Hoops prodigy stays levelheaded


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In Evangel Christian School’s gym during a basketball practice, there’s the requisite noise of sneakers screeching against the floor, the rhythmic pounding of the basketball, and coaches barking instructions. Occasionally, though, there’s the sound of a voice that’s a few octaves higher than the coaches and other players.

That’s the voice of Kendall Marshall. Marshall’s a sixth-grader — which explains why he sounds different, and also why, at 5-1, he gives up an awful lot of height to most of his teammates.

Physical differences aside, there’s plenty of upside. According to one basketball recruiting website, Marshall’s the best sixth-grade basketball player in the country. That caught the eye of Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly, who wrote about Marshall this week. Reilly wondered why sixth-graders needed to be ranked in the first place.

Right now, Marshall doesn’t start for Evangel, but is the first player off the bench. He requested a tryout, and Eagles head coach Jim Fisher agreed — with a caveat.

“I told him it would be awfully hard, but he proved himself,” said Fisher. “He’s an extremely gifted young man. He’s got a great work ethic, and a very humble spirit.”

Staying humble is a top priority for Marshall and his family. If he believes he really is the best, there’s a chance that he’ll rest on his laurels: stop working on his game, neglect his schoolwork.

His parents, Dennis and Kim, don’t want to see that happen.

“Our focus is on keeping Kendall’s head in the right place,” Kim said.

“That’s what I preach to him, but he’s not known as cocky,” said Dennis.

Even Kendall doesn’t think it’s too much of a problem.

“I try not to let it go to my head,” said Kendall, who came to Evangel when he started third grade. “I don’t want to stop working.”

His best attribute is passing, he added. His dad said Kendall’s passing was something that he developed as he got older.

Using those skills, he secured a spot on Evangel’s varsity team. But there was still the matter of whether he’d be accepted by the other players. The seniors, after all, are a full six years older than Marshall with vastly different problems and concerns.

Like Marshall staying humble, there hasn’t been much of a problem with that, either.

Junior Brian Ferrira, one of the team’s captains, has great respect for his young teammate.

“The kid’s amazing, he practices so much,” said Ferrira. “He’s got one of the best basketball minds of any player I’ve known. He’s got great court sense.

“He’s got a great, God-given gift. He’s got natural talent, and he works more than anybody.”

Fisher, overseeing all of it, agrees.

“He’s been accepted by the varsity team and made to feel welcome,” Fisher explained. “I’m awful proud of them for doing that. This is the best team effort I’ve had in nine years. They’ve come together, they’re uplifting, and they’re a joy to coach.”

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