Even during YMCA pickup games, Marcus Feagin sheltered himself. He was a role player, a nonfactor. It's not like his friends would chastise him for shooting, but Feagin simply hit the boards.
This was a lunch-pail role that Feagin could live with, after so many years spent at the gym. He didn't even play organized ball until his junior year at Niagara Falls High School.
Now, fresh off a standout senior season, Feagin is prepared to play college basketball. The Falls star graduates from high school with Monroe Community College squarely in his sights.
His rise was unlike any past Wolverine great.
"For the most part, you know guys before they get here," Falls head coach Sal Constantino said. "They've been in the program. Marcus was the opposite of that. He found his way into the program."
He promptly became the heartbeat of a Niagara Falls team that went 19-2. The explosive 6-foot-3 forward averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds per game, easily the single biggest high school basketball surprise in the region.
Attending MCC won't cap Feagin's potential. Plenty of local Division III schools were interested -- Medaille and Buffalo State to name two. But by choosing to attend a junior college, he will keep Division I hopes alive.
After all, basketball is still new to Feagin. The organized variety remains a novelty. The goal is go to a junior college, improve his game and weigh his options again in two years. Maybe then, he'll get a phone call from Niagara, Canisius or the University at Buffalo.
"If I didn't play basketball and didn't try out for the team, I'd be disappointed in myself," Feagin said. "I feel like I matured a lot."
Back in those pickup games, Feagin succeeded against his peers. But, looking up to guys like Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris, he knew playing for the Niagara Falls varsity team would be different. He knew when he put on the jersey, it was another level.
That scared him off.
"I always loved playing basketball," Feagin said, "but when I got older I just didn't think I was good enough."
He decided to play as a junior and excelled as a rebounder. On offense, he wasn't a threat.
When Constantino took over this past season, the coach slowly began featuring Feagin on offense. With so many regulars having graduated, he needed to. At first, the senior felt uncomfortable with the ball in his hands. For so long, his instinct was to play hot potato. Now, he needed to make plays.
"I said, 'Marcus, you better get used to it. We need you to score,' " Constantino said. "You could see it in his range. He began to extend away from the basket more. He got comfortable with his back to the basket and could make an offensive post move. He really excelled in our tempo, in the way we played."
That pure athleticism, which sprouted seemingly out of nowhere, is hereditary. Feagin's uncles were freak athletes in their day. Eventually, those windmill dunks would burst out of Marcus.
That's how most people in Niagara Falls will remember Feagin. The acrobatic dunks. The momentum-jerking jams. In transition, he could completely change a game. And his emergence from rebounder to No. 1 option naturally grew.
Constantino cites the Falls' two games against Kenmore West. The first one was an unexpected nail-biter. The rematch? Not even close. Feagin drilled a trio of three-pointers en route to 26 points in a 69-49 win.
"That's the day he showed he had a little bit of range," Constantino said. "This year, he was the one that got the team going. He would get out on a break and really dunk on someone to get the crowd going."
The Niagara Falls season fell short in the Section VI championship to Jamestown. But considering where expectations were before the season, it was an overwhelming success -- for Niagara Falls and for Feagin.
If he hadn't decided to play basketball two years ago, Feagin probably would not even be thinking about attending college.
"I don't know if he'd want to go," Constantino said. "That happens with a bunch of kids. You have your scholarship guys, but they're few and far between. If basketball can keep them in school long enough to know why they're really there, then we're ahead of the game.
"If he didn't have basketball, I don't know if he'd be that interested going right now."
To progress, Constantino said, Feagin must develop as a shooter. A deadly outside shot would complement that bottled-up athleticism. His game is still evolving. For so long, he was never coached.
Of course, the quiet tragedy here is that there are more kids just like Feagin in the Falls. Feagin said the city is full of athletes content with playing at the YMCA, including one of his closest friends.
It baffles Feagin, but he's not looking back. Instead, the bar continues to rise.
Sitting next to Feagin in an office at the high school, Constantino sends out a subtle challenge. It's a message he hopes the senior absorbs. Harness all this talent the right way and, in two years, who knows where Feagin will be?
"He could wind up at Daemen or something like that," Constantino said. "And if he really, really works hard, he might end up at a Division I school.
"That's more on him than anybody else."