Eastern's Markley Finally Earns His Spot

Posted: December 19, 1997

Steve Markley never got the message. He tried out three times for the Eastern basketball team, and got cut three times.

It's a fairly obvious pattern to detect. But Markley never picked it up, or maybe just refused to.

``I had one friend that, he just said, `Well, the heck with it,' '' Markley said. ``But I don't know. I still wanted to play.''

To that end, Markley went on a basketball binge, playing whenever and wherever he could get a game, for as long as he could. He developed his dribbling, his shooting and his rebounding. He grew an inch.

And in the end, Markley, a 6-foot-5 center, received his reward. Earlier this month, when coach Bill Dorsey posted the list of those who had made the team, Markley's name was on it.

``I don't remember him saying anything,'' said Kathy Markley, Steve's mother. ``He just said, `Mom, I made the team.' But he was just very happy.''

He can't be much happier than his mother, who knows the danger his life was in as a child. When he was 8, Steve was diagnosed with leukemia and given two weeks to live.

Markley was in third grade when, in his mother's words, he grew pale, would bruise easily and became easily fatigued. It was initially thought to be mononucleosis and Markley was sent to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where tests revealed leukemia.

Chemotherapy put him on track for recovery, but months later, Steve caught chicken pox from his younger brother.

He was hospitalized again. Kathy Markley thinks that because of a shot he received, Steve's condition plummeted. His eyes swelled, he broke out in a rash, and he was having trouble breathing. The doctor said Steve could die in a matter of hours.

His doctor recommended a drug that had not been used on children, that also could potentially damage his liver and kidneys. Kathy Markley rejected that option, saying, ``What's the point if his liver and kidneys are destroyed?''

She and her family instead turned to their Christian faith, calling on their church pastor and friends to pray for Steve.

``I said, `Lord, you've got to do a miracle. You've got to save my son,' '' Kathy Markley said. ``Within 45 minutes, the doctor said, `You got your miracle.' ''

Markley was taken off a respirator, removed from intensive care and returned to his room.

In a matter of months, he was back to normal. Bob Todd, who has known Markley since the first grade and is on the Eastern team, has seen the effect the sickness and recovery have had on his friend.

``It's hard to say, but he definitely knows where he is with God more than most people,'' Todd said. ``He's more mature that way.

Todd was the one who introduced Markley to basketball. Markley has been hooked ever since. But while Todd has been on the Eastern team since he was a freshman, Markley got cut his freshman, sophomore and junior years. And while Markley first went to Vikings games to watch his friends, he eventually stopped attending because it was too painful. ``It was like watching where I thought I should be,'' he said.

Still, even after his junior year, after he had been cut a third time, Markley never gave up hope and redoubled his efforts to improve. He played in a men's league in the winter and played for the Gym Rats club team in Voorhees from April to this November.

During the summer, he woke up at 5 a.m. to work for his father's construction company, came back at 4 p.m., then headed out for a pickup game, either at a park near Audubon High or at the courts across from West Jersey Hospital.

Usually, he went until sundown, but occasionally, he and Todd headed to the lit courts at Bethel Mill Park. Markley and Todd rebounded for each other.

Markley fell into bed around 10:30, then went through the routine again.

On weekends, Markley grabbed his friend Jim Miller and drove to Ocean City for more basketball. They went Saturday morning, came back Saturday night, went to church Sunday morning, and then headed down again.

``I probably would be on the court for four hours, five hours,'' Markley said. ``Just play until I couldn't play anymore.''

Over the course of the summer, Markley figures he went through three pairs of sneakers.

``I don't think he went one day without playing this summer unless it was raining,'' Todd said.

All the while, Dorsey was taking note. A basketball junkie, Dorsey occasionally hung around the park at Audubon, seeing who from his team was coming out, who was looking better. He also popped in on the Gym Rats to check up on his players' development.

He saw Markley's increased shooting range, improved quickness and a more tenacious attitude down low. And he saw something not obvious in a six-day tryout.

``He's a great kid, very positive, very polite, just a nice kid,'' Dorsey said. ``I want people that are happy to be there, want to be there, are excited about being there and have a positive attitude.''

Markley probably couldn't be described any better.

The tryouts were almost anticlimactic. Dorsey says now the spot was Markley's to lose, and as Dorsey encouraged him, Markley figured he had a pretty good chance. The tryout ended, and Markley made the team.

A friend told him the good news that day, but ``I checked the list the next morning,'' Markley said, ``just to see it with my own eyes.''

The season for Eastern starts tonight at Paul VI. Dorsey isn't sure how much Markley will get to play this season, but he hopes to get him some action. Dorsey thinks Markley can play Division III ball in college. And Kathy Markley is delighted.

``He's just doing great now,'' she said. ``I'm so happy he's playing ball right now. It's what he's wanted to do all his life.''

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