GARY | Marvin Rea almost choked up Tuesday after his Bowman Academy Eagles finished their practice.
He was talking about his senior star, DeJuan Marrero. In the 102 years of Hoosier Hysteria, there has probably never been a player with the same amount of controversy, success, ups and downs and raw talent as Marrero.
"I wanted Rico's life as normal as possible," Rea said. "I've tried to help him have as normal of a childhood as possible. But when he goes to the mall strangers call his name. People come up and want his autograph.
"That's great for a young man, but it's also hard at times. It isn't normal."
As an eighth-grader at Bowman, Rea and DeJuan's mother, Yolanda, took him off the team so he could focus on his academics. It worked. He is a NCAA qualifier who will attend DePaul next season.
When he arrived at the high school, he asked to wear No. 1. It was four years ago. Even then Marrero wanted to win the 2012 Indiana Mr. Basketball.
"That was the goal," he said.
As good as he was -- averaging 17 points and 13 rebounds as a ninth grader -- Marrero's name was mostly locked inside the region. It would remain that way until March 14, 2009.
Instantly, Marrero became a hot-button Hoosier. He was hated and defended statewide. He was called for two extremely controversial technical fouls in the Triton Regional semifinal against Caston.
One for hanging on the rim, even though video showed there was a Caston player underneath him. The other T came for slapping the backboard on a block attempt.
He was ruled ineligible for the night game against Triton, which Bowman lost 60-58.
"That question mark will always be there," Rea said. "People will be asking that 20 years from. What if he would've played in that Triton game? How far would that team have gone?
"I know what I think about that."
The next year, sketchy officiating and administrative oversight could not stop Bowman. Averaging 14.6 points and 12 rebounds, Marrero helped carry the Eagles to the state championship.
Marrero scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Bowman's 74-52 win over Barr-Reeve in the Class A final.
Redemption was embraced by a blue medal around the neck.
On Saturday, No. 5 Bowman (17-8) will play top-ranked Indianapolis Park Tudor in the Class 2A state final. And not one Eagle is more focused than No. 1.
"I'm excited," Marrero said. "I want to carry my boys. I want to let them have the same feeling I had two years ago. Life goes by fast. I have one high school game left.
"I want to get redemption one more time."
The reason for this second-chance has nothing to do with a questionable call or a ruling by a state association. Last year's loss to Morgan Twp. on Bowman's home floor in the sectional championship game stung deep.
And Bowman had no one to blame except itself. The Eagles were terrible and so was Marrero, who finished the season scoring 22.1 point and grabbing 15.3 rebounds.
Starting this season 0-3 didn't have many believing a deep run in March was possible.
But Marrero shifted gears. Even though he knows he can't carry the Eagles to a state championship by himself, he knew he had to be a leader.
"The regional was Rico's defining moment," Rea said. "We don't run plays to get him the ball. But he was posting up and screaming for the ball. So our guys started giving it to him."
Marrero had 12 points and nine rebounds at halftime of that game. He got in foul trouble last Saturday against Tipton in the semistate, so his team carried him.
Rea said Marrero has always been a team player, no matter how good he is.
"Ohio State offered him his freshman year," Rea said. "He could've taken it. But he didn't think it was a perfect fit. So he decided to wait to keep the college coaches coming into our gym.
"And the seniors of 2010 benefited from that."
Marrero is a street-smart kid who was raised in Gary. Some take his words as being cocky, like what he said on Tuesday about playing Park Tudor.
"If we lose it will be the biggest upset in state history," Marrero said. "I believe in my boys. Wherever I go I represent Gary, Indiana."
People in Shelbyville or Zionsville don't talk like that. The cultural divide breaks sharply. But kids in Gary do speak with pride and confidence.
When a group of youngsters rise up from darkened environs, they often grab their jersey and pull it out for the fans to see after a win. That's what Marrero did last Saturday after the Tipton victory.
Marrero takes his 20 points and 14 rebounds average into Saturday's game, proving the nickname that his coach gave him, "Mr. Double-Double."
"I have one game left," Marrero said. "I hope people remember me as the hardest working player who won two state rings. One in 1A and one in 2A. I'm not going down there to lose.
"I've been through too much. I want to go down in history."
If Marrero and his team does what they say they are going to do and Marrero's career ends with a high note, one thing will be certain. The kid is not normal.
No, not at all.