The development of the big man in basketball, especially at the college level, is always given a large amount of attention. A mix of skill and potential, a good big man can instantly turn a team around, even at the NBA level. The downside to this can be the length of the development process, which can vary greatly for all players, but even more so for 6’10, 6’11, 7’0 teenagers who are still learning to adjust to their size.
Zeke Marshall, the 6th ranked center and 43rd overall player in the Class of 2009 according to Rivals.com, made a somewhat surprising choice when he turned down offers from schools in power conferences such as the ACC and Big East, to play for Akron in the Mid-American Conference.
Looking back, Marshall is still comfortable with his decision. “I wanted to come here and help take them to another level,” said Marshall after a recent practice. “I liked the school and was comfortable with Coach (Keith) Dambrot. I have no regrets about coming here.”
On January 2, Marshall eclipsed the 1,000 point mark in his career, only the 40th player in Akron history to reach that mark. He is also 5 blocked shots away from becoming the most prolific swatter in MAC history. Earlier this season, Marshall shattered the Puerto Rico Tip-Off block record with 13. Currently, Marshall is the team’s leading scorer and 2nd leading rebounder, while also being in the Top 10 in the nation in field goal percentage (66.7) and blocks per game (3.4). Marshall has credited his development to helping him get to this point.
“Over the last few years, I think my whole game has improved,” said Marshall. “I have been able to refine my skills on defense, but my offense has taken the biggest jump. I am a lot more confident when I step on the floor.”
It wasn’t always an easy path for Marshall. “I know there were a lot of expectations on me,” Marshall explained. “Being 7-foot, I expected to do well, and I started to pressure myself a lot.”
Akron Assistant Coach Charles Thomas, a college star at Eastern Michigan and a former NBA player, has had a close-up view of how Marshall has progressed as both a person and a player. “His first two seasons were a very gradual progression,” said Thomas. “He is always very hard on himself, and always wants positive results. He would dwell on mistakes. Now, if something doesn’t go right, he focuses on the next play.”
Marshall realizes this too, and he knows that even though he has come a long way, he is far from a finished product. “The most important thing for me to continue to improve my game and my mindset,” said Marshall. “I watch the NBA and I know how hard it is to get there. I’ve had some flashes, and I just need to keep it going and be consistent on a nightly basis.”
As an NBA fan, Marshall has had the opportunity to watch a lot of players who he hopes to emulate as he continues his career. “I look at someone like Marcus Camby,” said Marshall. “When he was Defensive Player of the Year with Denver, he held down that defense, he was almost all they had. I watch Tim Duncan also. He just goes out there and does whatever his team needs him to do every night.”
Marshall still has a lot he wants to accomplish in the last few months of his college career. “The ultimate goal would be to get to the NCAA Tournament and the Final Four,” said Marshall. “We just need to keep working hard and having the determination to get where we need to be.” Marshall has his own personal goals for the end of his senior season. “I want to keep getting stronger and nastier out on the floor.”
Thomas acknowledges how vital Marshall is to those goals. “We rely a lot on Zeke, especially on the defensive end,” said Thomas. “If he doesn’t play defense as well as he does, the team can’t go out and do everything else it wants to.”
He knows the road ahead of him is still long, but he isn’t short on motivation. “I want to excel at whatever I do,” explained Marshall. “Anything you do will always be more fun when you’re good at it.” Of course, there are always different motivations – Marshall discussed wanting to prove critics wrong and wanting to live a comfortable life – but he the biggest motivation comes from within. “I want it,” declared Marshall. “I want to keep playing at the highest level and be the best I can be.”