Jan. 17 vs. Bethesda Christian. Photos by Dylan Foster.
Jan. 17 vs. Bethesda Christian. Photos by Dylan Foster.

When the UC Santa Cruz men’s basketball season began in November, senior Marshal Arnwine Jr. was outside the team’s top 12 athletes — a situation no player wants in his or her final year. With 11 strong freshman additions to the roster, playing time became a coveted privilege on this year’s squad. For players outside the team’s top 12, it means they are not suiting up for game day and are ineligible to take the court.

But Arnwine Jr. is used to adversity. He tried out for the men’s team as a walk-on, meaning Arnwine Jr. tried out without being recruited and with nothing promised to him. Walk-ons like Arnwine Jr. are often overlooked. He worked to make his presence known, which proved difficult in his first three seasons.

“Toward the end of my sophomore year, I got more time,” Arnwine Jr. said. “But junior year was probably my toughest year. You expect to play more, but I didn’t get the playing time that I would’ve liked. I am very thankful for the moment of frustration — it made me more humble and made me work harder. It contributed to my success for this year for sure. I knew what I needed to do to earn my time. And I did it.”

The team is winning a lot more games this year than last, and it’s easy to attribute the success to the team’s statistical leaders, like Jared Ponce and James Townsend. But when asked about the program, head coach Rob DuBois’ brother and UCSC assistant coach Joe DuBois recounted Arnwine Jr.’s growth from a developmental player to a regular varsity starter.

“Marshal’s leadership has provided the young Slugs much more than statistics could reveal,” DuBois said. “He never complained when he didn’t play, make excuses or give up. Instead he brought intense energy, a positive attitude and relentless effort to every practice.”

Assistant coach Ari Injeyan attributed Arnwine Jr.’s improvement over the season to his relentless work ethic and desire to improve.

“He told me, ‘This is my last opportunity as a senior. I want to get better, can you help me?’” Injeyan said. “He would spend hours shooting, trying to get better, looking at film, taking every opportunity to get better.”

Marshal Arnwine Jr.
Marshal Arnwine Jr.

It would have been easy for Arnwine Jr. — now in his fourth season out of Westchester High School in Los Angeles — to give up on his senior year and the team altogether. But he worked hard to earn his position while demonstrating determination and leadership abilities which earned the respect of the coaching staff.

“He’s disciplined, devoted and selfless, very selfless. Without him, I don’t know if half of our team would be where it’s at,” Injeyan said. “The team leadership has been way better with him stepping up. He is always in the right place at the right time.”

One of his best games as a Slug was against George Fox University on Dec. 21, posting nine points, five assists, five rebounds and two steals.

“[George Fox was] on a 7-0 run and we lost the ball. [Arwine Jr.] stole the ball, made a play, got fouled and stepped up to the line,” Injeyan said.

After Arnwine Jr. made both free throws, Injeyan acknowledged his progress made in that area.

“At the beginning of the year, he wasn’t a great free throw shooter,” Injeyan said. “We would spend hours and hours shooting free throws.”

While many large athletic programs focus on their star players, smaller programs like UCSC seek to promote a culture of strong leadership and hard work instead of talent alone. Assistant coach DuBois said Arnwine Jr.’s experiences are examples of the things athletes can do that don’t show up on the statistics sheet.

“It means a lot. When I heard all that I was filled with joy. It was overwhelming in a good way,” Arnwine Jr. said. “When somebody gives you praise, you can take it one of two ways. You could take it as if you deserved it or you can be very grateful. This whole year, the coaching staff instilled in me a lot of support.”

This past weekend, Arnwine Jr. played his last game at the West Field House — the team’s former home venue before moving to Kaiser Permanente Arena last season — resulting in a 64-48 win over Bethesda Christian University. Arnwine Jr. did a little bit of everything — he ended the contest with five points, five assists and five rebounds. After the game he stood up in the locker room and thanked his teammates for making his last game at the West Field House special and reiterated how grateful and appreciative he was for the opportunity and the win.

“Marshal has helped me to become a way better person. His character and discipline are things I admire in a player,” Injeyan said. “I am so proud of how far he has come.”