By Aaron Seidlitz, Suns.com
Posted: June 29, 2012
The Friday afternoon press conference at US Airways Center represented – as Suns President of Basketball Operations, Lon Babby, put it – the end of the beginning for Kendall Marshall.
The rookie point guard’s transition to a professional career in the National Basketball Association has been unique. The difference between Marshall and most prospects isn’t that he was highly-touted, entered into the limelight and forced to overcome the expectations of outsiders. The difference is that he had to do all of that starting at 11 years old.
Although his early years in the game have made the crafty, pass-first point guard into who he is today, his parents were a little hesitant about all the attention he was receiving at such a young age.
Dennis and Kim Marshall vividly remember when one of the most prominent columnists from the most prominent sports publication in the country entered their home in 2002. Their sixth-grade son was being interviewed by Rick Reilly for a back-page column that was to appear in Sports Illustrated, and, for the first time, they worried about the pressure that was being placed on Kendall’s shoulders.
“It made us nervous because he was so young, and we didn’t understand the point,” Dennis said Friday after attending the Suns’ introductory press conference at US Airways Center. “When you do that, you put a kid under a microscope and you invite the possibility of a lot of negativity.”
Reilly was focusing on the fact that a basketball website had rated Kendall as the top fifth-grade player in the country. Although he was admittedly overwhelmed with the attention, Dennis said that nothing about Kendall changed after the rankings had come out, or after the SI column hit newsstands.
If anything, the national attention forced Kendall to deal with expectations, and it showed the father just how strong-minded his young son was.
What could have gone wrong from that scenario was that Kendall may have gotten a big head. He could’ve begun to believe the hype and stopped working hard. He could’ve lost interest in the game. But Dennis said that none of that occurred.
His son remained the same person he always was, even as he played with the varsity as a sixth grader, won a state championship in high school, and enrolled at the University of North Carolina. Even now, after being drafted by the Suns with the 13th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Kendall has remained grounded and humble.
“To put it simply: he’s just a good kid. I think that statement can be overused at times, but he’s just a good kid,” Dennis said. “In 12 years of school, we only had one problem with him. He just understands right from wrong.”
Kim most certainly agrees. Her son is a good kid, but she notes, he’s also competitive, and not just on the basketball court. The classroom was also a major motivator over the years for the Marshall’s eldest child.
“In elementary school, his best friend would compete with him for the certificate they would get for the best grade-point average,” he recalled. “Every year it was either him or his best friend in every single class to get that certificate.”
Kendall grew up in Dumfries, VA, a town of less than 5,000 people, about 30 miles south of Washington D.C. The Marshalls experienced small-town life, but big-city basketball wasn’t far away.
In fact, it was at a small, local recreational center where Kim said Kendall first fell in love with passing, but not on the basketball court. With Dennis as his coach, a 5-year-old Kendall showed a penchant for playing soccer, and even made an All-Star team for his unselfish play.
“It was obvious from the start what kind of player he could be,” his mom said. “The team would put little soccer ball stickers on your jersey for every goal you scored. Well, Kendall didn’t score any goals, but he had a shirt full of all these soccer balls because of all the assists he got.”
While at the rec center one day, though, Dennis noticed a “help wanted” sign for volunteer basketball coaches. Kendall was a year too young to participate, but his father asked for his son to be included on the team in exchange for his coaching services.
Suddenly a basketball found its way into Kendall Marshall’s hands, and it hasn’t left since – except when he’s making the right pass.
Gone was soccer and the All-Star team; in came the game that was to bring Kendall to one of college’s winningest programs – North Carolina – and eventually the Phoenix Suns.
On Friday, the proud parents had a hard time elaborating on the draft selection and their arrival in Phoenix. It all was happening so fast. All of a sudden, the five-year-old Kendall that Dennis and Kim remembered was grown up and standing before them being introduced as a Phoenix Sun. The family was there nearly in its entirety. Kendall's parents were joined by his youngest sister, Kyra, while another sister Kayla was participating in a lacrosse tournament.
But Kim said she is happy and ready for her son to settle in with the Suns. That is made easier because she feels this is exactly where Kendall wanted to be while he was going through draft workouts.
As one of the top point guard prospects was being whisked away from city to city, team to team, the only form of communication the Marshalls had time for was text messaging. Kim said that when she asked about each workout, her questioning was met with a one-word answer from Kendall: “Fine.” Except when they traded texts about Phoenix.
“When I asked him how it went in Phoenix, I got a full sentence,” Kim laughed. “They wanted him, he wanted to be here and it was just obvious to me that this was a good situation.”