Marsalis Basey was a 1,000-point scorer for the West Virginia Mountaineers; he played professional baseball in the Houston Astros organization, and he probably could have been a Division I tailback if he would have stuck with football.
But a sideline tackle he made against one of the Sowers brothers in a high school game at Hedgesville basically put an end to his football career.
“I hit him and I got up and I felt a sting in my neck,” Basey recalled recently from his home in Martinsburg. “I went on and stayed in the game and they ran the ball up the middle on the next play and I think if I would have hit him I would have probably been done for the rest of my life. He went down right in front of me and I walked to the sideline and I told my coach, ‘I’m done.’”
When Marsalis went to the doctor the following Monday he found out that he had fractured his sixth vertebrae, which ended up costing him most of his senior football season. And then later, when he was playing at WVU, Basey ran into George Washington center Yinka Dare in one of the most violent collisions you will ever see on the basketball court. The 7-foot-1 Dare was setting a pick at midcourt for his teammate when Basey ran right into him, re-injuring the same vertebrae.
“I still remember going down the sidewalk to GW hospital,” said Basey. “They didn’t call the ambulance; they just strapped me in and rolled me down the sidewalk.”
Fortunately, Marsalis ended up being OK. And his WVU career ended up being quite OK, too. Listed at a very generous 5 feet 8 inches, Basey was a Mountaineer fan favorite who averaged double digits for his career, including a 16.2 points-per-game scoring average as a senior in 1994 when he earned second team all-Atlantic 10 honors.
Basey played on some very talented WVU teams, which, for one reason or another, could never seem to get over the hump.
During his freshman year, in 1991, West Virginia won 17 games and finished tied for third in the A-10 standings. In 1992, WVU once again finished third and lost to UMass in the A-10 tournament championship game in Amherst, although the Mountaineers did reach the NCAA tournament where they lost to Missouri in a first-round game.
Basey’s junior year in 1993 saw West Virginia slip to sixth in the league standings before once again coming up short in its bid to reach the NCAA tournament in 1994 when the Mountaineers placed third with an 8-8 A-10 record. Three out of Basey’s four seasons at WVU were spent playing in the NIT instead of the NCAAs.
“We should have been there every year, including our freshman year when we had (forward) Chris Brooks,” Basey said. “Chris was strong. I still haven’t seen a post player that was 6-6 who could do some of the things that he could do in the post. He was a monster – a man. I can only imagine what he could have done if he was 6-10.”
Basey came to WVU in 1991 in what was considered at the time to be one of Gale Catlett’s best recruiting classes that included P.G. Greene, Mike Boyd, Ricky Robinson, Lawrence Pollard and Phil Wilson. Basey and Greene were the state natives among that group, with Basey’s college choices coming down to UMass, Clemson and West Virginia.
“It was a big difference when you start looking at the facilities and you go up to the Cage (UMass’ Curry Hicks Cage) that they had up there at the time,” said Basey. “(John) Calipari was a great recruiter and he went after you. Everything was personalized. He was hand-writing things; I’m not sure if he still does that, or has to do that, but it made a difference.”
It was during a trip to Morgantown to visit with football coach Don Nehlen when Basey said Catlett finally came through with a scholarship offer for him.
“Coach Catlett had heard I was in town so he invited me over to the Coliseum to watch practice,” Basey said. “He offered me right then and he was like, ‘Will you sign with us?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know, Coach.’
“He actually sent the papers to the school that Monday and I believe I signed that Wednesday,” he said.
Basey said he had a good relationship with Catlett, the two having a lot in common since Catlett was also from the Eastern Panhandle.
“He used to always joke with us, ‘Basey is going to play because he’s from my area.’ I was like, ‘Coach, when am I going to play?’ - especially my freshman year when I sat and watched a lot,” Basey chuckled.
Prior to Basey’s sophomore year, Catlett signed highly touted 6-foot-10 center Wilfred Kirkaldy and the program appeared to be headed for big things until Kirkaldy and Pollard were seriously injured in a springtime car accident while returning to campus. Pollard was never the same player and Kirkaldy never played again.
“When we lost Lawrence Pollard and Black (Kirkaldy) that pretty much crushed us,” said Basey. “We didn’t have much of a bench with our class and it kind of devastated us. And then Mike Boyd going down with a knee injury our senior year – we were on a roll, but when he went down that hurt us as well.”
He’s right. West Virginia was rolling along, winning 13 of its first 15 games in 1994, including big road wins at Ohio State and Temple before Boyd got injured. West Virginia was ranked 19th in the country when it suffered a six-point loss at St. Bonaventure. The Mountaineers then lost eight of their final 11 games before falling to Duquesne in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament in Philadelphia.
“Mike went down with that knee injury and that really hurt us,” said Basey. “Mike was a stopper and he could get to the bucket any time he wanted.”
