Donyell Marshall, NBA veteran and former LeBron James teammate, launches coaching career at George Washington

By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 26, 2010; D03

Donyell Marshall's new players sat on the couch of an office tucked in the back of a townhouse on George Washington's campus, asking with interest about LeBron James's "decision." Marshall is now an assistant coach for the Colonials, his first college coaching job less than two years after retiring from the NBA and four seasons since he teamed with one of the NBA's biggest stars.

That's how Marshall's players know him. That's how the recruits know Marshall. He was an avatar in their video game. He was never a graduate assistant, never the hustling assistant coach at summer shoe camps hoping to impress a head coach from a bigger school. Marshall's résumé is the 15 years, the 10,716 points -- and the buzz swirling GW's way that never would happen if Coach Karl Hobbs hired an unseasoned unknown.

"The one thing I learned is that if you don't stay in the game," Marshall said, "people forget about you."

Marshall cannot afford for that to happen. When he went recruiting earlier this month, he could not speak to the players and the players could not speak to him. But Marshall noticed prospects inching toward him, and he read their lips.

"That's Donyell Marshall. What school is he at?" Marshall remembered them saying.

"I was like, 'I hope it really works come time to get you to school here,' " he added.

Hobbs said Marshall's name recognition has already started to help. When Marshall is allowed to speak with players, though, he insists he will not pitch his NBA experience. Marshall emphasized that only 30 players are guaranteed entry into the NBA each season -- "you have a better chance of becoming a lawyer or doctor," Marshall tells kids -- and would rather pitch GW.

When his players ask about the NBA -- such as the questions about James -- Marshall answers. He won't volunteer the information because he wants those players to view him as a coach, not as a former player. Yet during practices, Marshall will allow himself to brag.

"Before, they could say, 'Coach, he ain't ever play in the league,' " said Marshall. "Now, what can they say? They can't say I never played there. They can say, 'You wasn't an all-star.' So what? I played 15 years. That's where it will come in handy."

There's also a benefit for Marshall. He feared remaining out of the game too long. In his first season without NBA paychecks, he worked for Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia. But he wanted to coach after taking an active role with his AAU team during the twilight of his NBA career.

Marshall earned his degree earlier this month, the final step before joining a staff. He thought an opportunity might become available at Connecticut, his alma mater, before Hobbs offered the job.

"The timing is everything in this business," Hobbs said.

Marshall made $72.4 million during his career. He said he does not need money, and Hobbs said salary was not discussed in interviews. GW does not release the salaries of its personnel, but Hobbs said GW could not offer enough to satisfy Marshall if money was an issue.

"My decision was made because I wanted to coach, because it's something I wanted to do," Marshall said. "Some of the other guys, they might have to do it. When I went into the NBA, my biggest thing was, I was always going to be done playing basketball when I was done playing basketball. I wasn't going to play basketball because I had to play basketball. When I played my 15 years, it was because I was good enough. It wasn't because I looked in my bank account and said, 'I need to make some more money.' "

Marshall mentioned other players who hang on to the game for another paycheck, to maintain a lifestyle or work out of bankruptcy. He said he always planned to remain in the game after retirement.

The salary helps pay college tuition bills without dipping into savings, but it's not the reason Marshall is looking for an apartment in Washington while his family remains in Cleveland. His wife, Leea, supported the decision because she knew Marshall yearned to keep active -- even if he was not one of those players who always aspired to coach.

"If you had told me back then that Donyell would probably be coaching some day, I'd say probably not," said Hobbs, who coached Marshall as an assistant at Connecticut in 1993-94.

Hobbs initially interviewed Marshall only as a courtesy. He quickly realized the steps Marshall took to earn the job. He considered what Marshall had done with the AAU team, the commitment shown by a $100,000 donation to U-Conn. and the endorsements from former teammates and coaches.

Hobbs and Marshall both admitted there would be a learning curve. That will be seen in recruiting, where the underworld of handlers and hangers-on have festered since Marshall was a high school prospect in 1991.

Marshall could test his pitch in his own home. The Marshalls have a 16-year-old son, Marquis, who might become a Division I-caliber player. Hobbs joked that Marshall's presence on the staff might not help.

"The mom has all the power," Hobbs said -- proof that even 15 years in the NBA can go only so far.

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