CARBONDALE – It's been a while since Marcus Bartley has been on the Division I floor.
The MacArthur grad disappeared for a year after transferring out of St. Louis to Southern Illinois University-Carbondale basketball team following the 2015-16 season. Forced to sit out this past year per NCAA rules, Bartley took a redshirt.
It wasn't easy for the athletic 6-foot-4 guard, but it gave him a window to address certain needs and he primarily focused on his strength.
The former H&R Macon County player of the year virtually visited the weight room everyday and developed more explosiveness to get to the rim and a stronger base to withstand contact when he got there.
“That year off gave me a chance to work on my game and just get stronger,” Bartley said. “I'm definitely ready to get back on the floor.”
Bartley doesn't resemble anything like his gangly high school days, SIU coach Barry Hinson said. He's 20 pounds heavier from just a year ago.
“Those of you who watched him play in high school would not recognize him right now,” Hinson said. “We recruited him since he was a sophomore in high school. We missed the first time, but we won the second time.
“The first time I saw him he was thinner than a light post. I noticed this kid that was 6-foot-4 and playing the point guard and thought, 'Man, that skinny kid can play.' We just fell in love with him.”
Bartley always had the ability to pull up and drain shots. He was one of St. Louis' premier 3-point shooters his sophomore year, going 39.7 percent from the hardwood.
He now feels he can finish at the rim.
“I just think finishing at the basket is something I really worked on this summer and I'll be able to show it during the season,” Bartley said.
It will make Bartley an even a better fit for SIU's ball-screen offense. It's a system that emphasizes guard-play — not unlike under former MacArthur coach Felipe Phillips.
“It's definitely something I'm used to and something I like playing,” Bartley said.
It also helps to get eased into the process with a seat on the sidelines and under the wings of then starting point guard Mike Rodriguez, who rounded out his senior year with the most points (12.9), assists (4.0) and steals (45).
“He's probably one of my closest friends while he was there,” Bartley said of Rodriguez. “We definitely worked out a lot together at night and just me and him in the gym, and I definitely learned a lot from him and he's playing overseas now. So, he's definitely doing well, which is great being able to work out with him pretty much everyday and get better.”
What Bartley most admired about the 5-foot-10 Rodriguez was his competitive nature.
“He just gets you going,” Bartley said. “He makes you compete in every game and every play. It gets you focused and ready to be competitive at every game. It translates to a game and play even harder.”
That level of intensity isn't a problem for Bartley, who recently showed up on campus a week in advance of the summer semester. But sometimes it may get the worst of him.
“The thing I like about Marcus is he's a processor,” Hinson said. “He processes everything. He's constantly trying to get better. The one thing I'd say is a negative is he's too hard on himself. This kid expects to be perfect everyday. We've had to caution him on several occasions and say, 'Marcus, you can't be perfect at everything you do.' It will be a process because he wants to be so good.”
With his size, strength and athleticism, Bartley may be poised to replace Rodriguez as the starting point guard — which would be a dramatic change in height.
All Hinson could say was that he expects Bartley to be a leader on the team.
“We've asked to continue focusing on leading and Marcus is kind of a quiet kid,” Hinson said. “It's not his nature to be really boisterous, but I think he will be that guy eventually. The kid sat out for a year and that's hard. It takes time to adapt. He will be OK. He will get into it and he'll start leading us.”
It's a fun thought imagining where he will end up this upcoming season, but that's not on Bartley or Hinson's mind presently.
“I think if I take care of working hard and doing things in practice, then I'll probably have a good opportunity to do that,” Bartley said. “But right now, I'm focusing on the team and not really focus on starting or anything like that.”
It all comes after averaging 3.8 points per game in 32 games as a sophomore for the Billikens — a year where he also battled a deep bruise in his right ankle.
He ultimately left the program after St. Louis ousted Jim Crews at the helm for Travis Ford and doesn't seem to regret his time in the Gateway City.
The way he sees it, it's prepared him for SIU.
“I think I just learned a lot from playing in St. Louis and the experience is the reason I think I'm in a really good spot right now and really confident,” Bartley said. “If I continue to work hard, I think I should have a really good year.”