Brothers in basketball: Sons of Expeditionary Center senior NCO help McGuire team to state championship

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
For Master Sgt. Marcus G. Hughes III, the thrill of victory is certainly better than the agony of "not enough playing time."

The father of two starting players, Marcell and Marcus E. Hughes, said he watched in jubilation as his sons played basketball on March 7 at St. Leo the Great High School in Lincroft, N.J. He watched as they helped lead the McGuire Air Force Base "Falcons," to a 54-52 victory over St. Mary's of the Lakes of Medford in the 2009 New Jersey Catholic Youth Organization High School Basketball Championship. He was pleased to see his sons, who played sparingly on a local junior varsity league a year ago, have an opportunity to shine as starters for the McGuire team.

"It's hard to put into words how I felt that day, but immediately after they won the game, I couldn't stop smiling and thanking God for their victory," said Sergeant Hughes, who is the chief of training for the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center's 421st Combat Training Squadron here. "It's one thing to have personal success, but when you're able to see your children have success, it's an indescribable feeling."

Championship teammates

Marcus, 19, and Marcell, 17, are both guards on the McGuire team. They said playing in the championship was tough; however, it was an overall team effort to win the title.

"I approached it like it was a regular season game," Marcus said. "The toughest part was fouling out of the game in the fourth quarter. I played good defense, used all my fouls, and left my effort on the floor. The turning point was when we started to press and pressure our opponent in the
fourth quarter. This caused a lot of turnovers and scoring opportunities for us."

Marcell said he and his team never gave up - they believed that "it ain't over til it's over."

"The game was mentally and physically tough," Marcell said. "Being down by 11 points at
halftime and having the patience to come back made it tougher. As a team playing our defense, we were able to cause those multiple turnovers in the fourth quarter and create that turning point in the game."

In the game, Marcell had 10 assists, two points, and two steals. Marcus added 15 rebounds, five points and two steals. Neither earned most valuable player -- that honor went to senior guard Donnie Redding who scored 24 points.

In winning the game though, Falcons coach Kevin Hansen said in a post game article that Marcell's assists and steals, Marcus' rebounds and points, and the defensive cohesion of the entire team all came together at the right time. "The tenacious man-to-man defense by Cajiid Ceruit and Marcell, Marcus and Donnie were the keys to the victory over Medford," Mr. Hansen said.

Family connections

Basketball has bounced around the Hughes family tree to include some successful relatives.

"They have an uncle who played in the National Basketball Association," Sergeant Hughes said. "His name is Bo Kimble. He was a star in the Philadelphia public school leagues and made a name for himself with another notable player named Hank Gathers."

Sergeant Hughes said "Uncle Bo" played for Dobbins Tech High School and won the Philadelphia City Title in 1985. "Bo and Hank were recruited by the University of Southern California, but after the coaches were fired, they transferred to Loyola Marymount (University, Calif.) where the team broke records for high scores that still stand today," he said.

In 1990, Hank Gathers collapsed from a heart attack while playing basketball.

"Bo is most known for shooting a foul shot with his left hand (like Gathers) as a tribute to the loss of his best friend," Sergeant Hughes said. "Bo was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers and also played for the New York Knicks."

Uncle Kimble is a family connection, but both Marcus and Marcell say they play basketball because they enjoy the game tremendously -- not to impress anyone.

"It's my favorite sport," Marcus said. "I like the fast pace of running the floor and the play-by-play excitement of the game."

Marcell said basketball is about practice and denying your opponent the chance to score. 

"I try to play every day," Marcell said. "My favorite part of the game is playing defense because it gets everyone excited when you steal the ball and score."

Walking through the 'open' door

For Marcus and Marcell to be a part of the championship team was "a lesson in redemption and dedication to a cause," Sergeant Hughes said.

The McGuire team comprised both military family members and local athletes -- all students getting a 'second chance' to be a starter.

"Some of the players were cut by their local high school basketball teams," Sergeant Hughes said. "In Marcus' and Marcell's case, they both played junior varsity in the 2007-08 season and had limited playing time. So this year, they decided to take the show somewhere else."

Sergeant Hughes said the true challenge for a military family member entering a new school system and sports is overcoming new coaches and sports programs.

"The average civilian student who stays in the same school system will most likely benefit from years of experience and continuity with coaches in their communities," he said. "So for a military child who moves to different bases with their parents, unless you make an immediate mark for yourself, it's easy to be overlooked. The whole McGuire team, this championship team, learned that when one door closes, another one opens somewhere else and all you have to do is walk through it."

More roads to travel, more basketball to play

With both Marcus and Marcell being high school seniors and graduating this year, their next step is the college game. Marcell is being recruited by Wesley College, Del., for football while Marcus will be attending junior college and will continue to play basketball.

Meanwhile, at home, Sergeant Hughes said his two younger children - son Malique and daughter Makayla -- will keep him and Pamela busy watching them play in the local sports scene.

"Malique plays basketball and baseball, while Makayla is a cheerleader and soccer player," Sergeant Hughes said. "That's the life of a sports parent -- you just keep on going."

As for remembering the first-ever state high school championship won by a McGuire AFB-based team that finished 21-5, Marcus and Marcell said they'll never forget it.

"We all played hard and it feels good to know that it really does pay off," Marcus said. "It feels good being known as No. 1 in your league, but even better that we all did it together."

"Being our senior year in high school, it was a good feeling to claim a state title before we graduate," Marcell said. "This is something I will remember for the rest of my life."

Sergeant Hughes said in addition to his sons, the entire McGuire team should be proud of what they accomplished.

"This entire Falcons team dedicated themselves to one goal and that was winning this title," Sergeant Hughes said. "I'm so happy they can feel the joy of success through hard work and sacrifice. A lesson they will take with them for life."