It was 2009, Iowa State guards Hallice Cooke and Monté Morris were both 14-year olds living more than 600 miles apart. Both with hoop dreams of their own, their lives were about to be forever changed by relationships built with a pair of basketball legends.
Morris first forged a relationship with Roy Marble as a freshman at Beecher High School in Flint, Michigan. Marble was the best player ever to play at Beecher, and later went on to become Iowa’s all-time leading scorer before being drafted in the 1989 NBA Draft.
Morris and the Bucs were facing Marble’s son, Roy Devyn, who was a senior at Southfield Lathrup. After the game, Morris met Roy Marble for the first time.
“When I was a freshman, we got a chance to play against his son Devyn,” Morris said. “He was at Southfield Lathrup and it was Roy’s first time being back at Beecher in a long time. After that game was the first time I met him and Devyn. We built a relationship there and they brought up Iowa because that was where Devyn was going. They were hoping we could play together. We exchanged numbers and our relationship grew from there.”
Morris eventually started hearing from Iowa State and decided to take an official visit to the campus. In an ironic twist, it was Roy Marble who accompanied Morris and his mother, Latonia, on the trip.
“He wanted to make sure it was the right spot for me,” Morris said. “He knew I wasn’t considering Iowa and he wasn’t forcing that on me. He wanted what was best for me and when he came on the visit, he was all about Iowa State and knew it was the right place for me.”
Morris returned to Flint last weekend and had a chance to see Marble again. Marble has Stage 4 cancer but still is inspiring Morris.
“When I got to see him last weekend at the Beecher reunion, I hadn’t seen him since he got sick,” Morris said. “Seeing him for the first time kind of messed me up a bit. He has lost a lot of weight and is in a wheel chair right now, but he was telling me to keep my head up and keep working. He said he’s been hearing great things about me and that it is in my hands to do it. He continues to give me great confidence.”
Around the same time Morris was meeting Marble, Cooke met a huge man named Darryl Dawkins. A self-proclaimed 14-year old hot-head, Cooke almost instantly recognized the impact that “Chocolate Thunder” would have on his life.
“I first met Darryl when I was 14 after our Sports U tryouts,” Cooke said. “He was such a positive energy guy. A really loving guy. He introduced himself to us and then a couple weeks later he came to our tournament and sat at the end of the bench. When you would come out of the game he would pull you to the side and talk to you, give you advice.”
Though he may not have recognized it at the time, Cooke admits now that he needed that guidance.
“When I was young I was a real hot head. Every little thing got to me. If a coach said something to me I would shrug my shoulders. My body language wasn’t good,” Cooke said. “When I would come out of the game, whether I had made a great play or a bad play, I’d be mad at the fact I was coming out. He would tell me to stay patient, that I looked good out there and so on. He was always so positive.”
Dawkins was around the Sports U AAU program from that point forward until unexpectedly passing away last week at 58 years old.
“He wasn’t a coach, he was more of an ambassador for the program,” Cooke said. “But it was funny, he’d come to a tournament and the next thing you knew he was up there coaching. You could really tell that it was his love of the game and his passion for working with kids our age. He really wanted to help us grow.”
Cooke last saw Dawkins in January, and nothing had changed. He was still impacting lives, and that was no different for Cooke.
“I was at a St. Anthony’s game and they were playing Roosevelt Catholic and he and I sat courtside together,” Cooke said. “He had his daughter, who has Down syndrome, there. The way he loved his kids was really special. I’ll remember that the rest of my life. To know they are without a father now really bothers me.”
Although Dawkins is gone, his message still resonates with Cooke.
“He made every person he talked to feel like they were the most important person in the world,” Cooke said. “He just taught me to love everybody. He used basketball as an avenue to change lives. That is what I hope I can do.”