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Life Coach, Mentor, Advocate: ‘Help me to get one more’

  • Published
  • By Toni Whaley
  • Air Force’s Personnel Center Public Affairs

Every Airman has a story. Some are good, some are not so good, and some will leave a lasting legacy.

For Master Sergeant Marcus Prentiss, the Air Force Personnel Center’s cyber systems (1D7) assignments deputy functional manager responsible for assigning more than 22,000 Airmen and cyber capabilities worldwide, his story started rough and transformed into something bigger beginning in November 2005.

Hailing from the Southside of Chicago, Prentiss grew up and ran the streets like many other youths as his parents dealt with their own vices. His family experienced tragedy losing his middle sister before he was born and his younger sister when he was 10.

“Growing up was tough,” Prentiss said. “I dealt with the challenges of being an only kid [his older sister was out of the house] and keeping up a household. I learned how to be an adult while still a child.”

As a teenager, he got into a “bit of a situation” and was arrested. Lucky for him, the judge gave him an option – go to jail or join the military.

“My dad, who had served in the Air Force for five years, pleaded with the judge to let him take me home and promised he would take me to the recruiter,” he said.

Working with his recruiter through the waiver process, Prentiss enlisted in the Air Force almost 22 years to the day of his dad’s enlistment. After completing basic training, Electronic Principles (Keesler Air Force Base) and Telephone Systems (Sheppard Air Force Base) technical schools, he headed to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where his passions started to bloom -- basketball and being a good Airman.

He won several awards at WPAFB before heading to Andersen Air Base, Guam, where he continued to play basketball and expand his community outreach. It was here his coaching career started, culminating with an island-wide Mandikiki football championship with the Yigo Jets his second year.

While Prentiss continued to play basketball, his knees began to bother him. It wasn’t just the sports that took a toll on his body, it was the missions he supported while assigned to units like the contingency response group and the combat communications squadron. While stationed at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, he decided to transition to coaching.

Along the way, Prentiss said he had two mentors, Master Sgt. (retired) Darrell Carpenter and Tech. Sgt. (retired) Andre Chilton, who were instrumental in his journey.

Carpenter was the first person to teach Prentiss about coaching. He explained concepts, gave him pointers and the opportunity to host his first tournament, which his team ended up winning. Prentiss then took those principles and applied them to his first middle school client through individual basketball training.

With all of the hype about basketball in the state of California, Prentiss took another shot at playing the game he loved when he relocated to Travis Air Force Base.  However, his Airman duties could not support it. Instead, he attended different workouts with Chilton, who was well known in the basketball community and across Pacific Air Forces. What Prentiss didn’t know at the time was that Chilton’s resume included coaching NBA players Bradley Beal, Dwight Howard, and Jordan Clarkson.

Wanting to tap into and make a mark in the California basketball market, Chilton and Prentiss joined forces and “built a gym from ground zero.” “NoTime2Chill Skills Academy” is still operational today.

To be an asset to the business and to build his resume, Prentiss earned the USA Basketball Certification, which teaches recipients how to instruct different basketball camps around the world. This would play an instrumental role during his time in San Antonio.

“I kept hearing about someone owning a basketball team within our squadron on Lackland, but I never could find the person,” Prentiss said. “During one of the squadron events, I see this huge guy about 6’4 or 6’5 and basketball-like. You could tell he’s the guy.”

After finding out where he worked, Prentiss introduced himself and would go by every week to show that he was serious about working with the Alamo City Aztecs, a local minor league basketball team.

Things started to roll after their first conversation. Not seeking a paid position, Prentiss volunteered his time and services. The organization gave him the opportunity to run their tryouts. Prentiss drew up his plays, merged his military and civilian knowledge and training and demonstrated he was the real deal.

“Before I walked off the floor they said ‘we need you on our staff’.”

The team had a .400 winning percentage prior to Prentiss’s arrival; within a year the Aztecs made it to the Final 4 round. When the head coach left for China to coach in the Chinese Basketball Association, Prentiss was promoted. He took the team to the semi-finals in 2019, but did not get to coach because he caught COVID.

“I went down hard the day before my semi-final championship,” said Prentiss. “We ended up losing by one point. And I had to watch it all on screen.”

There would be other opportunities presented to Prentiss: quarterly “highly requested” invitations to Tu Futuro, the number one international youth basketball association in Mexico; an invitation to participate in the NBA G League exhibition games; appointment as the Living Rock Academy Head of Boys Basketball Program, and head varsity and middle school boys’ basketball coach.

“There’s so much blood, sweat and tears that go into these kids behind the scenes,” he said. “I wake up at 4 a.m. most days to make sure I complete my responsibilities as a father and an Airman, so when I roll into the gym, I’m able to give my athletes whatever they need.

“Service before self plays a huge part in coaching, but without my service to my country, my brothers and sisters in arms, I wouldn’t be who I am today. After God, my son (Marcus Jr.) and Airmen fill my cups of needs, knowledge and know how.”

Prentiss said he considers himself a fundamental type of coach who believes the fundamentals must develop before an athlete understands his or her instincts.

“It’s just like the military. We break you down then build you back up to help you understand ‘why,” Prentiss said. “You just can’t go out there and start performing without understanding why you need to take these certain steps and what to look for after you take those steps. In my profession, you start by talking basketball and by the end of it, you’re talking life.”

The single dad of four credits his success to God.

 “The best way I can put it is to quote the movie Hacksaw Ridge, ‘Help me to get one more’,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re small, middle aged or old. Help me to get one more. If I can reach just one person, help them change their lives and make it better than when I met them…that’s all I need. I do it with God because I just want to help the next one.”

Whether Prentiss is helping an Airman or Guardian with a career decision as part of the Air Force’s Personnel Center team or one of his athletes, his perspective remains: “That’s bigger than basketball. That’s life.” 


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