Craig Marshall is a fake. A whirling, speeding blur who never stops moving and yet never seems to break a sweat. A frequent flyer who appears always in control and yet admits, “Sometimes I just jump and then I figure out what I’ll do later.”
He is an intense defender who is many times times asked to guard players considerably taller--he’s 6-feet-1--but whose facial expression is nonetheless disinterested.
“He’s giving 110% at all times, but to look at his face, you’d think he wasn’t doing a thing,” said Pat Quinn, Marshall’s coach at Saddleback High School.
It’s all a part of the Marshall Plan. One designed to wear an opponent down, while he appears to be cruising.
“I get tired, but I’ll never let anyone see that,” he said. “I have a lot of desire to win, but I’ll never let that show either. I play games with other players’ heads; I never show how I really feel.”
It was Quinn who first spotted Marshall in eighth grade and noticed that, on a basketball court, the kid, “had moves that no one can teach.”
By his sophomore year, Marshall was getting plenty of playing time on the Saddleback varsity. Over the past two seasons, he has helped them to a 51-6 record.
This season, along with center Malru Dottin and point guard Sean Simon, he has led Saddleback (27-1) to tonight’s Southern Section 5-AA final against Millikan (24-6) at 8:15 in the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
By most accounts, Saddleback would not be in tonight’s final if it weren’t for Craig Marshall. In the semifinals against Lakewood last Friday, Saddleback was being run off the court, trailing 11-1 in the first quarter.
Marshall then sparked a comeback by making three three-point shots in the quarter, the last coming from 25 feet and at the buzzer, to pull Saddleback to within 16-13.
It was the first time in his career that he had even tried three three-pointers in a quarter. That’s partially because as recently as last summer, he had to relearn how to shoot--spacing his feet differently, as well as adopting a release point that was quicker.
“Craig does whatever is necessary,” Quinn said. “If he has to score, he will; if we ask him to shut someone down, it’s done.”
Marshall held Lakewood’s 6-8 Brian Camper, who came into the game averaging 24 points, to 11 points.
Marshall’s master stroke came when he stole the ball from Camper, drove the length of the court and appeared ready to dunk when Camper slammed into him. Marshall, who had started to spin in midair when he spied Camper, had his back to the basket after being hit but still managed to flip the ball into the basket.
The foul was Camper’s fifth, and Marshall’s basket drew Saddleback to within two (52-50) with 2:32 left in the game. Saddleback won, 65-61, in overtime. Marshall, who averaged 14 points a game during the regular season, had 21.
“This game was Craig Marshall’s,” Dottin said afterward.
It certainly showcased just about everything Marshall can do, which is considerable.
“As far as I’m concerned he’s the best athlete in Orange County,” said Tim O’Brien, Estancia coach.
O’Brien has seen his share of Marshall highlights. The most spectacular coming when he took off for a layup on the left side of the basket, spotted a defender, hung in the air until he reached the right side of the basket and then laid the ball in.
“After that, he (O’Brien) called me the Michael Jordan of the (Sea View) league,” Marshall said with a satisfied, slightly embarrassed grin. “I must admit, sometimes I’m really amazed by some of the stuff I do, because I don’t know I’m doing it when I’m doing it. My adrenaline gets pumping and my body just takes over.”
And so he is fearless to drive the lane against people taller than he is. Why should he worry? He’s the one intimidating them.
Generally considered Orange County’s best defensive player the past two seasons, Marshall counts Camper last week, and 6-8 Steve Guild, formerly of Marina now at Pepperdine, as his greatest conquests. Marshall also held Guild, an all-Southern Section player, to 11 points.
Asked if he ever hesitates before putting Marshall on bigger players, Quinn said: “Never even think about it. I know that if I ask him to stop someone, he will. He’s just that good an athlete; size doesn’t enter into it. If he wants to do it, it’s usually done.”
Save one. Marshall, whose nickname is “Glass man,” for a talent he has of laying a ball up while slamming his palms against a backboard, really would like to crack a backboard.
Well, not crack. Assault, destroy, demolish . . .
“I’d love to break one and come down with the rim in my hands,” he said. “The I’d just walk out of the gym, holding it.”
Marshall will no doubt settle for hardware of a different nature from tonight’s final.
“I can see the trophy and the ring,” he said. “I can taste them.”
If he does get a bite, it will probably mark one of the few times Craig Marshall’s exterior and interior will be in total agreement.