Up Close: Kendall Marshall, Part IV

Inside Carolina's Matt Morgan traveled to Arlington, Va. to put together a four-part feature story on North Carolina signee Kendall Marshall. Here's Part IV ...

Part IV
Winning Mentality

ARLINGTON, Va. --- It's around 2:20 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 7. Kendall Marshall is sitting at his house in Dumfiries, Va. watching North Carolina play Maryland when his phone buzzes.

Marshall looks down from the game for a second, quickly checking his Droid to see who texted him.

On top of being a typical high school student, Marshall is also the unofficial mouthpiece for Carolina's class of 2010 -- as a result, his phone buzzes a lot. This time it's a reporter asking to talk for a story.

"Can we do it after the game?" Marshall shoots back.

UNC is already down double digits 10 minutes into the game. The Heels are 13-9 on the year, headed to their sixth loss in seven games but Marshall needs to watch. He'd rather do the interview later that night during the Super Bowl than miss Carolina's game -- even if it is a loss.

Dumfries is four hours from Chapel Hill, but it's not in a vacuum. As Tar Heel fans watched UNC collapse this season, Marshall did the same.

"I think I've watched about half the games. It was tough because that's the college I'm going to and I'm hearing it from everybody like I was on the team," Marshall said. "I like to see them do well. I like to see them go out there and compete and play hard. It was just tough to watch them struggle because you're not used to seeing it from a North Carolina basketball team."

After the Heels lost four starters to the NBA, Marshall tempered his expectations. He didn't buy into the No. 4 preseason ranking, but even he didn't quite expect what unfolded.

"There were things where I'd watch the game and say ‘That's a pass I could've or would've made,' but it's a lot different being in the game and making game time decisions to sitting down watching the game on TV where you can see the whole court. You can stop it and rewind," Marshall said. "But I can't say I would've done anything different. It's tough because you can't comment on someone's position until you've been in their shoes."

But in a way, Marshall has been in those shoes.

Bishop O'Connell head coach Joe Wootten affectionately refers to the 2010 season as ‘the season of issues' for the Knights. Wootten had key players quit, others get hurt, and still others get kicked off the team. To fill out a roster, Wootten had to call up JV players. At one point in the season, the Knights had just six players on the varsity team.

"You can't control other people's actions. You can't control what they do," Marshall said. "The kids who were quitting and getting kicked off, they were big parts of our team."

Before the season Marshall expected O'Connnell to hit the USA Today Top 25. Instead, the Knights hit rock bottom.

"It was really crazy," O'Connell guard Maurice Williams said. "Definitely not how you expect your senior year to go."

Marshall and his teammates continued to battle. After a 28-inch blizzard put the season on hold for over a week, O'Connell started to get back healthy -- mentally and physically. Players who had quit or were injured returned to the team.

They rededicated themselves to winning a state title. Every time Wootten would enter a room, he'd look his players in the eyes and say "state title."

"The only thing that was on our mind was winning -- doing whatever it takes," Marshall said. "There was no arguing with the coach. There was no second guessing him. Everyone was just wholeheartedly in it together to win it."

But what followed was an almost impossible road for the team. Due to the cancellations due to weather, O'Connell had to play six games in six days with four of them being part of the state tournament.

According to Wootten, Marshall took it upon himself to put the team on his back. He became more aggressive on offense and sunk his life into the team.

"I think Kendall always said the right things and he was always the guy who would show up and work hard and things like that," Wootten said. "But the total commitment he made in the last month where he didn't care about anything but the team's success and didn't worry about anything else, that was the greatest leadership he's showed."

By the second half of the state semifinals -- day four -- the burn of back-to-back games started to wear on the team's legs. After building an early lead against Michael Gbinije and St. Benedictine, the Bengals turned up the heat in the second half and stormed back into the game.

"You could just see it in our eyes and our bodies, we were done physically. But we felt we'd come too far up to that point to just give in," Marshall said. "That's when that extra gear came in and we pushed to get it done."

O'Connell went on to beat the Bengals and prevail the following night as well, winning the private school state title. Marshall said the adversity he and his team faced this year is something he'll keep with him.

"It's probably one of the highest moments of my basketball life," Marshall said. "It's something special when you win a state championship with your teammates you've been fighting with for four years and been through the long practices and the bad games and the good games. The fact that I was able to do it with them after all we'd been through in my senior year, I think made it that much more special."

Wootten said seeing Marshall celebrate after the final buzzer sounded was something he'll never forget.

"It was just pure joy," Wootten said. "You could see it wasn't just about him, it was about everybody."

At this point in his career, Marshall drops the "we" bomb frequently when it comes to Carolina hoops and frankly he's earned it. Marshall committed to UNC the summer before his sophomore year and has been around the program even longer.

In 2004, Marshall attended Late Night with Roy as Marcus Ginyard's guest. In 2007, he was setting up Ed Davis as the point guard for the Boo Williams AAU team. In 2009, he was there to host Harrison Barnes on his official visit. When Reggie Bullock won a state title a couple weeks ago, Marshall was there.

In a way Marshall is the Forrest Gump of Carolina basketball. If it is important in Carolina basketball and happened in the last five years, there's a decent chance Marshall was there.

So it's only fitting that in one of the most pivotal years in Carolina history, Marshall is again front and center.

"I feel like I'm stepping in somewhere where I can assert myself," Marshall said. "I know the guys already and I know the coaches. I think it will be a lot easier for me to open my mouth when I want to say something.... I think that being around the program for so long is definitely a plus for being a leader.

"I think I'm definitely ready."

Marshall said next season won't be about the class of 2010, though. With or without Barnes, Bullock and himself, Marshall said Carolina has the talent to be much better next year. This year wasn't a failure for the Heels, just a learning experience.

Marshall urged Carolina fans to be calm. Seasons like 2010 don't happen to Carolina often and he expects the program to get back on track. He said if his struggles at O'Connell this year taught him anything, it's how much he hates to lose.

"I just learned how to fight, to never give up," Marshall said. "I learned the value of winning."

Hopefully, he says, he'll be able to use that experience to make sure he never has to go through those pitfalls again.


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