A fresh-faced phenom

Already a highly touted boys’ basketball prospect when he arrived at Providence High as a freshman prior to the 2011-12 school year, Marcus LoVett Jr. could have sequestered himself in the Pioneers’ gym and concentrated his athletic efforts solely on the hardwood.

And why wouldn’t he?

Although just a freshman, LoVett was getting a lion’s share of interest from major colleges who were interested in the basketball phenom.

But LoVett wanted to immerse himself in the total Providence experience and not limit himself, so he laced up his shoes, put on a Pioneers uniform and made his athletic debut at the school — on the boys’ cross-country team.

“It was just something that I wanted to do,” said LoVett, who admitted that he didn’t have any previous competitive long-distance running experience. “It was really hard at first, but it was something that I got into and I was glad that I did it.”

Providence cross-country Coach Michelle Boucher was aware of LoVett’s talents on the basketball court when he first came out for the team. She said LoVett worked hard to get acclimated to the sport and eventually turned into a talented runner.

In the Liberty League finals in November, LoVett finished 10th in 16 minutes 25 seconds.

“He is one of the most coachable kids we have ever had at Providence,” Boucher said. “You tell him something, give him advice and say, ‘This is how you go about it,’ and he will do it immediately and follow exactly what you say. It’s pretty incredible.”

LoVett, who is trained by this father, Marcus Sr., was in pretty good shape when he joined the cross-country team, Boucher said.

“His dad told me he could run,” Boucher said. “He’s just a competitive kid and he’s just so talented and athletic that he was able to make himself be successful.”

In light of his cross-country exploits, basketball is LoVett’s sport, and it is on the hardwood where he is making a name for himself.

LoVett is a member of a talented Providence team that has enjoyed a wealth of success this season. The 5-foot-10 guard with cat-like quickness, an innate court awareness and an unrelenting work ethic that has amazed coaches and teammates, said the Pioneers have come together in a relatively short time under first-year Coach Ernest Baskerville.

“We have a real good group of guys and we are all working to try and accomplish our goals,” LoVett said. “It really doesn’t matter what I do personally, it’s all about the team. When we win, that’s all that matters.”

The winning has become commonplace for the Pioneers (23-4). With a tough 67-60 win Thursday against host Buckley, Providence finished the Liberty League with a championship and a perfect 10-0 record. It was the program’s first league crown in 13 years.

The team’s success hasn’t been lost on the coaches in CIF Southern Section Division V-A, as the Pioneers hold down the No. 1 spot and will likely be the top seed when the playoff parings are released today.

LoVett has definitely done his share in helping the Pioneers succeed. However, the team also features talented players in Patrick Gonzalez — last year’s leading scorer in the state —Jonathan Ly, Christian Ware-Berry and Kellen Smith.

“We have guys who can produce on offense, but really it’s our defense that turns us up,” LoVett said. “We love to play tough defense. Defense is the most important thing and that’s what helps us on offense.”

LoVett is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 31.8 points a game. He has tallied at least 20 points in all 25 games he’s played, scored 30 or more in 14 games and has had contests in which he’s poured in 57, 45, 44 and 41.

Ware-Berry said it is LoVett’s drive that sets him apart from other players.

“He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen,” he said. “We work out together all the time and he just gives it 100% all the time, every time. He’s all-out hustle. It’s just crazy some of the things he can do on the court, and everything that he’s done he’s earned it.”

Said Baskerville: “You can’t coach heart; either you have it or you don’t. And Marcus has it. He was born with a hunger to be great.”

Putting up the numbers he has this season, it was inevitable that LoVett would start becoming inundated by colleges. The young athlete has been hounded by coaches, recruiters and even hangers-on who want to jump on the LoVett train.

Despite the intense attention, Baskerville said LoVett has remained modest and has kept a level head.

“His dad and his family do a great job at keeping him grounded in regards to all of this stuff,” Baskerville said. “When you’re playing like he has, things like that are going to happen. But he’s not caught up in leading the state in scoring or any personal things like that. He just likes to win.”

Baskerville said LoVett has received interest from the likes of the University of Washington, Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, USC, UNLV, Stanford and Purdue, among others.

“They all love him,” Baskerville said.

And what’s not to love? With LoVett leading the way, Providence has its sites on winning the school’s first CIF Southern Section basketball championship. In fact, the school has just one CIF title to its name, a baseball crown win in 1986 won by a Jeff Cirillo-led baseball team.

With the goal of a league title out of the way, LoVett said the Pioneers are ready for their CIF quest.

“We’re ready to go,” he said. “We just need to keep playing the way we’ve been playing. We want to keep this going.”

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