It Was Tears Of Joy For Markel Starks (Darussafaka Istanbul)When Fenerbahce Called And He Became A Euroleague Player

Markel Starks (187-PG-1991, college: Georgetown, agency: BeoBasket) is a 31 year old 187cm point guard from North Bethesda, Maryland playing his 9th professional season and first with Darussafaka Istanbul (Turkey-BSL). He has spent time overseas playing in countries like Italy, Australia, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Poland, Russia and Bosnia. He began his basketball career at Georgetown prep school and then played at Georgetown University (NCAA) from 2010-2014 playing 125 games. He spoke to about his basketball career before a Basketball Champions League game against the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg.

Thanks Markel for talking to Where are you at the moment and how is basketball life treating you at the moment?

Thanks for having me! Currently in Istanbul, playing with Darussafaka. Basketball life is good. There’s always good and bad days, but every day you have an opportunity to wake up and play, is always a blessing!

Before we start I have to go back to your brief stint in Frankfurt. You were teammates with Quantez Robertson as a young player. He is turning 38 in 2 months and this is probably his last year. Could you imagine playing as long as him or will you be in politics sooner?

First, congrats to Quantez on an amazing career, if this is his last season. To be honest with you, I don’t know. Playing at a high level at 38 is a testament to him and being able to stay healthy and youthful in a sense, shows how he’s been able to take care of his body. But, for myself, tough question. I’m just trying to make the most of my opportunities as they come.

He is a defensive stopper and athletic. What will you always remember about him and do you have a memorable story about him?

He always played hard and with a high motor. He was focused into game plans and overall a great captain during my stint there. He always had guys laughing and always did stuff that brought the team together. He was a first class guy and obviously being in Frankfurt as long as he has shows his character and the great person he truly is.

Your playing your first season with Darussafaka Istanbul (Turkey-BS). You have had previous stints in Turkey and last year won your first title as a professional with Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul. Has Turkey become like a second home for you?

Yes, this is my third team in Turkey. My first time in Turkey I played 2nd division for Yalova with my good friend Mikael Hopkins. Then midway thru I played with Deji Akindele as the other import. Then last year with Fenerbahce.

There are 7 professional teams in Istanbul. That would be like having 7 NBA teams in New York. How can you describe the basketball atmosphere in Istanbul? Are there bars where you as a player of Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul could never go to?

The basketball atmosphere is the best. Obviously futbol always comes first in most of Europe and here somewhat lol. But, overal the basketball in Istanbul is unbelievable. You feel the passion from the fans and the basketball clubs. Everyone wants to win. Everyone is a huge basketball supporter and surprisingly enough, most people really understand the game.
As a Fenerbahce player, I didn’t have the same notoriety as say Marko Guduric lol, so I was okay in many places. But, for the main guys, it was definitely tough for them when we would go to certain places for sure. Though, I can say I was around true professionals and they never treated anyone poorly.

After winning the Turkish league title last season with Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul how do you top that this season? I can imagine the BCL is a more realistic goal than the Turkish title?

Obviously, a great accomplishment last year. Extremely memorable and I thank Fenerbahce for giving me such an amazing opportunity to be a part of the great history of the club and share in that moment.This season is different.We have a young locker room in some ways but we also have some veteran guys that have been around and have played a lot. Currently, we’re still trying to figure it out collectively and I think we are starting to gel as a unit. BCL and TBL are both extremely tough this year. There are no off nights in either league. So, our group is constantly being challenged and we will respond. So we have great aspirations in both BCL and Turkish league. We aren’t limiting ourselves because the competitions are tough.

The team only has 2 Americans. That is pretty unusual in Turkey. Is this a club that expects more from their Turkish players?

This is a club that expects more from everyone. Everyone is held to a high standard. And, this is how the club operates and it’s worked in years past. This is a great club that I’m truly happy to be a part of.

Your putting up solid stats but not explosive stats. I would think you could have that type of Shane Larkin role where you are one of the central main players on the team?

