Marcus Toney-El ran Essex County, New Jersey in high school and college. A native of East Orange, New Jersey, Toney-El joins a list of other movers and shakers from Ill-Town to make a difference like Queen Latifah, Treach and Vin Rock from Naughty By Nature, actor John Amos, retired NBA player, Brevin Knight and Cleveland Browns all-purpose athlete Jabrill Peppers.
I first met Marcus Toney-El during my one-year stint as a columnist at Seton Hall Prep High School at their Pirate newspaper (I’d later transfer to Don Bosco Prep). I was a freshman, he was a senior. I was new to the school and adjusting to high school life and here was this larger than life figure floating the halls at The Prep.
What drew me to Toney-El was his magnetic personality. Everybody wanted to be around this tall 6-8 kid that reminded me of Tracy McGrady.
Check Out Marcus Toney-El and Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson On Scoop B Radio
Eventually we’d speak and created a player-writer bond.
I’ll never forget that bond because he was the first story that I wrote about in my column at the Seton Hall Pirate newspaper called, Scoop B’s NBA Beat.What was cool for me personally is that at the time, no freshman ever came into that school with their own column in their freshman year and what was even cooler is that Toney-El would create history in his senior year when he committed to Seton Hall University and was the guy that other top recruits to join him. That class would include, the late Eddie Griffin, a forward out of Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia and Andre Barrett a speedy guard from New York City’ s Rice High School. They’d join center, Samuel Dalembert and Ty Shine and were coached by current Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker.
Those guys were a good squad, their skill set was awesome to see, professionally, I believe that they were still maturing yet were ahead of their time as their height, depth and skill-set represent what is today’s AAU, college and NBA mandates: small ball!
They were special!
To me, locally they were to New Jersey what Jalen Rose, Chris Webber and Juwan Howard were to the University of Michigan and the Fab 5. “Yeah I have heard that,” Marcus Toney-El told me on episode 60 of Scoop B Radio.
“Obviously what we accomplished in that first year with what those guys did. But as far as putting that together, what is now called a ‘super team,’ the Wolverines, I think we were the next ones to do it and what is now the modern era of basketball. At a time where the sneaker companies really started to come in and started taking over and running the AAU circuit and putting people in places in college we was like right on the cusp of that.”
Eddie Griffin would declare for the NBA Draft, Tommy Amaker would leave. Shoulda, coulda, woulda easily creeps in. How successful would Seton Hall men’s basketball have been? “I think about it often, Marcus Toney-El told me on Scoop B Radio.
“Every time I take a trip down to memory lane. If TA [Tommy Amaker] doesn’t leave my freshman year and Eddie Griffin doesn’t leave, Sam Dalembert doesn’t leave and though we had some problems within our teams function at that time and Louis Orr was the new coach, we would have had the same team back next year. This was a team that preseason was ranked ninth in the country, the same team that should have beaten Illinois at Illinois after being up 20. This is the same team that even though we wound up having a mediocre record we still would make people nervous in the Big East Tournament. It provided at least a silver lining for the future but once TA left, Eddie left, Sam left Coach Orr came in and then we had to start all over again. Once we started over, it took a while for us to get back on track.”
We even talked about Eddie Griffin. Having played for Tim Thomas’ Playaz AAU team together, Toney-El and Griffin were besties. That relationship carried over to college. Skill-wise, Griffin was a monster. Griffin, the seventh pick in the 2001 NBA Draft was a Rasheed Wallace clone, I swear!
“Rasheed Wallace is Eddie’s favorite player,” Toney-El said.
Eddie Griffin At Philly’s Roman Catholic High School
In college, I was an avid NBA Live player. I’d picked the Houston Rockets often on NBA Live 2004 and would start Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley Yao Ming and Eddie Griffin, when going head to head with my roommate and other classmates.
What fascinated me was how much of a double team that Griffin commanded. Griffin was so potent he could take his defender off the dribble, post up his defender, get closer to the basket and take the jumper, shoot the three or pass the ball. He had too many options available, it was scary!
I’d often find Steve Francis open in the corner for a nifty three pointer or I’d feed the ball to Yao Ming in the post for an easy jam.
But I digress.
Griffin’s start in the NBA was rough. He had a series of suspensions, court dates and missed practices during his first two years in the NBA with Houston and the New Jersey Nets. He’d also spent time in the Betty Ford Center for alcohol treatment in 2003-04.
Griffin died in a fatal car crash in 2007. His SUV collided with a freight train in a fiery crash. The crash was so bad, the only way that authorities could identify him was by dental records.
