Cards Hosting Marques Maybin Classic In Former Star's Honor

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- It happens nearly every time Marques Maybin goes out.

Maybe it's in the Wal-Mart while he's running errands. Maybe it's at Burger King at 2 a.m. when he gets a late-night craving for fries. Maybe it's in class at Louisville, where he's finishing up a psychology degree he started working on more than a decade ago.

At some point, someone will see the face of the player who lit up Freedom Hall during his basketball career and tell him to hang in there, that if he never needs anything, just ask.

It happens nearly every day. And five years after the motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed below the waist, the former Cardinal star says he still needs the encouragement, still loves it when a 15-minute dash to the grocery store turns into a two-hour chat with whomever is walking by.

"Everybody has been going through this with me," he said. "We're all going through this together. I've never felt alone in this whole thing."

The community that has nurtured him from the second he stepped on campus in 1997 will get a chance to embrace him once again this weekend when the Cardinals host the Marques Maybin Classic. The 13th-ranked Cardinals will host Ohio, Lamar and Indiana State in a three-day round-robin event, with a portion of the proceeds going to help pay for his mounting medical bills.

It's all still a little much for Maybin, the 13th all-time leading scorer in school history. Talking publicly Tuesday for the first time since the accident that cut short his professional career more than five years ago, the 30-year-old Maybin admits he still struggles with the feeling that he let everyone down.

"That's the most emotional part in all of this," Maybin said. "I had so much support. I wanted to succeed for them."

In 2003, Maybin was back home for a time to let his body heal after playing a couple of seasons in Europe. He was just starting to feel good again and hoping to get an invite to an NBA training camp. But all of his dreams vanished in an instant that August when he ran into the back of a pickup truck while riding his bike through his hometown of Clarksville, Tenn.

Resetting his goals hasn't been easy.

"I battle demons on a day-to-day basis," he said. "But people don't let me slow down at all."

Particularly his former teammates. Maybin spent the first three years following the accident in Clarksville trying to get his life back together. He moved to Louisville two years ago to finish his degree but still couldn't bring himself to head back into a gym. The sounds of sneakers on hardwood floors and the heat from a musty gym were just too much.

It took some pleading from former Louisville star DeJuan Wheat to give Maybin the strength to go inside.

"He just wouldn't take no for an answer," said Maybin, who estimated Wheat made 50 or 60 requests before he finally relented.

Sitting in the stands watching a pickup game proved to be another small step toward recovery for the player who says he overachieved the moment Denny Crum offered him a scholarship.

The small steps have a way of adding up. He recently returned to driving and laughs about how the reality of $4-a-gallon gas hit him when he filled up for the first time.

It's a laugh that comes more easily these days. He finds himself watching the Cardinals on television and can't believe it when he hears Crum's words coming out of his own mouth.

"I'll be like, 'Who do I sound like?"' Maybin said.

He misses the game so much he can't really talk about it, though he has no trouble looking at the video clips people post on his MySpace page. Ask him to pinpoint a memory and things get a little fuzzy. Instead he says the thing that sticks out most to him is the vibe in the huddle when things got tight.

"We'd be down with two minutes to go, and I'd like to see who thought we could win and who didn't," he said. "I loved those games when things weren't going so good, but it was closer than people think."

A military kid who was among the most popular players on the team during his career and rarely said the wrong thing doesn't consider himself a role model.

"I try to live right and hope people can pick up whatever they want from it," he says.

Being the star of the show this weekend will be difficult. He'd prefer to stay in the background and groaned last year when a cameraman found him watching from the concourse as the Cardinals beat Syracuse, the first time he'd been back to Freedom Hall since the accident.

"I thought I could sneak in and out," Maybin said.

Then he laughed, knowing he should have known better.

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