Originally created 09/30/03

Pre-teen hoops phenom prepares for second year of varsity ball



DUMFRIES, Va. -- At age 11, Kendall Marshall already was playing varsity basketball for his high school.

Not only that, he led the team in assists and was second in scoring. This year - at the ripe old age of 12 - he expects to start all the time.

But nothing the lanky 5-foot-2 guard faces on the court is as daunting as the off-court pressure he's been up against since being named the nation's best sixth-grade basketball player last year.

"I don't know how many young men his age could handle the pressure he's been subjected to and not let it get to his head, but it's not gone to his head," said Rick Moore, the athletic director at Evangel Christian. "He's just a very humble, very polite young man."

The young player still addresses adults with "sir" or "ma'am," he talks about college instead of the NBA, and perhaps most impressive, he prefers passing the ball to shooting.

"I just like getting the ball to my teammates when they're open," Kendall said.

The ranking by the recruiting publication Hoop Scoop helped bring Kendall to the attention of the national media. But Kendall said he realized quickly that the best thing to do was to downplay it.

"It's just somebody else's opinion," he said.

His father, Dennis Marshall, said initially he was on "cloud nine" when he learned about the ranking until he realized the downside.

"The kids he plays against want him to prove it every day," Dennis Marshall said. "Any time you have anybody who's good at something, there will be other people who don't like it, and Kendall's faced some of that."

Kendall's private school has about 130 pupils in grades 6-12. The school allows sixth-graders to compete on varsity, and it has happened on occasion in sports like soccer or baseball, where a large roster is needed.

But Kendall was the first to play varsity basketball, and last year he led the team to a second consecutive national AAU title.

"With Kendall, nothing shocks you about his athletic ability. What catches your eye is his natural feel for the game," said the boy's AAU coach, Lou Wilson.

One of Kendall's most impressive shooting performances was in a charity event called HoopsFest, where he hit six straight 3-pointers in a shooting competition.

But even the man who rated Kendall No. 1, Clark Francis of Hoop Scoop, says it's too early to be talking about the NBA.

"The rankings are as accurate as they can be ... but it's awfully early to be talking about guys that young," said Francis, whose top sixth-graders have included Stephon Marbury. "It's a nice honor for him, but I'd take it with a grain of salt."