Right now I’m finding my groove. The club expects a lot from me and I have the same standards for myself. The season is still early but I’m not going to sell myself short, I have to do more. I’m capable of more and I will continue to work and put my best foot forward. I put the work in and obviously I’m just not having the results I want at this moment but the time will come.

Last season you began with BC Igokea Aleksandrovac (Bosnia-Division I) averaging BCL averaging 12.7ppg, 1.3rpg, Assists-3 (6.8apg), Steals-4 (1.8spg), FGP: 43.3%, 3PT: 42.9%, FT: 75.0% in the Basketball Champions League. You have proved in other leagues as well that you can grab 6-7 assists per game in a season. At Georgetown you never averaged more than 3 assists. What was instrumental in you becoming a real playmaker as a professional?

I learned how to be a point guard/playmaker in Europe. I’ve had some really great coaches, teammates that have been instrumental in my development. At Georgetown I didn’t play the game dominating the ball. I learned how to read and react, which helped, but in Europe the playmaker is asked to do a lot with the basketball. Create, score, defend, lead, and in big moments, make plays. But I credit a lot to my teammates because ultimately those are the guys that help make the plays as well.

What is the Bosnian league like in terms of skill level and competition to other leagues you have played in in your career?

I can’t speak for the Bosnian league but I can speak for the ABA Liga. In terms of tactical basketball by far the best basketball I’ve seen. A lot of great history, clubs, and players have come from ABA Liga.

You were teammates with American James Robinson. Did it surprise you that he retired relatively early in his career? What memories will you always share with him?

That’s my guy! Want to say thank you to James for being a great teammate and even better friend. We grew up playing against each other in the DMV area and also in college. But it was great having him as a teammate. He made me a better player with our everyday battles in practice. He understood the game and saw things 2-3 plays in advance. He would constantly tell me different things to look out and be ready for. It definitely was a shocker when he told me he was becoming a coach but realistically, he will be a phenomenal coach. Any player, especially point guards, would love to play for him. He has a great basketball mind but furthermore, a great person. The most memorable, the car rides after practice to lunch and dinner at the hotel in Latasi. When he reads this he’ll start laughing because he knows those car rides would range from practice stuff, growing up in the DMV, high school games, our parents being heavily involved, various people we knew from the area, etc. That’s my guy!

How cool was it ending the season with Euroleague team with Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul. You didn’t play many games but still won your first title.

It was tears of joy for me. Many times in life I was overlooked or not fortunate enough to have certain opportunities and Fenerbahce gave me that opportunity. All the years of unseen hours in the gym, summers waiting on clubs to call, frustrated that my big break hadn’t happened and just wondering if it would ever happen for me. When the call came, I couldn’t believe it. But it was a testament for the many people that help me every summer and the constant work that I put in.Funny enough, James Robinson and I were together. We were at dinner and afterwards talked in the car for over an hour. Just about the journey and how you never know what God has planned for you. It was one of the best calls I’ve ever received. So I will always be thankful for Fenerbahce. But, now I’m with Dacka, an excellent club that needs me to be me!

You only played 4 Euroleague games. What kind of an experience was that for you? I feel you were a little off the radar the last years for being able to get an opportunity like that. Are there simply too many great guards in Europe and too little available spots?

Great experience! You don’t realize how physical and fast the game is until you’re physically out there. Definitely wasn’t on the radar but the right place, at the right time. It’s so many other great guards that could’ve been chosen but fortunately enough I was the one that they went with.

You played 2 seasons for Avtodor Saratov (Russia-VTB United League) averaging 14.4ppg, 2.3rpg, Assists-5 (5.9apg), 1.2spg, FGP: 48.5%, 3PT: 32.3%, FT-2 (95.0%) and in your second season averaged 11.2ppg, 1.7rpg, 3.8apg, FGP: 49.0%, 3PT: 37.5%, FT: 87.5%. You also played for head coach Gordon Herbert. He must of always been a supporter of you? He had brought you to Frankfurt.

Coach Gordie was very instrumental in my development as well. We had history and the first time around I wasn’t mentally ready for that opportunity and I thanked him for cutting me when he was hired to coach Avtodor. I needed the wake up call during that time. But ultimately it made me a better player. It forced me to really learn and adapt to basketball overseas. My first couple years I didn’t understand the game. I was just playing basketball. But life humbles you and teaches you many things if you’re willing to listen.

