WILLISTON - It's the sort of plight shared by revered prep basketball players around the country.
Measurables and upside can warrant interest from NCAA Division I coaches, but academia is always recruitment's biggest hurdle.
Two years ago Williston State sophomore Marquel Curtis found out the hard way, though he differed from the slew of academic non-qualifiers the NCAA Clearinghouse annually brushes away.
Williston State’s Marquel Curtis has generated interest from many NCAA Division I schools. He leads the Tetons with 24 points and 5 rebounds a game.
Curtis, who scored a better-than-average 24 on his ACT, fell a math credit short of taking his game from Robbinsdale Armstrong High School in Plymouth, Minn., to a D-I program.
The 6-foot-4 guard and his school counselor thought a lower-level geometry class would satisfy the NCAA requirement. Turns out it needed to be a basic geometry class, prompting Curtis to pursue the junior college route.
At the time, though, Curtis had only generated offers from the University of South Dakota and the University of Missouri at Kansas City.
The Marquel Curtis Sweepstakes
A list of the NCAA I programs interested in the Williston State star.
North Dakota State
Cal State Fullerton
Now, two decorated years into his college basketball career at WSC, the initial offers seem paltry.
Curtis' averages of 24 points, five rebounds and three assists for the Tetons have risen his stock considerably, helping generate interest from a laundry list of high-major programs (see list at front).
Talk about serendipity.
"(Being a non-qualifier) worked out to my benefit," said Curtis, who is 20 points shy of reaching the 1,000-point mark at WSC. "If not for playing here and getting more exposure I wouldn't have had this many offers. I just appreciate everything that's happening right now."
It's been quite the recruiting circus, too.
When Curtis' phone isn't ringing, he's shaking hands of coaches who've made the lengthy trip to the remote North Dakota town to watch him in person. Coaches from the University of Utah have already been to Williston and Washington State's coaches are next.
Former University of Kansas and NBA star Danny Manning could be the most diligent recruiter of them all. Now the head coach at the University of Tulsa, Manning has been in contact with Curtis the most.
Curtis isn't leaning in the direction of any bidders as a grip of high-major programs have yet to begin their recruiting process.
"'I'm going to wait," Curtis said. "If we can get to the (NJCAA national) tournament, there could be more options."
Williston State is currently 9-2 with wins over 15th-ranked North Idaho College and No. 25 Central Wyoming with Curtis spearheading the run.
"He's very good." North Idaho College coach Jared Phay said. "He might be the best player in junior college."
- Where is Williston State?
When toying with the notion of playing at the junior-college level, Curtis didn't even know where to start.
The effort of former WSC coach Hunter Berg made the search easier for the Twin Cities-area standout. Berg, now the athletic director at WSC, kept in touch with Curtis and showed the sort of loyalty that helped him lean in the Tetons' direction.
The fact that Berg helped produce Division I guards the last two seasons didn't hurt, either. Blake Nash signed with South Florida before he transferred to Texas Tech and Luke Martinez transferred to Wyoming.
"I didn't even know where Williston State was," Curtis said. "But I wanted to play for someone that took the time in me, and I was intrigued that (WSC) produced D-I players."
While Williston may be an ever-growing, oil-rich community, it's a stark contrast from the metro area Curtis grew up in. But he went into his commitment not caring about the lack of amenities.
"I actually like the small-town feel," Curtis said. "I like that it's quiet."
- Continuing to grow
When Curtis set WSC's single-single season record in scoring last season, he also had his share of defensive lapses.
He could score from the perimeter, in transition and used his strength and bounce to attack the rim. But he didn't always transfer that effort to the defensive side of the floor.
Curtis has changed his approach this season and it's given an ear-to-ear grin to WSC coach Eric Peterson.
"Marquel has matured a lot over the past year," Peterson said. "Every school knows he can really score, but defensively he has gotten so much better in a year."
Not that Peterson doesn't marvel at what his prized gunner can do with the basketball.
"He's a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams, and he is shooting over 40 percent from 3-point range," Peterson said. "He's a great teammate on and off the floor and we are really lucky to have him."
Curtis realizes that defense could be the ticket to the Mon-Dak Conference title and a berth to the NJCAA tournament.
"Our goal is to get the tournament," Curtis said. "If we keep playing defense like we've been playing, we're probably going to get there."