By CLIFF BRUNT
In early March, at the height of Sandi-mania, I decided to have a little fun with Purdue fans.
I asked them to come up with alternate nicknames for Sandi “Chooch” Marcius.
This, of course, was after his hustle-laden efforts against Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan left the faithful begging for more, and before he was recently released from his scholarship.
Here are some of the nicknames the fans came up with: A.J’s Mentor, Macho Man Sandi Savage, San-delivers, Croatian Crane, Marcial Law, Enter Sandiman, Ultimate Warrior, SandiStorm, San-Dunk, Shutdown Sandi, Sandiesel, Sandinista, Croatian Sensation, Frankenstein, The Polar Bear and Super Sandi.
That’s pretty impressive for a guy who finished his three years at Purdue with 156 points and 156 rebounds, career averages of 2.1 in both categories. But to reduce the lumbering 6-foot-9 center to numbers would be missing the point entirely.
Yes, two other Purdue players have been released from their scholarships recently. Jacob Lawson and Anthony Johnson are talented players who will probably flourish elsewhere. But Marcius, the least talented of the three, is the one who resonated with Purdue fans. Though he is from Nedelisce, Croatia, he might as well have been from a small Indiana town.
Sandi was everything folks around here love about basketball. He worked hard, hustled and got the most out of what he had. He developed a nice hook shot as a junior and showed off his improved arsenal in the early going against Michigan, helping Purdue avoid obliteration. He was beloved because he stepped in when A.J. Hammons was struggling and provided a spark.
I’ll remember Marcius for what happened after he sprained his right ankle against Michigan. The crowd fell into a stunned silence, as if Robbie Hummel had torn his ACL again. Then, they chanted: San-di! San-di!
After the game, coach Matt Painter said words that should be used to remember one of Purdue’s most unique players in recent memory:
“Our fans, they’re cheering for him, I can tell you, because what he did at Wisconsin is that he played hard, he gave us energy. He’s just got a positive outlook. He’s got a smile on his face and he’s happy to be here. And he worked hard and did some really good things for us today. It’s too bad that he got hurt.”
Marcius also came across as a fun guy, which is probably why folks had so much fun coming up with names for him. I think it’s interesting that several of the names delved into the world of professional wrestling. Sandi is that big, and so is his persona. Wherever he goes, he’ll be a fan favorite there, too. Some lucky school is going to experience the force of Sandi-mania, brother.
Painter said he’d expected Marcius to return.
“We have invested four years and significant resources into helping Sandi develop from both an educational and athletic standpoint,” Painter said. “Certainly, having Sandi here for a fifth year was in our plans, and we anticipated him having a great final year in our program. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
It should be noted that if Jay Simpson had played this season, Sandi-mania probably never would have existed. Painter said in the preseason that Simpson, not Hammons, was Purdue’s most talented big man. There’s no way Marcius would have played much with both Hammons and Simpson healthy. And with Simpson coming back next season, there weren’t going to be minutes for Marcius. He doesn’t have much upside and he’s facing an uphill climb on the depth chart. Plus, he’s graduating in May, so he doesn’t need to stay to fulfill degree requirements. Whether you like his decision or not, the honest truth is he probably has given Purdue as much as he can.
That being said, Marcius leaves with a legacy. He showed his teammates how to be tough and how to strive to be better. He was a living example of what Hammons needs to be in the effort department. He showed you don’t have to be a lottery prospect to make a difference. And he showed the importance of being ready when your name is called. So remember his hustle and pray that the remaining players were paying attention.
Long live “Chooch.” And long live Macho Man Sandi Savage. Ooooh Yeah!