Growing up with no father and a disabled mother, St. Stephens’ Marcus Conner has learned several tough lessons early in his life.
Despite his circumstances, the junior boys basketball player is thriving on the court and hopes to lead the Indians to a deep run in the 3A playoffs starting on Monday.
Conner’s father was shot and killed in Statesville when he was just 2 years old.
“They never figured out who did it, and the police never tried to find out who it was,” he said. “I grew up not knowing who my dad really was. I've seen pictures, but I don't remember really seeing him.”
Conner was left alone with he and his mother, Dorothy.
"We struggled for a while,” he said. “We had to survive off $300 a month. We used to have to go to churches and the Salvation Army to get money for light bills and food. That's how I kind of grew up."
The Conner’s situation becomes even tougher with Dorothy’s declined health.
She’s had a total of 13 surgeries, including two on her shoulder, two on her spine and two on her neck.
"It's kind of degenerated,” Marcus said. “She has implants, screws and metal plates in her back. At one point, she had a halo on her head. She was bed-ridden for four weeks. She couldn't move or do anything."
Conner remembers being homeless during his childhood after his mother fell behind on bills.
“One day, we go and visit my grandmother,” he said. “We come back, and my mom tries to get the key in the door, and it won't go in. She tries it again and wiggles it. She calls the landlord and asks him why her key wouldn't work. She was four months overdue on rent, and they had to kick us out of the house. There we are. She's a single mother, and I'm 3-4 years old. We had nowhere else to go. Where can we go? We have our car and that's it. All of our clothes are out on the streets. There's nothing that we can do. That was a pretty rough time. We had to go to my grandmother's house and stay there."
There were even problems just having food to eat.
“It was a lot of struggle there for a while,” he said. “I remember one time we went to the store and had bought some groceries — about two buggies worth. My father back in the day had some dealings with people and had written some bad checks to the grocery story. We didn’t have food in the refrigerator for like a week and a half or two weeks. We went next door to get food from our neighbors. We went to the store, got some groceries, went to the check out and mom was writing a check. Come to find out since my daddy wrote a bounced check to them, they wouldn’t let us get the groceries and pay for them.”
While he was in second grade, Conner transferred from Hickory Public Schools to the St. Stephens district with Catawba County Schools.
The transition was a difficult one for him.
“I was picked on,” he said. “I had a stuttering problem and was big for my age. I never talked to anyone. I had a lot of built up anger from being picked on and mistreated. It was hard for me coming where I came from and going there.”
Conner and his mother lived with his grandmother for a brief period until she passed away during his freshman year at St. Stephens in 2010.
“It made us become even closer because now it’s just me and her,” Marcus said of he and his mother. “There is no other family here. It’s just me and my mom.”
Despite his mother not being able to ever see him play because of her condition, basketball has helped to serve as a motivation for Marcus.
“Basketball has been a journey,” he said. “It started off pretty rough with me. I didn’t start playing basketball until I was in the fifth grade. I didn’t really pick it up fully until I was in middle school. When I tried out for the middle school team, I didn’t get any playing time in seventh grade. I finally started in my eighth grade year, and it started to click a little bit. I kind of got the flow of the game down.”
Now a two-year starter for the Indians varsity, Conner’s turnaround has shown in his playing ability.
He averaged eight points per game a season ago and now is scoring more than 15 points per game.
“He’s come a really long ways since his freshman year,” said Indians coach Murphy Post. “He will tell you that his freshman year was a run in between us. I think the summer before his sophomore year, he really bought into what our program was really all about. He made varsity as a sophomore and contributed. He is our captain this year. He is a hard worker on the floor and off the floor. His teachers and other adults really speak highly of him. He is a high character kid. He is someone that is going to go really far in life with his attitude and work ethic. I’m really proud of how he’s really developed into a good young man.”
Marcus is hoping for similar success in the postseason, which starts Monday.
“It’s been a good year,” he said. “We started off hot, went 9-2 and won the Christmas tournament. For some reason, we kind of fell off. We don’t have the same chemistry we did. We are going to try to salvage what we can and make it work with what we have. We aren’t going to fold. We’re going to do the best with what we’ve got. We’re built for a run if we can come together as a team.”
Conner is hoping to one day play basketball at the next level or just have the ability to study either Sports Management or Business in college.
“I would love to be able to play college basketball,” he said. “For one, I’d be the first person in my family to go to college. I’d be doing something I love and getting my education. That would be beyond amazing.”
Regardless of what he’s been through, Conner wouldn’t change a thing.
“It’s made me a better person,” he said. “It’s made me realize people are going to struggle through life. You can’t change what’s going to happen. You can only change your reaction to it. You can’t help that you are in a situation, but only what you can do to make the best of the situation that you can. That’s what I’ve tried to do throughout my life. Mom has always told me that God would never put nothing on you more than you can bear. If it’s there, the Lord knows that you can deal with it. That’s how I’ve kind of gone through everything that’s happened in my life.”