He was fired during the season. I remember him telling me that was a crazy season as many guys got fired. Herbert didn’t do a bad job coaching and the record wasn’t bad, but he still had to pack his bags.

Tough situation and when I heard the news I reached out to him and thanked him for his contribution and it was a definitely a shocker but I was in Avtodor the year before so it wasn’t unusual for things like that to happen. The club expects a lot.

You played the 2018-2019 season in Poland with Stelmet Enea BC Zielona Gora (Poland-EBL) averaging 13.7ppg, 2.4rpg, 5.6apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 55.0%, 3PT: 40.2%, FT: 80.5%. What memories do you have of that season? How important was it that for you leading a team in the VTB league?

That year was my first year playing top level basketball. We competed in the Polish league and the first year in the VTB league. So, it was a big jump coming from 2nd division Turkey. I went from playing against 2 Americans, 18-21yrs and 35-38yrs Turkish players to now playing against CSKA and Zenit. It’s a major difference. But overall, it was great experience. It helped get my name out there in some ways. Helped get my career back on track.

You played twice against Euroleague powerhouse CSKA Moscow losing by 24 points and 41 points. You held your own against some of Europe’s finest. What do you believe is missing for a new Euroleague chance with minutes?

Believing in my ability, if I could say anything. But, honestly, the opportunity may not come again. And if it doesn’t that’s okay. I’m at the place where I should be. I’m happy being a player with Dacka.

In the 2017-2018 season you played in the second Turkish league with Yalova Group Belediye Spor (Turkey-TBL) averaging 22.2ppg), 3.4rpg, Assists-2 (7.3apg), Steals-2 (1.9spg), FGP: 51.1%, 3PT: 35.5%, FT-3 (89.2%). How vital was taking a step back? A guy like Kam Taylor did it in Germany and a few years later he was a Euroleague player.

I think most guys have to adapt to playing the game overseas. My focus that year was showing that I could play. Yes winning is always important at every level. But the great streetball legend Pee Wee Kirkland told me many years ago, ‘Coaches come to see players, not teams.’

In your second professional season you split time with the Fraport Skyliners Frankfurt (Germany-BBL) playing 4 games averaging 10.8ppg, 1.8rpg, 2.0apg. You didn’t have bad stats. Why was your stay so short?

The year before they had great success with Jordan Theodore and he was able to lead the team in many ways. And, I wasn’t the player that could fulfill that role during that time. Though, many players left and have had outstanding careers. It was hard to replace so many players from the year before and have the same level of success. But, ultimately, it wasn’t my time to be there.

You finished the season with ASA Koroivos Amaliadas (Greece-A1) averaging 13.6ppg), 2.0rpg, Assists-3 (4.9apg), FGP: 43.1%, 3PT: 18.5%, FT: 79.2%. You had a 17/9 game in a loss to Euroleague team Olympiakos. What memories do you have battling legend Vassilis Spanoulis?

The legend, Spanoulis! I actually had a small head collision with him in that game lol. But, we were a low level team so he didn’t play much. But nonetheless, the fact I was on the floor with the legend said enough.

The 2015-2016 season you split time with Cairns Taipans (Australia-NBL) averaging 12.5ppg, 2.2rpg, 2.3apg, 2FGP: 52.9%, 3FGP: 22.4%, FT: 84.1%, in Feb.’16 moved to Vanoli Cremona (Italy-Serie A,) averaging 8.2ppg, 2.1rpg, 1.9apg, FGP: 52.2%, 3PT: 29.7%, FT: 66.7%. What kind of an experience was it playing down under? That league has grown and grown with many NBA guys playing there now. How do you remember the league?

Let me tell you, great competition down under. Obviously look at all the players that have come from that league and have had success. It’s great basketball in Australia. You have athletes, physicality, and great guard play. And those guys compete everyday. And just culturally, great people and teammates! Guys I’m still in contact with to this day.