However, Basey believes not having Kirkaldy in the middle of the paint was an even bigger loss to the program. He was the one guy WVU had with the size and the strength to match up with some of the bigs that Temple and UMass had back in those days.
“He would have been the neutralizer for Marcus Camby,” admitted Basey. “That’s what kept us from getting that Atlantic 10 championship.”
Still, there were many memorable moments during Basey’s four-year WVU career. A one-point win against Pitt at the Coliseum in 1992 was exceptional, as was the 44-41 victory against Temple in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament in Philadelphia a year later.
There were also some nice wins in 1993 against Maryland and UMass, but two of the most memorable victories took place during Basey’s senior year in 1994. One came at Ohio State when the Buckeyes had a pair of NBA players in Lawrence Funderburke and Derek Anderson, and the other happened at Temple when the Owls were ranked seventh in the country. That was one of the better road wins of the Catlett era.
"They were ranked pretty high that year with Eddie Jones and Aaron McKie,” Basey noted. “They had a heck of a team.”
Basey said he became a crowd favorite at Temple because he was willing to talk to the students who sat near the floor as they heckled opposing teams in cramped, old McGonigle Hall.
“To me, it reminded me of high school games and I loved the atmosphere,” he said. “The student section being so close to you and being able to talk trash to you … when we would go to Temple the student section would always rag on us. They would ask us our nicknames and I would tell them everybody’s nicknames and they ended up cheering for me. I actually had a little cheering section up at Temple.”
Basey also enjoyed playing games in St. Joe’s little gym up on “Hawk Hill.”
“I loved St. Joe’s,” he said. “That was a scorer’s paradise up there. The rims were perfect. It just seemed like your shooting touch was always on in there.”
That wasn’t necessarily the case at some of the other small A-10 gyms West Virginia used to play in, however. The Mountaineer players used to look up and watch the chipmunks and the squirrels running around in the rafters up at the Cage in UMass; Rhode Island’s Keaney Gym had those double-stacked rims that always gave opposing players the false impression that they needed to shoot the ball a little higher than they actually had to, and of course, there was nothing quite like playing in St. Bonaventure’s Reilly Center, where time just seemed to stand still.
“You just never knew what was going to happen there,” laughed Basey. “The lights might go out, you might get stuck up there in a blizzard or someone might call in a bomb threat.”
The bomb threat actually happened during Basey’s junior year in 1993. I can confirm that because I was right there with him. When the announcement came over the public address system for everyone to evacuate the arena so the building could be searched, legendary Voice of the Mountaineers Jack Fleming was on the air trying to figure out what was unfolding on the floor down below him.
“The people are all getting up and leaving the building,” a perplexed Fleming said on the air. “What is going on? Why are all of these people leaving?”
Fleming’s sidekick, Woody O’Hara, took off his headset, nudged Fleming and told him that everyone was being asked to leave the arena because someone had called in a bomb threat.
“What?” Fleming again asked.
“SOMEONE CALLED IN A BOMB THREAT AND WE ALL HAVE TO LEAVE THE ARENA!”
At that point, Fleming ripped off his headset (while still on the air!), tossed them aside and high-tailed it out of the gym as fast as his 70-year-old legs could take him. Both teams sat on West Virginia’s bus while the bomb-sniffing dogs were dispatched – St. Bonaventure on one side of the aisle sitting behind their coach, Jim Barron, and the Mountaineers lined up behind Gale Catlett on the other side.
This was pre-9/11 so everyone treated the evacuation as a nuisance and a major overreaction on St. Bonaventure's part. When the all-clear was given the teams returned to the floor and West Virginia went on to win the game. That has to be one of the most bizarre games in Mountaineer basketball history.
“I do remember that,” laughed Basey. “That was crazy.”
Today, Basey lives in his native Martinsburg and operates a day care center with his wife. He also helps out with the Martinsburg boy’s basketball team as an assistant coach.
Basey says he still keeps in touch with some of his Mountaineer teammates, although not as much as he would like since the passing of his father a couple of years ago.
“I lost my phone and lost a lot of the contacts I had in there, but I just got Seldon Jefferson’s number when I was in Morgantown so I can get some of the guy’s numbers again,” he said. “I speak to P.G. once in a while; I spoke to Mike Boyd recently – Mike is up in New Jersey and P.G. is over in Columbus.”
Marsalis also says he watches as many Mountaineer games as he can on TV.
“It’s frustrating at times, but that comes with youth,” he said of West Virginia’s struggles playing in the Big 12 this season. “They’re getting some valuable experience right now, so that’s going to be a big upside later on.”
Marsalis knows what he speaks. He was also one heck of a basketball player for the Mountaineers, that’s for sure.Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History now available in bookstores. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.