After turbulent prep basketball career, O'Connell's Marshall reflects on journey

By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 17, 2010

As he prepared this week for the final game of one of the most hyped high school basketball careers of any Washington-area player in quite some time, it was too painful for Kendall Marshall to talk.

His throat hurt; he has four wisdom teeth that need to be removed. The throbbing became acute earlier this week, but having surgery to extract the teeth would have caused him to miss the Jordan Brand Classic all-star game on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

So Marshall did what he has done on several other occasions when things weren't quite ideal: He kept his mouth shut. He postponed the surgery until Monday. Any interviews would have to be through text messaging.

Not that Marshall was unwilling to share his feelings on four years at O'Connell High in Arlington. Things started well, playing alongside 2008 All-Met Player of the Year Jason Clark, who now starts for Georgetown. But the past two seasons were a roller coaster. There were disagreements among O'Connell teammates and coaches, players who quit only to return to the team a few days later and more than one team's share of drama, everyone acknowledges.

Perhaps that is why the 6-foot-4 point guard, who will play next season for North Carolina, said that his most enjoyable memories of his high school career were of traveling to camps and tournaments during the summer club team season.

"Of course, looking back, everybody would change a thing or two," Marshall wrote in a text message. "But for the most part, I'm in the position I wanted to be in."

Ever since he was in the sixth grade, when the online recruiting publication HoopScoop named him the nation's top 11-year-old and The Post featured him in a front-page story, the spotlight has been on Marshall. And it has stayed on him throughout high school.

How was he developing? Did he shoot well enough? Why didn't his team win more? And if he was so good, why didn't he simply dominate games? Would he be better off taking his game somewhere else?

Marshall, who averaged 15.3 points, nine rebounds and six assists this past season, heard all of those questions and many more.

"Sometimes I cared too much about what other people thought about me instead of just playing," Marshall wrote. "And I would have enjoyed playing more being less stressed. Instead of playing how I know how to play, I would have that thought in my head."

According to his father, Dennis, Kendall, the oldest of his three children, was even more conflicted because he often tried to avoid confrontation.

"Sometimes that's a good thing," Dennis Marshall said. "But it can be negative, too, because Kendall tries to please everyone."

Kendall Marshall said he still respects O'Connell Coach Joe Wootten's decision not to nominate him for first-team all-Washington Catholic Athletic Conference honors after his junior season, when most other league coaches thought Marshall belonged on the team.

"Of course, if a kid doesn't accomplish one of his goals, he's bothered by it," Marshall wrote. "Stuff happens. You're not always gonna get all the rewards you want, but it makes you work harder."

Marshall considered transferring for his senior year to Montrose Christian before eventually opting to return to O'Connell.

"I just got thinking maybe I needed something fresh and new, but at the end of the day my family and I thought it was best for me to stay at O'Connell," Marshall said. "I don't regret that decision one bit."

Dennis Marshall said North Carolina's coaches "just said they would like to see him work through it. When he gets to Carolina, when he gets into the [Atlantic Coast Conference], there's going to be some rough times and you're going to have to work through it."

Dennis Marshall broke down his son's career into three stages.

"The first stage was 'I'm going to do what I'm told to do because I've been brought up doing what I've been told to do,' " he said. "Then I think his junior year was a stage of rebellion. He wasn't the most coachable kid because he was frustrated. He kind of shut down a little bit. Senior year was, 'Okay, I can't do anything about it, I can't change coaches, I can't change people, I'm going to do what I'm told but at the same time I'm going to mix in what I can and see what happens.' "

Several opposing coaches said the second half of this past season was the best basketball that Kendall Marshall played in high school. In early March, he led O'Connell to victories on five consecutive days as the Knights won the Virginia Independent Schools title and advanced to the WCAC tournament semifinals, where they nearly upset third-ranked Gonzaga while playing on an unprecedented sixth consecutive day.

"He went to a totally new level," Wootten said. "Because he didn't always have it easier is going to make him a better player down the road. If it was just easy for him, he wouldn't know how to handle the bumps of college basketball."

There had been a clamor among local coaches and players in early February when Marshall was named a McDonald's All-American. The consensus by the end of the season was that Marshall had proven himself and earned a spot on the All-Met team.

"I have seen Kendall in the winter for O'Connell and during summer on the All-American circuit," DeMatha Coach Mike Jones said. "You get a true appreciation when you see both. He is the best pure point guard in high school. He is incapable of making the selfish play. He will always make the right play, shoot or pass. He plays the game the right way and will go far."

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