You were teammates with Torey Craig a guy that played 3 seasons in Australia and since 2016 in the NBA. Would you have thought then that he would find his way to the elite league in the world and stick?

Torrey is a great friend of mine. Torrey was an unbelievable talent. Long arms, defended at an extremely high level, and just always worked on his game. He was a late bloomer in many ways. Where he might not have been that guy at 17 but by 26-27 he was ready. I’m extremely happy for all he’s accomplished. He deserves it!

You played your rookie season with FMC Ferentino (Italy-Serie A2 Gold) averaging 14.7ppg, 2.4rpg, Assists-5 (4.0apg), FGP: 48.4%, 3PT: 27.4%, FT: 87.9%. What do you remember being your wake up call to being overseas where you knew that you were far away from home?

My 3rd day in Italy lol. I called home and said I’m really gone from everything I know. I talked with my family for a couple hours they told me it was ok. They said I was doing something nobody in our family had ever done or experienced. So that made me feel good and gave me the support I needed at that time. But shortly after, my great friend and teammate Omar Thomas arrived and he and his family took great care of me.

You played NBA Summer League with the Pistons and Timberwolves. What was your summary of this experience? Did you notice quickly that a career overseas would be more beneficial then pressing your luck in the NBA?

I’m not an NBA athlete lol. I realized then these guys are unbelievable. And these aren’t even the guys that are the superstars. These are just guys that are trying to make the roster or rookies getting their introduction into the NBA.

You reached the NCAA tournament 3 times with Georgetown. Which one do you remember being the most memorable for you?

Florida Golf Coast. Enough said.

You played with many talented bigs that reached the NBA. Please say 1 meaningful sentence about each player and what they meant to you with Hollis Thompson, Otto Porter, Henry Sims and Greg Whittington?

Hollis Thompson was a true worker. He believed in his ability no matter what anyone had to say. And was one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen.

Otto Porter was a baller. I watched him transform into a great player from his Freshman to Sophomore year. And he was always the same whether he played good or bad.

Henry Sims, the most skilled center I ever played with. He could do everything. Shoot, pass, defend, hook with either hand. Great player!

Greg Whittington was the best all around athlete I’ve ever played with. We actually roomed together along with Mikael Hopkins, how funny is that! Greg was special, could handle the ball, shoot, jump, and defend. I don’t think people really had a chance to see how special we could’ve been at Georgetown.

How important was Jason Clark for you in your first 2 seasons at Georgetown? Was he like a mentor for you?

Jason Clark used to give me buckets every day. I never told him this, but he was by far was the most difficult person I’ve ever had to defend. In a given week, I would have maybe 2 good days (maybe lol) but the other days, he was cooking. It was plenty of frustrating days after summer workouts for me. JClark you’ll always have my respect!

How did head coach John Thompson groom and prepare you best for a professional career?

He prepared me for tough coaching. He prepared me mentally to endure coaches that weren’t going to be my friend. I’m there to do a job and if you don’t do your job you won’t play. So he made me work harder and give more into my craft. Helped me become more obsessed with the grind of getting better. Made me have tougher skin when being coached hard.

Who won a 1-1 in practice you or Jason Clark

Back in college JClark for sure would’ve got me. I had to deal with that every day. Made me a better player. Most times you need a guy like that; helps you sharpen your tools.

Who was the toughest player that you ever faced in the NCAA that reached the NBA?

Kemba Walker

Please name your 5 best teammates of all-time?

Omar Thomas
Rob Olson
Torrey Craig
Otto Porter
Jehvye Floyd

Please name your personal NBA Mount Rushmore of past or present heads?

Michael Jordan
Kobe Bryant
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
LeBron James

What is your personal opinion of the neverending debate of who is the greatest of all-time Jordan or Lebron?

Michael Jordan

Did you see the sequel to the classic Coming To America? Shouldn’t they have left it alone?

Definitely should’ve left it alone. The original Coming to America is in my top 5 favorite movies. But there were so many legends in the sequel that they felt it necessary to have everybody in one film so what can you do.

Thanks Markel for the chat.


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