Jim Marking is no longer the career leader for coaching wins at South Dakota State. In fact, he’s now in third place behind successor Gene Zulk and current boss Scott Nagy.
And that might be the ultimate statement about his value to the program.
We bring this up now because Marking, a Parkston native and Navy veteran, passed away Saturday at age 85. His funeral will be held today in Brookings.
To be clear, the Jackrabbits had success in hoops prior to bringing in Marking as an assistant in 1960 just not at the lofty clip that’s been in place for most of the last 50-plus years.
After winning multiple state titles as a prep coach, Marking became an assistant during the second half of Jim Iverson’s tenure, during which SDSU went 150-78 and claimed an NCAA Division II national title. Marking then slid into the first chair and went 150-78 from 1967-74 before retiring and going into the insurance game. Replacement Zulk - one of Marking’s former players - subsequently went 176-129. Then Jim Thorson was 136-101. Brad Soderberg won twice as many games as he lost in two seasons. And Nagy has nearly doubled the rest in terms of career wins at 332 and counting.
Nagy’s total is especially impressive because it spanned a dry half decade during the Jacks’ transition to Division I, a move that Marking didn’t necessarily favor. If every moment in the history of a team is connected, then it’s possible Nagy might not have been able to turn things around to the point of reaching the Big Dance last year if not for the considerable tradition behind the program, a tradition to which Marking contributed greatly.
Not that his importance was evident in speaking to Marking. Nagy recalled only a couple of conversations with the old coach – the Chicago Cubs were the most likely topic.
John and Terry Janssen, a set of 6-foot-8 siblings from Emery, played for SDSU during the Marking era. They recalled him as being intense and cutting edge. Not many teams were running a fastbreak offense and pressure defense circa 1970.
"The Runnin’ Rabbits," said Terry Janssen, who remained close to Marking over the years. "We had people that could handle it and run the floor and take it to the basket. It was fun to play and it was fun to watch."
Marking could also recruit, bringing in all-time greats like John Thomas, Dennis Womeldorf, Lee Colburn and Dave Thomas. They were all South Dakota kids, too, creating an extra sense of pride in the players and interest from fans, who packed the Barn. (Have you ever been in that building? It’s mind blowing to think of how hot, cramped and electric the place must have been on game day.)
To this day, Terry Janssen remains uncertain that he was good enough to play for Marking – especially since he had some catching up to do academically – or that he deserved to be allowed to remain on the team the last three years after being injured in a steam-engine accident. Marking stuck with him through it all.
"It was great - it was a dream come true," Janssen said. "I’ll certainly never forget it. I’ll never forget him."
Terry Vandrovec also posts regular updates on his Twitter page.