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Estill offers education in how to succeed while finishing up his degree

Judging by Marquis Estill’s emphatic celebration from the bench after Kyle Wiltjer’s impressive dunk at Ole Miss this season, you would think his name was still on the roster.

Although he finished his collegiate career in 2003, the former UK forward still remains as passionate as ever about Kentucky basketball; only now, he is seeing the game from a different perspective as a first-year undergraduate student assistant coach.

Estill came to the University of Kentucky in 1999 under head coach Orlando “Tubby” Smith, who, similarly to John Calipari, created a “family” environment for his players to develop into well-rounded student-athletes.

“Coach Smith was like a father figure,” Estill said. “Just being able to come out and compete for the University of Kentucky was a great experience. I was playing for one of the greatest college basketball schools in history.”

Estill’s career highlights came during his junior year when the Wildcats went on a 26-game winning streak, won the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament championships, and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

But his experience at UK extended beyond the basketball court.

“I definitely think UK is unique,” said Estill, who finished with 936 points in his three seasons at Kentucky, including second-team All-SEC honors in 2003. “It’s just the way they take care of the players here. There’s different opportunities that you have while you’re here and when you get out of school.”

Marquis Estill was one of the key cogs behind Kentucky’s 32-4 record and undefeated SEC mark in 2002-03. (photo courtesy of UK Athletics)

Estill declared for the NBA draft after his junior season, but, after being undrafted, he decided to take his talents overseas to Italy, Japan, Dubai and Argentina.

Although he enjoyed his international career, and even learned a little Italian, he ultimately realized his heart was in coaching, which is when he decided he wanted to come back to UK to finish his degree.

“I reached out to Cal,” Estill said. “I always wanted to coach, help kids to get better and reach their goals.”

Of course, Coach Cal was more than willing to invite the former Wildcat back to the UK family.

Since taking the job at Kentucky, Calipari has invited former players back to be a part of the program. Scott Padgett and Tony Delk both took Coach Cal up on the offer and rejoined the program in staff roles.

Estill is following the Wayne Turner route. He’s serving as an undergraduate assistant while he finishes up his degree.

As a member of the coaching staff, he is allowed to work on the court with players, which Estill has embraced. He has taken on the responsibility of working with Kentucky’s forwards, mainly Kyle Wiltjer and Nerlens Noel.

Coming fresh off the professional basketball scene, Estill has tried to instill his knowledge of what it takes to succeed at the next level into the young and inexperienced Wildcats. Estill, who enjoyed a successful professional career, learned firsthand that nothing is easy when you are competing for a roster spot and a livelihood.

“You really gotta work hard every day,” Estill said. “You gotta get in the gym, even when you’re tired and you don’t feel like it. You need to come in and put in that extra work if you’re trying to get to the next level.”

Aside from building a good rapport with the players, and even taking a class with Wiltjer, Estill has developed a strong relationship with Coach Cal throughout the season.

“He actually knows my name now, which is a good sign,” he joked.

Estill attributes the continued success of Kentucky basketball to the leadership and knowledge that Calipari has brought to the program.

“He’s a hell of a recruiter to be able to do what he does with the freshmen, teaching them to understand the game so fast and to buy into his system,” Estill said.

Along with Coach Cal and the rest of the men’s basketball staff, Estill hopes to help guide this year’s squad to another NCAA championship in April. He plans to graduate from UK in May with a degree in community leadership and development and pursue a career in coaching.

“I would like to stay around here,” he said, “but Cal knows a lot of people and has great connections.”

In Padgett and Turner’s cases, the post-playing days experience led to assistant coaching jobs at Division-I programs.

No matter where Estill ends up after this season, he will leave with a degree in hand and the experience of watching kids that used to be just like him growing before his eyes.

“They’re getting better every day,” Estill said. “It’s been a great experience for me just to be here.”