BY ADOLPHUS AMES, Eastern Shore Post
The Nandua Warriors boys varsity basketball team became the first basketball team on the Eastern Shore to win a state championship in 2002, defeating Altavista High School, 65-49.
Marcus Riley, who played power forward and center for the Warriors during this time, remembers the state title victory as a special moment.
“It was a good feeling,” Riley said. “We wanted to reach the state finals and make some noise and we did it.”
In 2001, the Warriors reached the state semifinals and lost, 70-47, to Council High School. The players and head coach Buck Boggs made it their mission to win it all the following year.
After they achieved their goal, they set their eyes on winning a second championship. In 2003, the Warriors repeated as state champions, defeating Radford, 64-56.
“We didn’t let egos get in the way of our goal,” said Riley. “A lot of players stepped up. Our coaches were phenomenal too. We were fortunate to have mentors like Boggs and Lynn Williams.”
Riley, son of Tom and Arlene Riley, grew up in Melfa. He fell in love with basketball at an early age.
“Back then everyone wanted to be like Michael Jordan,” said Riley. “I also spent a lot of time playing backyard basketball with my older brother.”
Riley started playing parks and recreation basketball at age 10 under coach Bobby Walker. Later, he played for Wayne Burton. He credits both for teaching him the rules of the game.
Riley participated in the Amateur Athletic Union, which gave him the opportunity to compete in several national youth tournaments and develop his skills.
“The tournaments made me realize basketball was bigger than the Shore,” said Riley. “I was able to meet NBA stars of the time like Tracy McGrady. He encouraged the youth to stick with the sport.”
In high school, he earned first team All-District twice and made the All-Regional team once.
He also ran cross-country and track and field, and played soccer. He participated in the state tournament every year for high jump in track and was a member of the Warriors 2003 state championship soccer team.
“I was never the top player on any team,” Riley said. “I learned a lot from my coaches and teammates. At first, it was challenging to accept that I can’t be the best at everything. I had to learn to be humble and learn to be a role player.”
After high school, Riley played basketball at Virginia Wesleyan University. The transition was a challenge. College basketball differs from high school basketball. The learning curve is more strenuous.
“In college, you learn more about the technical side of basketball,” Riley said. “You have to pay a lot of attention to detail. In high school, we didn’t run as many plays either. At Virginia Wesleyan, there were around 50 plays in the playbook.”
Riley was slated to be a starter his junior year but injured his knee and was placed on injured reserve. The same season, the Marlins won the NCAA Division III Championship.
“It was great watching my teammates win,” said Riley. “I was very excited for them.”
He stepped back on to the court the following season, but his body hadn’t fully healed, bringing his collegiate playing career to an end.
In 2010, he returned to the Shore and became a behavior counselor at Nandua High School. He assisted with the junior varsity and varsity basketball teams, eventually serving as the junior varsity head coach for three seasons.
When the time allows, he volunteers as a parks and recreation assistant as well.
“I want to give back to the community and share my knowledge,” he said.
Riley is very active in the community. He participates in 4-H and 4-H Congress and is an Eastern Shore Community College Foundation member. He recently launched Unity United, a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing life skills, career advice, and athletic resources to the youth.
“Seventy percent of high school seniors graduate without knowing their next step in life,” said Riley. “I want to help the youth achieve success and give them the opportunities my generation didn’t have growing up. You can’t lose sight of where you come from.”