Markel Starks, like most of his teammates, sat on the bench in shock as he watched Georgetown’s leader break his hand against Cincinnati. As Chris Wright’s backup, however, Starks was more affected by the senior’s injury than any of his fellow Hoyas.
“It was devastating,” Starks said of watching Wright get hurt. “Of course for me, I have a different outlook because I practice with him every day. He and I, we grew up together. We played AAU together. To see all that hard work be tarnished by one injury, it kind of hurts.”
Head coach John Thompson III made it clear that no one player would step up to fill Wright’s role or minutes, but Starks, the freshman from Georgetown Prep, is the closest thing the Hoyas have on their bench to a point guard like Wright. The connection between the senior and the freshman stretches far beyond just playing styles.
“Markel’s my boy,” Wright said. “It goes much deeper than just Georgetown. We’ve been playing together since we were nine years old.”
The two players actually share a championship pedigree—on the under-10 AAU circuit. Starks won’t have to play at a championship level while filling in for Wright, but the Hoyas will need the freshman to raise his level to avoid losing all momentum after losing two in a row.
Wright’s injury takes some of the shine off a Georgetown team that looked like it was peaking at just the right time. The Hoyas’ eight-game winning streak earlier in the season had a lot to do with Wright’s play as the team’s floor general, distributing the ball and taking over when he needed to.
Meanwhile, Starks was usually the first guard off the bench. In limited minutes this season his play has been inconsistent. Averaging just under nine minutes per game, the freshman has shot only 26.4 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from three-point range. Starks has displayed flashes of the raw talent, however, that made him a highly-touted recruit.
“Markel’s a good player,” Wright said. “Sometimes I feel like he’s a little nervous out there. I just tell him to relax. He’s as good as any player out there. Just relax and trust your instincts and let everything flow. He gets after it in practice, and it’s just a matter of time until that starts to translate on the court.”
Starks was Georgetown’s presumptive point guard of the future, but it appears his time is now. The young player will have to get up to speed quickly, with only one regular season game, a rematch against Cincinnati, remaining before the rigors of the postseason arrive.
Don’t expect Starks to try and match Wright’s output though. It would be a tall order to fully replace the Hoyas’ second leading scorer who has the third most assists in the Big East. The freshman knows his place, and he fully intends to stay in it.
“Chris is Chris Wright,” he said. “I’m Markel Starks. I’m an entirely different basketball player. [If] people are expecting me to kind of force the issue—that’s not my role. My role is to distribute, get guys the ball when need, and when shots are available, to take them.”
He performed admirably in that role in the loss against Syracuse on Saturday. Playing a career-high 24 minutes, Starks scored six points on 50-percent shooting and never turned the ball over. All of his points came on three-pointers—his last was the only field goal made by the Hoyas in the final 10 minutes of the game.
If Georgetown gets its usual contributions from Starks’ teammates, those numbers are probably enough to get the Hoyas past the Bearcats on Saturday. A win in Cincinnati will help make Starks’ real test, next week’s Big East Tournament, a little easier by securing a first-round bye for the Hoyas. No matter who Georgetown plays in New York, however, Starks will get his first taste of the high pressure situations he’ll be counted on to handle for the next three years.
“I feel like this is the starting point for next year for me, because I’ll hopefully be the point guard, and this is going to be somewhat of my team,” Starks said. “Moving forward, we’re going to get a pretty good picture of how it’s going to be.”