Obviously, playing in the D-League was not the scenario UNC's Kendall Marshall had in mind when he put his name in the NBA draft bucket.
It all started off well, when the Phoenix Suns snatched up the Tar Heels' star point guard with the 13th overall pick in this year's draft. Then Steve Nash left for Los Angeles.
Things were looking up for the North Carolina product. I could almost feel the excitement trickling through his veins at that point. After a stellar sophomore season—dishing out 9.8 dimes per game—he was sure to be the starting point guard for the Suns on opening night.
Not so much. The excitement wouldn't last very long, as the Suns picked up Goran Dragic to take over for Nash—just three hours later.
I was flabbergasted at the news. The Suns had to have known Steve Nash would be leaving Phoenix to get a legitimate shot at the title before he retires. Didn't they draft him to take Nash's place in 2012?
As the offseason progressed, it became clear that was not their intentions.
What they saw in Kendall Marshall was the future floor general of their franchise, but they knew he wasn't there yet. If they drafted him, Marshall would be able to learn behind one of the greatest point guards to step on the NBA hardwood—if Nash stayed.
If Nash chose to go elsewhere, those minor details could be sorted out at a later time—or a matter of hours, as it turned out.
When the season finally started, Kendall Marshall found himself last on the depth chart, behind three other point guards—two of which weren't with Phoenix in 2011-12. Yes, that is correct. The Suns drafted a point guard in the first round, then proceeded to pick up two more.
After logging just 34 minutes in the first month of the season, the Suns decided to send him to Bakersfield, Calif. to play for their D-League affiliate. As disappointing as it is to hear, it may actually be the best move for Marshall at this point.
According to Joe Conroy of InsideNova.com, Marshall had this to say of the decision:
Bassie and Goran are playing great right now and you wouldn’t want to mess with that so I’m here waiting for my opportunity. Obviously you’re not going to be the best player at every level you play on with the exception of Kobe [Bryant] or LeBron [James]. You have to be able to adjust to a new role and new circumstance. That’s part of your development.
At least publicly, the move seems to be taken well by last season's Bob Cousy Award winner. But that doesn't mean there aren't regrets.
Or does it?
When questioned after the draft about his shooting, defensive and athletic deficiencies, Marshall gave AZCentral.com the kind of answer you would expect from a former Tar Heel:
They are criticisms for a reason. I know I need to get better at them and I'm excited about it. Obviously, now, there is no school to get in the way. This is my profession. This is my job. I have no choice but to get better.
Honesty. Class. Determination.
Those are the characteristics so many Tar Heels before him have displayed. It is the lifeblood of this storied program. Kendall Marshall is no exception to the rule.
Will he regret leaving early?
I don't think so, and the proof is in that last quote. "There is no school to get in the way" of him improving his game. And now he doesn't have three point guards standing in his way, either.
Sure, it would have been beneficial for him to stay another year at Carolina, but at what cost to him? He was set to go in the first round, and the top three scorers he distributed to were leaving. This wasn't a "stay for another year and win a championship" kind of situation like the star players had in 2008-09.
On top of that, he missed out on the final two games of the 2012 tourney due to injury. What if the next one was career-ending?
I've heard a lot of feedback from fans since he made his decision to go pro. While many were supportive, others seemed to take it as a stab in the back.
He didn't head out for Cali without a goodbye, and have his father call the coach.
This was simply a player trying to pursue his dream, and Kendall Marshall did it the right way. In the end, isn't that what all of us strive to do?
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