A “Sun” of Prince William
By Peter Lineberry, Contributing Writer
Madison Square Garden was abuzz with excitement on June 28 as many of the nation’s best young basket- ball players waited for their names to be called in the 2012 NBA Draft. As each was announced, the ﬁrst 12 picks strode to the stage in their tailored suits and saluted the thousands of fans in the stands and millions watching on ESPN. The next player selected, by the Phoenix Suns, was more casually attired, and instead celebrated with family and friends from his boyhood home in Dumfries.
Although not in attendance in New York, 20-year-old Kendall Marshall was fully prepared for the biggest step yet in his basketball career. The foundation set for him by his father, two inﬂuential local coaches and a lifetime of practice and dedication helped lead him to that moment.
Born in nearby Fort Belvoir in 1991, while his father was serving in the U.S. Army, Marshall took up several sports as a youngster, including t-ball, football and soccer. Early on, he settled on basketball as his favorite. Because of his ball-handling skills and perhaps his relatively smaller size, he developed abilities as a point guard, the player generally tasked with dribbling up the court, calling set plays and distributing the ball to open teammates. He became an excellent shooter, especially from long range, but was such a team player that, according to his father Dennis Marshall, “He would rather pass than score, from when he was ﬁve years old.”
During these early years, most of Marshall’s competitive game experience came through AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) teams and basketball camps, playing on evenings and weekends. One of those teams was the Prince William Pacers (now known as Prince William United Force), coached by his father. Based on the team’s success and on recommendations from other coaches and experts, Hoop Scoop, a national scouting service, named Marshall the top 5th-grade prospect in the nation. A 2002 column in Sports Illustrated that decried the ranking of children so young only added to his notoriety, but by all accounts Marshall handled it in stride.
Evangel Christian School
In third grade, Marshall enrolled at Evangel Christian School in Dale City. During this time, he was a consistent straight-A student whose favorite course was Bible Studies. School basketball coach Jim Fisher remembers Marshall, as an incoming sixth-grader, “tugging at my shirttail” and asking if he could try out for the varsity team. Once permission was granted by his parents and principal, Marshall began working out with boys several years older and several inches taller. “That ﬁrst practice, he was out there with the big guys, doing the same drills at the same level, with the same intensity, as juniors and seniors in high school,” Fisher said.
For half of the sixth grade and throughout the seventh, Marshall was in the starting lineup against much bigger opponents and averaging 11 points per game. “Kendall had a certain maturity about him,” said Fisher. “He was still a child, but he could handle those types of situations–the crowd reactions, the stress.” In one game, despite his height disadvantage, Marshall led both teams in rebounds.
Rippon Middle School
In eighth grade, Kendall transferred to Rippon Middle School in Woodbridge for the opportunity to face tougher public-school competition. Then-varsity basketball coach Steve Brown said, “Coaching Kendall was a great experience, not just because of his high talent level but simply because of his character and work ethic.”
In one of his ﬁrst games at Rippon, the team faced Beville Middle School in a game that everyone who was there still remembers: Marshall scored 37 of his team’s 48 points and led them to a one- point victory. “That was the game where I knew he’d be a star,” explained his father. Brown added that in the next contest, Marshall found himself double-teamed the entire game, a sign of respect for his leadership skills on the court.
Both Fisher and Brown said that Marshall was an exceptional student as well as athlete. They emphasized that although the boy was the most gifted player either has ever coached, he remained humble about his abilities and always thought of himself as a team player ﬁrst.
“I carry with me the good values [Fisher and Brown] taught,” Marshall says. “Not only faith, but what it means to be a man, both on and oﬀ the court.”
By this time, numerous high schools in the D.C. area were eager to have Marshall on their teams and in their classrooms, and even college coaches were beginning to take notice. He and his family decided on Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, which his father described as, “The best ﬁt academically and athletically.” He commuted there from Dumfries for the next four years, and led his team to the Virginia Independent Schools Division I Championship in 2010.
From boyhood, Marshall’s dream college was the University of North Carolina, home of one of the nation’s elite basketball programs. He accepted a basketball scholarship during his sophomore year of high school, making him the youngest player ever to do so at UNC.
Marshall went on to start in the middle of his college freshman year, when he was promoted to the starting point guard. At this time, he was exposed to a mass audience of rabid fans—and he delivered, as the team won 61 games in two seasons, advancing deep into the national tournament each year.
His college statistics were impressive—last year he averaged eight points and a single-season conference record of 10 assists per game-and yet it was an injury this past March that brought Marshall to even greater attention. Going up for a layup during a tournament game, he was fouled and fell to the hardwood, fracturing his right wrist and dashing his school’s hopes for another championship banner. Surgery the next day was successful but kept him sidelined until the season ended. Meanwhile, hundreds of fans displayed their support by inking “5” (his uniform number) on their wrists and submitting pictures. Fans also created the online “PassFir5t” movement as a way to mobilize this support beyond basketball into encouraging selflessness and doing good deeds for others.
Following his sophomore year, after winning the award for the best collegiate point guard in the nation, Marshall and three of his teammates decided to make themselves eligible for the NBA Draft. All four were picked in the first round. Marshall plans to continue his college education and graduate via online courses.
Despite his modest nature, Marshall’s growing fame suites him well. He’s got a Facebook page with over 12,000 “likes’, and is even more prevalent on Twitter, where under the moniker KButter5 (which incorporates his childhood nickname_, more than 120,000 followers are attuned to his every posting.
In a nice case of everything coming full circle, Dennis Marshall is the new varsity basketball coach at Evangel. Father and son plan to be there when the school retires the younger Marshall’s jersey number in a ceremony next February.
As Marshall enters the NBA, his sitser Kyra, 12, sums up the feelings of many who have known him: “I feel proud, and feel like he deserves it because he works so hard.”
The Suns’ only visit to Washington this NBA season will be on Saturday, March 16th Even if you root for the Wizards, come out and support Prince William’s own superstar in the making!
Staff Editor Peter Lineberry graduated from UNC Chapel Hill when Kendall Marshal was just four months old. He lives in Dale City and can be reached at [email protected]