Confession: I didn’t think Kendall Marshall would be THIS good at North Carolina. Watching him play summer ball with Boo Williams’ Hampton Roads team, he just seemed too one-dimensional, an exceptional passer who could not score.
Well, midway through Marshall’s second college season, and with the Tar Heels (15-3, 2-1) preparing for Thursday’s game at Virginia Tech (11-6, 0-3), there’s no denying his excellence.
Marshall remains a skittish shooter, averaging only 5.8 points and making only 40.2 percent of his attempts, 26.5 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. But he’s poised to lead the ACC in assists for the second consecutive year, and his 9.6 per-game average matches the conference record, established by North Carolina State’s Chris Corchiani in 1991.
In fact, Marshall’s ascension to the starting lineup last year upon Larry Drew III’s mid-season exit marked the start of a revival that carried the Tar Heels to the ACC regular-season title and the final eight of the NCAA tournament.
Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg compared Marshall to Ty Lawson, the point guard on North Carolina’s 2009 national champions.
“Ty brought it at warp speed,” Greenberg said. “Kendall brings it at warp speed, but he does it with the ball in the air. We used to say you have to outnumber the ball in transition against Ty Lawson. But Kendall is a different problem because you do have to run with the shooters, and you've got to see the basketball. …
“It's a lot faster to pass the ball up the floor than dribble the ball up the floor. He's probably the best I've ever seen it at pitching it ahead.”
Like Lawson, who was surrounded by scorers such as Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green, the left-handed Marshall distributes to three of the ACC’s top-10 scorers: wing Harrison Barnes and forwards Tyler Zeller and John Henson.
The 6-foot-4 Marshall hails from Northern Virginia and graduated from Bishop O’Connell High. Former George Mason and current Miami coach Jim Larranaga remembers him well.
“I’ve known Kendall Marshall since he was in the sixth grade,” Larranaga said. “He used to come by our arena at George Mason University and actually work out with our players when he was a youngster. He was born to be a point guard. He really knows how to deliver the ball, and he has outstanding receivers at every position. …
“He has great targets in the open court. Those big guys, Henson and Zeller, run the floor extremely well. He’s got (Dexter) Strickland and Barnes at the wings, and he is a very, very cerebral point guard. He knows when to throw the ball. He knows the kind of passes that guys like to catch. He throws the ball with good rhythm and timing so all the player has to do is make the shot.
“There’s a lot of guys who deliver the ball, and the (receiver’s) got to take a dribble or two before he makes the shot. Kendall is smart enough that he knows when and where to hit a guy in stride so that he can make the shot without dribbling.”
The Tar Heels and Marshall were dreadful in Saturday’s 90-57 loss at Florida State. Marshall had a season-low four assists and season-high seven turnovers.
Despite that major hiccup, his assist-to-turnover ratio is 3.46-to-1, just shy of Lawson’s school record of 3.49-to-1.
“I can’t say enough about Kendall’s ability to spread the ball around,” Zeller says in a quote published in North Carolina’s media guide. “He understands if someone hasn’t touched the ball in a while how to get them a shot.
“If somebody has hit a lot of shots, he knows to go back to them. He does a great job knowing who to get a shot, where to get them that shot and then understanding exactly where that person wants the ball.”
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times