A Quiet Yell
If you are Connecticut forward Don-yell Marshall, there are pros and cons to being what college coaches call a "quiet player." First, the cons.
Recruiters don't show much interest in you until your senior year of high school, and those who do recruit you know more about your grandmother than they do about you.
During your freshman year, as burlier upperclassmen toss your spindly body around like a rag doll, you slouch into coach Jim Calhoun's office and say, "I don't think I'm cut out for the Big East."
When Spike Lee stops in at this season's Big East Media Day, he approaches your teammate Donny Marshall and suggests that he's ready for the NBA now. "You mean Donyell," Donny says. "He's over there."
Those are the cons. The pros are everything else. With all the fanfare of a snow-flake, Marshall, a mild-mannered 6' 9" junior, has become not only the best forward in the Big East, but also, along with Purdue's Glenn Robinson, one of the top forwards in the country. Out of nowhere, it seems, Marshall has emerged as a devastating player who at week's end was averaging 25.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and nearly four blocks. How good has he been? After Connecticut's highly touted freshman guard, Ray Allen, had a subpar game against St. John's, Calhoun asked Allen why he seemed to have disappeared on the court. "Coach," said Allen, shaking his head, "I was watching Donyell."
You have to watch him because there's not much to listen to. "No, I don't make a lot of noise," says Marshall, whose teammates call him Yell, presumably with some degree of irony. "It's not my style."
His team is making quite a racket, however. As of Sunday, UConn was 16-1, and last week it became the first Big East team in seven years to get off to a 6-0 start in league play. Marshall is the biggest reason for the Huskies' ascendancy, but not the only one. Using a four-guard rotation of juniors Kevin Ollie and Brian Fair, and two dandy freshmen—Allen and Doron Sheffer—UConn is moving the ball better than Husky teams of recent vintage.
Following in the footsteps of Nadav Henefeld and Gilad Katz, Sheffer is UConn's latest Israeli recruit—and potentially the best. "Doron will become one of the best guards in the country," says Calhoun. "He's got natural leadership and maturity."
To say Sheffer is mature might be an understatement—he's a 21-year-old freshman. As for his poise, "He grew up 15 minutes from Syria and served in the military," says Calhoun, "so a double team really doesn't bother him." Sheffer also has a 3.5 grade point average. His only B? Hebrew culture.
At Providence last week the Huskies again played well but nearly snatched defeat from the hands of victory in the final 11 seconds. With UConn' up 77-72, Donny Marshall, who'd been yapping all game, was whistled for a personal foul—and then promptly earned a technical. "Donyell," said a seething Calhoun, "go ask the ref what Donny did."
Donyell questioned the ref and then returned. "Said he clapped sarcastically," he reported to Calhoun.
"It was a little thing," Calhoun said later, "but for Yell, going to the ref and doing that was big."
The T gave the Friars four free throws—forward Franklin Western made three of them—and the ball, which guard Michael Brown quickly deposited in the basket from behind the three-point are: 78-77 Providence, with :08 left. It was thus left to Ollie, who went coast-to-coast to convert his only shot of the game, a lean-in banker that gave UConn an unnecessarily thrilling one-point win.
Donyell was brilliant, making three-pointers, scoring in the paint, stretching out his seven-foot wingspan to block shots. He scored 28 points, but perhaps most telling was his thunderous dunk late in the second half. After it, he thrust his hand in the air, gritted his teeth and celebrated. Well, this certainly was something new.
"I'm talking out there now, calling for the ball," Marshall says, smiling and rubbing his sleepy, doelike eyes with his hand, which measures over nine inches from wrist to fingertip. "I've got confidence, and people know it. It feels good."
It was a long time coming. Marshall was a late bloomer at Reading (Pa.) High. UConn, Syracuse and Maryland were his final three schools, but talk of probation for the last two scotched those from his list. Besides, his feisty grandmother Virginia Cuthrell liked Calhoun, and what she says goes.
During Marshall's first two seasons at UConn, he let future NBA players Chris Smith and Scott Burrell lead the team. "They were seniors," he says simply. "I wasn't." The turning point came last summer when Marshall played alongside Jason Kidd, Eric Montross and Travis Best on a Team USA five-game European tour and, shockingly, led the squad in scoring.
Marshall doesn't talk much about the NBA even though he would be a lottery pick if he came out early. He's a good student who, by all accounts, can see life beyond basketball, which is not to say that he doesn't feel pressure now and then. After all, he sometimes arrives at games to see a couple of busloads of fans from Reading—"Actually," he interrupts softly, "it's five or six buses"—and it upsets him when he feels he has let them down. "Last year, every time they'd come, we'd lose," says Marshall with a sigh. "That bothered me. So did my free throw shooting."
So when the convoy road-tripped to Madison Square Garden on Jan. 15, Marshall lit up St. John's for 42 points and helped seal the win by going 20 for 20 from the line. Quietly, of course.
Marshall, a relative unknown until this season, has become a dominating force in the Big East.
Players of the Week
B.J. Tyler, a 6'1" senior guard at Texas, averaged 33.3 points, 10 assists and 3.3 steals as the Longhorns knocked off Baylor 110-85, Texas Tech 108-79 and Georgia 107-96.
Northwestern's Patricia Babcock, a 6'2" senior center, had 28 points and 15 rebounds in a 78-70 defeat of Illinois and 20 points and 11 rebounds in a 101-85 victory over Wisconsin.
Wayne Robertson, a 6'5" senior center for Division II New Hampshire, averaged 25.3 points and 19.7 boards in wins over Bridgeport, Keene State and New Haven.