ARLINGTON, Va. --- Kendall Marshall understands the game of basketball in a way most people don't.
While many players thrive on athleticism and instinct, Marshall studies and dissects. He looks for angles and openings, trends and innovations. He thinks the game as well as anybody in the class of 2010 plays it.
So as so many scouts struggle to wrap their heads around his unique game, it's only fitting that Marshall has no problem summing it up.
"If I had to describe my game in one word, I'd say awkward," Marshall laughed. "I'm not your new era point guard who is going to go out there and be ultra athletic, can dunk on anyone and score 20 points. I think I'm a more traditional point guard that does a great job running a team -- a floor general."
Marshall isn't awkward in the "can't ask out a girl" kind of way. His awkwardness is the fact that his game is a contradiction of sorts.
Standing at nearly 6-foot-5, Marshall doesn't serve up a ready-made comparison for any point guard past or present. He's not fast from baseline to baseline but he has an explosive first step. He isn't a great leaper but he has developed into one of the best finishing point guards around. His movements aren't particularly fluid but he invents shots and passing angles in tight quarters.
Marshall has made a career out of being crafty.
"You know the guy who wasn't very good in high school and then he goes back to the YMCA when he's 28 and he ends up being a pretty good player because it's like he's at a different stage mentally?" Bishop O'Connell coach Joe Wootten said. "He's there now."
There's no denying that Marshall has some physical shortcomings but Wootten said they have to be viewed in the proper context.
"The most important stat you can have for any player is how fast you are with the ball," Wootten said. "That's where I think he's great. Some players are very quick but they're not quick with the ball."
Marshall is well aware of the criticisms surrounding his game and said that while it used to bother him, now he looks at it as a way to improve. Marshall also contends a lot of the knocks on his game are blown out of proportion.
"I think my speed is very underrated," Marshall said. "You have to ask the players I play against ‘How quick am I?' The majority of them will tell you I'm pretty quick, I'm just not end-to-end fast. I do a good job getting by players using my quickness and using my first step. I don't think the people who watch me realize it." Bishop O'Connell guard Maurice Williams had to guard Marshall in practice for four years and agreed that Marshall might not be fast but he's definitely quick. He said with his quickness and creative touch around the basket, guarding Marshall is tough.
"However you've been taught how to play defense, you have to throw it out when you're guarding Kendall," Williams said. "His first step and his crossover are killer. Everything he does is efficient. … Just all of his releases, he can get the ball off and finish well. He puts English on some shots and they go in." "
Marshall's game went to a different level in the final month of his high school career as Bishop O'Connell rebounded from a tough start to win 10 of its last 13 games and a state title. Marshall reinvented his approach late in the season, attacking the basket hard and looking for his shot from the perimeter.
"He was unbelievable to me our last month of the season," Wootten said. "He was always a heady point guard. He was always a kid who could pass the basketball. But he almost took it to a whole other level."
Just like when he was faced with taller defenders earlier in his career, Marshall saw a problem with the way his season was going and figured out a solution.
"When I say this, I mean it wholeheartedly: he was unguardable," Wootten said. "We basically just spread the floor and he made great decisions and he was amazing with that.
"It was like the game slowed down for him."
Marshall's role at Carolina next season will likely be a happy medium between the passer he was for three and a half years and the scorer he became for two months. He'll primarily make an impact as a facilitator but Marshall also expects himself to be a legitimate threat from beyond the arc next season.
"It's weird. As a freshman and sophomore I was more of a catch and shoot. I was a knock-down three point shooter," Marshall said. "I think as my body started to change and I started to get a lot stronger, I became more of a penetrator, attack-first guard. I think my shot started to come around toward the end of the season.
"I don't think a lot of people realize how good of a shooter I once was, two years ago. Now that I've settled into the body I'm going to have, I think my shot is going to be a lot more consistent now."
(Check back tomorrow for Part II ...)