Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
Markus Black's joy lasted only a few moments.
The former Booker High boys basketball coach took the time to process his career's next big turn — a graduate assistant job with the University of Arkansas — before his thoughts turned to his current team and the administration at Booker.
That's just the kind of guy Black is.
"The reality was I would be forced to walk away from the young men I have had the pleasure of serving the last few years," Black said. "I would be leaving the place I have called home since 2010. The hardest part of all of this was telling people I was leaving."
Black, 33, was Booker's coach for five years, compiling a 91-49 record. In 2017-2018, Black led the Tornadoes to the state final four, coming within a point (62-61) of beating eventual champion Leesburg High in the semifinals. Leaving the Tornadoes was not easy, Black said, but the opportunity to jump to the college level was one he had to take. He told the administration first, then his players, following the team's annual banquet last month.
Black has been in Fayetteville, Arkansas, since Monday. His first job? Working at the Razorbacks' youth camp with the team's other graduate assistants. While it has been an easy way to transition to the job, Black said, he's eager to get involved in a real Razorbacks practice soon. Black said he does not know specifically what the team will ask him to do, but graduate assistants often do a bit of everything at the NCAA Division I level, including recruiting, player evaluation and even some on-court coaching.
Though he only recently arrived, Black said he's already getting a grasp on the vibe of the town. Everyone is abuzz over the Razorbacks' baseball team, which is hosting a Super Regional series — essentially a Sweet 16 series — against North Carolina State this weekend, with the winner advancing to the College World Series. In Fayetteville, Black is learning, the Razorbacks are everything. Black said the 200-300 kids at his youth camp know the names of all the Arkansas basketball players. They look up to the Razorbacks. College sports are meaningful there. That's appealing, Black said.
It is always a bittersweet moment when one of the mainstays on the Sarasota sports scene leaves the area. His first year as coach at Booker was my first year in Sarasota. He was always willing to talk, even after tough losses, and he was open and honest during interviews, a unicorn quality these days. His players held a lot of respect for him, something evident by the number of former Tornadoes who Black said congratulated him on his new job. That meant a lot, he said.
Here's an example of the kind of guy Booker will be missing. When asked for his favorite memory from his Tornadoes stint, Black didn't say the 2017-2018 run to the final four. He instead pointed to a moment from earlier that season. A road loss against Lakewood Ranch High. Yes, Black's favorite moment came after a loss, when the Tornadoes players and coaches had a long, emotional heart-to-heart about what was working and what needed to change. Out of respect for his players, Black still refuses to spill exact details, but the conversation had its intended effect. It's what led to everything else that happened that season, Black said. It was a real moment to teach, and Black took advantage.
I'd be shocked if Black didn't similarly take advantage of the opportunity he has now. Good luck at Arkansas, Markus; Sarasota will be watching.