting rotation by March, each of the stout forwards failed to average double figures in points or rebounds, spending the better portion of their freshman season seated.
But even in a season where he averaged only 1.7 points on 1.5 rebounds, Marble garnered memorable moments on the court. One of the most vivid sequences that comes to mind is his block on Michigan forward Austin Davis in an 87-69 home victory, a sequence that prompted Juwan Howard’s technical foul and ignited the Breslin in a roar of white noise.
Another was my personal favorite from last season, the moment where Marble truly endured an utterance of Izzo’s “tough love.” In a victory over Northwestern, Marble finished a late-game dunk and gripped the iron as to avoid a collision under the basket. The officials saw it differently and issued a technical foul.
"In the moment I'm like, is he really upset (at) me when the guy went under my legs?” Marble said over zoom Friday. “I was just pleading my case. So there's certain times Izzo will yell at you and you plead your case, and most of the time you don't have a viable case.”
Izzo, to put it briefly, directed his displeasure at Marble while Bingham Jr. proceeded to hype him up. The stoic Marble made his way to the bench, as he mentioned that Izzo later apologized after reviewing the film.
Through that sequence, Marble confronted a staple of Izzo’s motivating tactics and mirrored then-sophomore forward Aaron Henry’s advisory to freshmen when processing their head coach’s scrutiny. Henry put it concisely, as he often does, saying “Don’t have a rebuttal.”
“It's not a war of words with him,” Henry said prior to MSU traveling to Maryland last February. “It's just his passion is shown in ways that 99% of the people in the world wouldn't show it ... I try to ignore how he may say things, what he does, or antics, animations and value what he's saying. And that's the most important part I try to pass to Malik (Hall), Rocket (Watts), Julius (Marble), or anybody that comes in.”
This preseason, talks of Marble expanded from his utility in a reserve role as a hard-nosed freshman forward. The now-sophomore incited discussion of competing for a starting role. Even as he still sees his first minutes off the bench, Marble has seen more substantial minutes that came to a head in a career-high 12 points in a win at Duke, something he said he worked for in the offseason.
“I wanted to have a bigger role and that's what I was talking to the coaches about,” Marble said. “I talked to a lot with X (Tillman) over quarantine about things that he did last year.”
He attributed his attempt to emulate aspects of Tillman’s game in his to his freshman to sophomore “leap” that took the coaching staff by surprise.
“They were a little shocked that I was even making the conversation, but I've been working for it.”
Now, in a similar position of perspective that Henry was last year, Marble relays his gatherings to fellow bigs like freshman forward Mady Sissoko and even redshirt junior Joey Hauser.
“For Mady (Sissoko), I just try and teach him some of the things that I messed up on a lot when I was a freshman,” Marble said. “He does a little bit of what I messed up on, like moving too fast and not knowing everything in the right spot.”
Marble empathizes with Sissoko’s synchronization to game flow after manning the scout team at practice as it’s something he points to when coaching Sissoko through his reserve minutes.
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“We're both very similar in certain aspects and especially when it comes to basketball," Marble said. “So he's always on the same page, I'm always on the same page.
“He knows if I got a guy slowed down in the post he's going to throw it no matter what because he knows I can go get that. If I see him open on the three, I'm kicking it out because I know he can shoot that.”
And in noting how much closer COVID-19 protocols have made the team, Marble explained his “bittersweet” sentiment from quarantine, which allowed him ample time to spend with his father before he passed away in July.
“It was God giving me the opportunity to hang out with my dad because I didn't think he would pass away,” Marble said. “What if we don't have COVID and I go through the season and then I don't come home that much? The next thing you know, that happens. I feel like I'd feel a little worse about him dying, but now it's one of those, I'm so grateful for the time I had with him.”
And as Marble parted to resume final preparations for the semester, he expressed his gratitude again, this time for basketball being back.
"It's great to be back playing basketball,” Marble said. "You know, I missed this so much, playing organized ball with this team and how close we are. You can't beat that and you can see that with the way we've been playing lately.”
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