He's ranked No. 1 nationally in his class. Basketball coaches ask
about him constantly. He'll play more than 80 games this year
around the nation.
And he's 11 years old.
His name is Kendall Marshall. He's 5'1", weighs 90 pounds and is
known as "Butter" for the way he spreads the ball around. He
likes macaroni and cheese but not girls. In June,
HoopScoopOnline.com, one of the best-known websites covering
blue-chip recruits, ranked him the No. 1 fifth-grade player in
America for last season.
You didn't know fifth-graders were ranked? Where you been? Tora
"Some kids in the neighborhood told me about it," says Kendall,
now a sixth-grader who will be the first ... uh ... man off the
bench for the Evangel Christian High varsity this winter in
Woodbridge, Va., despite being six years younger than many of his
teammates. "I didn't know what to think. I guess it's cool."
The very fact that someone ranks fifth-graders tells you how
nutso all of us have become about sports.
"Who does this benefit?" says Will Robinson, the coach at nearby
Woodbridge High. "If the kid pans out, is that a feather in
somebody's cap? And who does it hurt? It hurts the kid. He's got
these expectations the rest of his life."
Kendall says, "Sometimes kids come up to me and go, 'Hey, you're
not all that.' One kid tried to get me mad so I'd fight him, but
I didn't." Can't you see the poor kid if he doesn't lead every
list from now until college?
Fan No. 1: That kid Marshall. So much potential, but what a bust.
Fan No. 2: I know. He didn't even make Playboy's Sixth-Grade
All-America team this year.
"To rank a kid that young," says Kendall's dad, Dennis, a
computer network administrator, "who would do that?"
Clark Francis, that's who. He runs HoopScoopOnline.com, a service
that 150 coaches pay to read.
"Of course I haven't seen every fifth-grader," Francis says. "But
the best ones go to the big camps and the AAU nationals. You see
them. You hear things."
Francis says he doesn't really want to rank fifth-graders, but
"the college coaches who pay my bills want to know. So you put
kids' names out there, and if they turn out good, then you were
the first to write about them. It helps."
But why, for the love of God, do coaches want to know about kids
still in SpongeBob Squarepants pajamas?
"Let's say you're a college coach," says Francis. "You know that
you have to beat Kentucky, Duke or North Carolina. To do that,
you have to get the star players onto your campus when they're in
Can't you see it?
Kendall, welcome to Trey State. Check it out! Bunk beds! All the
Lucky Charms you can eat! And I know a guy who can get you the
key to the Slurpee machine at night!
And it's not just college coaches who want them tagged and
identified. High school coaches want to know so they can recruit
(often illegally). AAU coaches want to know so they can win
national titles, like the 11-and-under championship that Kendall
led his team to this year. Shoe companies want to know so they
can get a leg up on the race for soles. Even sleazy street agents
want to know so they can start turning heads.
Look, kid. You could use a nice new Schwinn, am I right?
It might be funny, if it didn't make you want to puke. Back when
the fifth-grade list came out, Kendall was a 4'9" point guard.
It's trouble when the list is taller than you are.
And you just know, somewhere, somebody's got a scouting report on
the kid: Great spot-up J, quick hands, cries when he skins his
What will they rank next? Tall couples who have really good
It's this kind of hype that tricked Leon Smith and Korleone
Young--both of whom were ranked No. 1 in their class as
middle-school players--to go pro out of high school. Now both are
out of the NBA and wondering where their futures went.
"The problem is these kids start to believe their press
clippings," says Francis. "Then they stop working on their game.
They're like, 'I'm 6'10", I can shoot, pass and dunk. And I'm in
eighth grade. I've made it.'"
If you think the hype can't get to a kid's melon, you haven't
heard of the legendary O.J. Mayo, from Huntington, W.Va., who
tops most eighth-grade lists, signs autographs daily, has his own
website (and a moustache) and plays at a Christian school that
isn't even in his state--along with five other out-of-state
Uh, Sister Magdalene? Can I be excused from math today? I gotta
do MTV's Cribs.
Hopefully, it won't happen with Kendall.
"No, sir, I haven't gotten too excited about the whole thing," he
says, "'cause I know I got my whole life ahead of me."
That figures, huh? The one person in all of this who is not
acting like a sixth-grader is the sixth-grader.
B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER
Why, for the love of God, do college coaches want to know about
kids still in SpongeBob pajamas?