From Mervo, a man with a plan

Basketball: As much as he's attached to Baltimore, St. John's Marcus Hatten has bigger things in mind.

March 06, 2002|By Sam Borden | Sam Borden,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NEW YORK - Marcus Hatten sauntered up the middle of the famed court at Madison Square Garden last Wednesday, wearing white sneakers and black ankle braces atop socks that stopped just below his knees.

He dribbled with his right hand, and, when he crossed center court, hitched up his shorts with his left, eying the clock above the basket as it wound inside two minutes. Somewhere behind the basket, a fan yelled, "Shooooot it, Marcus!"

He approached the three-point line and then suddenly lurched forward, as though someone had stomped on his accelerator.

When his feet hit the right side of the foul line, two Notre Dame defenders converged on him in anticipation of a jump shot, but with a serene air, Hatten slammed on the brakes.

He did not skid out of control, did not lose his balance. Instead, he turned back to find teammate Willie Shaw standing alone just outside the arc. Hatten passed, Shaw shot, the fans cheered and a little over 1 1/2 minutes later, St. John's walked off the court with a three-point victory.

"All I want is for him to make the right plays at the right time," said St. John's coach Mike Jarvis, sitting in his office the day after his team had defeated the Irish, 84-81. "Marcus' ability to read the situation and make his teammates better is one of his greatest strengths."

Jarvis wasn't talking about Hatten's biggest decision - when he left Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College last summer and took up residence in Queens - but as the Red Storm heads into the Big East tournament tonight and an expected berth in the NCAA tournament next week, it seems as though that decision was also the right one.

"I wanted to play on Broadway," the former Mervo High star said, making it sound as if that was enough of an explanation.

In reality, he labored over his choice, ultimately opting for St. John's over DePaul, Indiana and Iowa State.

It's impossible to know where The Sun's 1999 Player of the Year would have landed had he been recruited out of high school, because halfway through his senior season at Mervo, Hatten realized he would not be academically eligible to play for a Division I school the next season.

Instead of sitting out a year, he opted for a two-year college, determined to transform the move into a positive development.

"I visited Tallahassee and played [pickup] ball with Bootsy," said Hatten, referring to former St. John's guard Marvis "Bootsy" Thornton, the Dunbar graduate who also began his college career at the Florida junior college before transferring.

"I think we won every game we played, but then we talked. He told me to make the best of it, and I think I did."

Beyond the 24 points, five rebounds and four steals that he averaged during his sophomore season at Tallahassee, Hatten was also making a statement to himself about his abilities.

He is fiercely loyal to the family and friends he left behind in Baltimore, but, at the same time, he doggedly pursued a way - any way - to get out. There were plenty of great players who dominated the games around the projects where he grew up, but Hatten wanted to be much more than just a playground legend.

"There's so much talent in Baltimore, man," Hatten said, smacking his fist into his palm as though he was frustrated with the realization that much of it goes to waste.

"Baltimore's got a lot of guys who can play - like, play for real - but they just can't get out of the city. They don't have the motivation. I don't want to have a 9-to-5 job and just play on the side. I believe I can do better than that."

And "better" than March Madness means making it in the NBA. No one has any illusions about the underlying purpose behind Hatten's move to St. John's.

When the Red Storm sports information staff was preparing this season's media guide, it asked Hatten to identify his most memorable basketball moment. His response? "Hopefully, it'll come in the next two years at St. John's."

"Marcus has been very up-front and honest about his intentions," Jarvis said. "He's always said that he planned on staying here for two years. I think it's good for him. He's getting a chance to play a position that he'll have to play in the NBA here."

That position - a mix of traditional point guard with a more-than-healthy dose of offensive threat - has endeared Hatten, who is 6 feet 1, to his coach, his teammates and the fans, as well as earning him the respect of the Big East competition.

There has been no rookie-year adjustment period for Hatten, who leads the Red Storm with a 19.8 scoring average, in addition to providing 136 assists and 97 steals.

"For him to come in and do what he's done in his first year in our league is simply amazing," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey.

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