A real kid, with game

The best thing about Evangel’s budding young basketball star Kendall Marshall is that he’s a kid. And he actually acts like one.

Despite remarkable skill and savvy for the nation’s best sixth-grader (Yes, there is a poll that rates 11-year-olds) the Eagles’ pint-sized point guard is still a young boy.

“When we’re all out there, we know he’s a good player, but when he gets off the court, he’s such a kid,” said elder statesman Justin Suderman, a skinny sophomore guard who doesn’t look much bigger than the 5-foot, 1-inch Marshall. “But he’s real cool to hang out with and we love him to death over here.”

Marshall’s youthful enthusiasm is hard to miss. After making an assist in the second half of Thursday’s contest at Heritage Christian, he clenched his fists and said “let’s go” to his teammates as he was running back upcourt. He also took advantage of his height or lack thereof when he snuck in next to a much taller Heritage player as he was talking to his coach next to the bench. Neither Heritage coach Mike Perham or the player looked like they noticed Marshall standing there, or even cared that he might be listening to them.

Throughout the game and most of the season, Marshall who was featured in a recent Sports Illustrated column by Rick Reilly has been grossly overmatched in height and weight. His green and white jersey looks two sizes too large and his left-handed shot release is lightning-quick so taller players won’t have a chance to block it.

But today, he’ll finally have a chance to play against players his own size and age in a Junior All-Star game that is being held in conjunction with the NBA All-Star weekend in Atlanta. And on Sunday, Marshall will be courtside for the All-Star game, something that his father Dennis knows he’ll be excited about.

“With a lot of basketball, it’s not often that he gets to be a kid,” Dennis said. “So it’s a good chance to take the weekend off and be a kid.”

And also learn from the best.

“Hopefully, [I’ll learn] some of their moves and how they carry themselves,” Kendall said.

Showering attention on middle-school basketball phenomenons has been going on for quite awhile. Damon Bailey was Mr. Basketball in Indiana in 1990 and was expected to lead the Indiana Hoosiers to another national title. But before he even he put on a high school uniform, he was being visited by legendary college coach Bobby Knight while he was in eighth grade in tiny Heltonville, Indiana.

Marshall, who is averging 12.8 points per game, has already received plenty of attention from prominent high school programs in the Washington, D.C. area. He has also been playing at AAU camps since he was 6-years-old, so the word is definitely out about the kid’s precocious talent.

Evangel coach Jim Fisher prefers not to name the schools that are showing interest but understands why they’re so intrigued. After all, this is the first time that the ninth-year Evangel coach has had a sixth-grader suit up for the varsity squad.

“I’ll just say this: the kid is good,” Fisher said. “And if he’s that good, we’re gonna use him at our school. And he’s keeping a level head about it (all the attention). He’s a very humble young man.”

Even though he said Kendall enjoys playing at Evangel, Dennis hasn’t ruled out sending him to a higher-profile basketball school.

“Anything is possible,” he said. “What I always do with Kendall, I will always put him in the best position to be successful. Whether that will be at Evangel or whether that be at another school, I don’t know yet.”

Regardless of where he ends up, it’s not likely that Kendall Marshall will develop a big head. Asked if there was a time when he realized that he was more talented than most of his peers, he just shrugged and said he’d never thought about that.

Sounds like a kid to me.

Kipp Hanley is a staff writer for the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger. Reach him at (703) 878-8053 or e-mail him at [email protected]

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