What was frustrating about Griffin was that he was so talented, but his body, his age and his maturity hadn’t caught up with him just yet. Griffin was a fantasy basketball player’s dream and an opposing coaches nightmare. Any basketball purist was praying for the day, that those stars aligned, because homeboy was a special player!
I’d often wonder if Eddie Griffin knew how talented he really was.“Eddie knew,” said Toney-El.
“Eddie knew that he was talented. Eddie could do what he wanted to do. He was a triple double in high school, he was double-double in college, but the one thing he also knew was he probably shouldn’t have gone to the NBA after his freshman year because of everything that comes with it. He would call back home and say: ‘I wish I stayed in college.’ Not because of his talents, but because of everything that comes with it.”
Biggest misconception that people had of Griffin?” [That] Eddie was crazy,” said Toney-El.
“To this day I tell people I still don’t want to believe he is gone people really believe that my boy was crazy and he had these deep dark demons and I hate when that picture is painted. Hate is a strong word but hate is how strongly I feel about it. Great guy, great guy. If people were able to be in his presence and just kick it with him, they would understand the greatness in him. I just think that he might have made some questionable decisions that people just took and ran with and they just plastered that everywhere. People make mistakes and do things all the time and it doesn’t speak to their character and it doesn’t speak to their personality. I just think that these things were isolated incidents.”
Eddie Griffin In High School
Toney-El didn’t play in the NBA, he went undrafted and played overseas. He admits he relied too much on his natural ability in high school and college. “I was always an average jump shooter,” he said. “I actually am a better shooter now than I was when I played. What is crazy is that I never did individual work outs until it was time for me to graduate college and go play overseas. All my basketball was just playing a bunch of games playing in the park, practicing and then college; you knowing doing twenty-minute individual workout before and after.”
Nagging injuries brought him back home where he channeled the Garden State and the relationships he built over the years. He served as an assistant coach at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey and coached at Newark, New Jersey’s North 13th Technical High School.
Marcus Toney-El is a walking basketball almanac and he’s built a ton of relationships that have lasted him a lifetime.
Toney-El has played with everybody and was a recruiter way back then. It’s only natural that he’s now coaching. He calls Montclair. New Jersey’s Immaculate Conception High School his home base. He doubles as a coach and the school’s physical education teacher. What’s evident is that he leans heavily on the lessons taught to him by Louis Orr and Tommy Amaker at Seton Hall and legendary Seton Hall Prep coach Bobby Farrell.
He’s taking this coach thing pretty seriously. “When I first started coaching it was almost like I was a natural,” he said “But part of that also came in as being a player. I was always a leader. I was always a captain. So while coaches wanted a point guard to be a leader on the court or be the captain of the team on the court, though I wasn’t the point guard, I was always that leader or always that captain. So I had already started coaching before I was coaching.”
Toney-El had the highest praise for Coach Farrell. He said he learned patience and humility.“Coach Farrell in my mind is probably the best coach in New Jersey basketball history,” said Toney-El.
“I know everyone wants to praise Bobby Hurley who was an excellent coach, but Bob Farrell was never able to get the same talent that Bob Hurley was able to get over here consistently. Bob Farrell played in every big game he coached in the Dallas game he has won multiple state championships county championships. He has strung those together and often times with minimal talent. That gets overlooked. No, he doesn’t have 20 or some state championships or won the Tournament of Champions, but when i was in high school, St. Anthony’s was a non-factor. They beat us my freshman year, but the next three years they were a non-factor. They’ve done a great job building St. Anthony’s and building the allure of Bobby Hurley and the ‘80s and rightfully so, he is great at what he does. I still learn from him I go to his clinics and talk basketball and learn from him.”
“Now I can tell a kid who doesn’t like the way I run things or isn’t playing the way he wants to play: ‘I was you, I was in your shoes. I understand that feeling but this is what you gotta do so that you don’t have that feeling, so that you can learn.’ More than just basketball its more of a life lesson I got from Coach Orr. Honestly he has even brought me closer to God. Like I shared that with him and I thanked him before, because I didn’t grow up in a household that went to church and prayed everyday, was holier than thou, I didn’t have that.”
“They want to punch your name in Google and see if your background checks out. Once it checks out they want your ear. So it makes my job easier when they know who they are dealing with. It makes the parents a little easier, but it is always a battle, it always is going to be athlete and parents alike that you aren’t going to be able to get through to which is fine its the nature of the business. But we know the system isn’t perfect nothing is perfect but I do it because I love it.”