Former Tar Heel Hopes to Help Suns Return to Winning Ways

Last season with the University of North Carolina, Kendall Marshall led the ACC in assists for the second-straight season.
(Courtesy of Jeffrey A. Camarati/UNC Athletic Communications)
By Brad G. Faye, Suns.com
Posted: June 28, 2012

After leading the ACC in assists for a second-straight season, sophomore sensation Kendall Marshall was recognized by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as the top point guard in all of college basketball. Now, just months after being named the recipient of the Bob Cousy Award, the former North Carolina Tar Heel is ready to shine for a franchise with a rich history of illustrious playmakers.

On Thursday, the Phoenix Suns selected Marshall with the 13th overall selection in the 2012 NBA Draft, placing him in the same purple and orange that has been worn by legendary pass-first point guards including Kevin Johnson, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. While he has a long way to go in terms of proving himself on the professional level, if his past experience is any indication of what’s in store it’s easy to see why Phoenix’s front office is ecstatic to have him on board.

“He represents everything we want to be,” Suns General Manager Lance Blanks said. “If you look at his background and his history, he’s a winner, and that’s exactly what we want to be here, are winners.”

In addition to joining fellow North Carolina alums Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson as players to have won the Bob Cousy Award, the Virginia native also has a history of helping teams earn wins in the postseason. As a high school senior at Bishop O’ Connell, Marshall averaged 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists en route to guiding his team to the Virginia Independent Schools Division I Championship. That experience helped make Marshall a perfect pairing with UNC Head Coach Roy Williams, a man who is synonymous with winning himself. Williams is not only the one coach in NCAA history to have led two programs (Kansas and North Carolina) to at least three Final Fours, but in 2005 he helped the Tar Heels to the NCAA Championship.

UNC went 61-14 in the two seasons while Marshall was at North Carolina, and it was a strong candidate to take home the 2012 title before losing Marshall with a broken wrist in the NCAA Tournament. The 20-year-old was in the midst of an 18-point, 11-assist performance against Creighton when the injury took place with 10:56 to play. Marshall was sidelined for the remainder of the season and North Carolina fell shortly afterwards to Kansas.

Williams was in attendance for Thursday’s draft, and told ESPN’s Heather Cox thathe felt Marshall and the Suns should make an excellent pairing in the NBA, much like Marshall and the Tar Heels made at the collegiate level.

“Phoenix is one of those teams that likes to run, and I’ve never had a better passer than Kendall Marshall,” Williams said. “He can push that pace and if they want to continue playing like that, they got the right guy.”

Calling Marshall the best passer he’s coached is high praise for a man who has coached a plethora of talent at two of the country's top collegiate schools. Williams, in fact, heard the names of four former Tar Heels called in the first round of Thursday’s draft. But while Marshall was one of those four players, he was not in attendance, opting to stay at home to watch the draft with those close to him.

“We ordered some Chinese food,” Marshall said via a conference call with the Phoenix media. “It was me, my family, my agent and my two best friends. We just all sat in the living room and when my name was called, it was definitely a surreal moment. It really took a moment to sink in that I’m part of one of the greatest fraternities ever playing in the NBA.”

As far as how Marshall believes he will fit in with his new team, the point guard does not have a problem acknowledging both his strengths as well as weaknesses.

“As a rookie there’s going to be a learning curve, but I feel a lot of the things I like to do go hand-in-hand with what Phoenix likes to do,” Marshall said. “I feel decision making is one of my best attributes so I can be successful there as well as getting up and down the court. I know there are things I’m going to need to get better at, but I’m man enough to recognize those and know that it’s going to take time. The criticisms about me are criticisms for a reason. I know I need to get better in some areas and I’m excited about doing that.”

Among those criticisms is the fact that Marshall does not have a reputation for being as explosive or athletic as some of the other point guards currently making names for themselves in the NBA. It is a criticism that the Suns front office did not hesitate to address.

“The trend right now with point guards is in the mold of Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose – who are phenomenal athletes with their speed, strength and quickness,” Phoenix’s Director of Player Personnel John Treloar said. “In Kendall’s case, he’s more of guy that’s a very good floor leader and makes his teammates better. He’s kind of a throwback as a point guard.”

But as Blanks points out, just because Marshall wasn’t selected because of his athleticism doesn’t mean that expectations in regards to other criteria aren’t sky high.

“I can tell you right now, we did not get Kendall for his athleticism and Kendall knows that,” Blanks said with a smile. “We got him for his brain, his ability to make people better and for the locker room. This young man is very special in every way. I’m not sure we can make him more athletic, but he’s all 10s everywhere else as a basketball player and as a person.”

For Suns fans, the attributes for which the Suns did draft Marshall will hopefully get their team back on the winning track come the 2012-13 season. The opportunity to contribute to that endeavor certainly appears to be one Marshall is embracing.

“I’m just excited to get out there and hopefully be a small part of the bigger picture in terms of Phoenix turning it around and getting back to their winning ways,” Marshall said.

As players like “KJ”, “J-Kidd” and “Captain Canada” can all attest, there is no way to secure your name quicker in Suns lore than doing just that.