Towering 6-foot 3-inches and poised with a basketball on the tips of his fingers as he approaches the net for a layup, Exclamation Mark King might resemble the punctuation he was named for.
“I was just tall,” King offered as an explanation for why he started playing basketball. Basketball runs in his blood: both of his grandfathers played basketball.
Despite his predisposition for the sport, King did not take to the courts until seventh grade, when he joined the Lubbock Titans a homeschool team in that city.
“I was kinda late compared with some people,” he said.
King did not waste any time once he got a basketball in his hands. By his freshman year of high school, his team won their division, and by the end of his high school career, they were doing the best his organization had ever done, making it to the semifinals. King’s high school highlight was beating two 6A schools his senior year.
“[It was] kinda a small thing, but for a homeschool team when you have like 16 guys and every single player makes the team, that was kinda a cool accomplishment.”
King’s high school head coach, Tanner Bruffey, was instrumental in leading him to the University of Dallas. Bruffey, who graduated in 2013, had a successful basketball career at UD, starting all 26 games and scoring 410 points in just his senior year. His plaque now bedecks the walls of Maher Athletic Center with UD’s greats.
“That’s a big reason I came here, just from the stories he would tell about UD, and just the respect he had for the coaches here, it just made me want to come.”
When King arrived on campus, he did not know a lot about UD and, unlike most recruits, had never actually visited. However, he was quickly welcomed into the basketball family.
“Day one, I was part of the team,” said King. “That’s the thing about the basketball team … These guys [are] one of the most inclusive groups that I’ve ever been a part of. It never felt like a moment that I was new to the team.”
King has found that UD is marked by a sense of community. When not playing basketball or studying, King is most likely spending time with the people on and off the team.
“Here, any time I get is just hanging out with the people,” said King. “You can go anywhere and have a great group of people to hang out with.”
King has found, however, that juggling school, basketball, and friends is at times a precarious endeavor.
“You just can’t goof around … we don’t have a ton of free time,” said King.
Kings is all business about where he wants the basketball program to go during his four years at UD.
“We’re putting a banner up on that wall,” said King, pointing to the short row of SCAC championship banners hanging in the gym. Last season was the first in which the crusader men advanced to the SCAC championship. According to UD athletics, the Crusaders entered the tournament seated fifth and made it to the finals, but were ultimately defeated by Texas Lutheran University in double overtime.
For now, King said that his personal goal is getting acclimated to playing at the college level, where King said that a lot of people know of him before he meets them.
“My name is Exclamation mark,” said King. While it is spelled out on most legal documents, on his birth certificate it is the symbol (!). He could go by “Mark” for a more conventional name, but he introduces himself casually as “Ex,” which many people just assume is short for Xavier.
“My dad was a computer programmer and thought it would be a cool name,” said King. “My mom was just okay with it.”
King said that he came to a realization of the uniqueness of his name at a very young age. When he was five or six years old, he remembers having to get his mom to prove to his teacher that his name really was !. Things have gotten easier now that he has a driver’s license to prove it.
“It’s a blessing and a curse, because you definitely stand out, but it’s a weird thing to stand out for,” said King. He has turned down news stories on his name because “it’s not something I did, it’s just a weird name.”
Would King name his kids after symbols? He says not.
“Definitely, I’m naming my kids normal names.”