On Friday, Kendall Marshall scored 21 points and had seven assists for the Evangel Christian School varsity in a blowout win over Leesburg Christian. Kendall's performance only reinforced an opinion Evangel coach Jim Fisher had already formed about his point guard.
"He's not your average sixth-grader," says Fisher.
Yup, Kendall's a sixth-grader. And an 11-year-old. Playing varsity basketball at the Dale City high school. And not just playing, but dominating. In Friday's 84-16 win, he outscored all of his teammates, as well as the entire Leesburg squad.
It'll be about five years before he can legally get behind the wheel of LeBron James' Hummer, and Kendall plays in a teeny school in a conference that is athletically irrelevant. But he's becoming a known quantity. The 5-foot, 82-pound guard was just named one of five boys on the Junior NBA National All-Star Team, which means he gets a free trip to Atlanta for this weekend's NBA All-Star Game and all the collaterally sponsored festivities.
The NBA has Kendall scheduled to participate in an exhibition game on Saturday at Philips Arena, prior to something called the Got Milk? Rookie Challenge. Throughout the weekend, if he stands on a tall chair, he'll be able to rub elbows with the big boys who were the Kendall Marshalls of their respective neighborhoods some years ago.
The NBA's press release says that Kendall was picked by a committee co-chaired by Bill Walton, the onetime wunderkind now calling games for ABC and ESPN, after a nationwide talent search sponsored by Nike and Gatorade. Kendall's double-double stats from his days playing with the Hylton Boys and Girls Club last season (12 points and 10 assists per game) helped land him a spot on the team.
"Kendall has all the tools needed to become both a great player and a great person," said Walton in an NBA press release touting its Junior All-Stars. "His skills on the court are only overshadowed by the way he carries himself off the court. No matter what Kendall ultimately achieves in the game of basketball, the lessons that he has learned as a team leader will carry him far as he matures in life." NBA spokesperson Shannon O'Connell says that Walton has never met Kendall, but formed those opinions after watching him on videotape.
Walton's not the only grown-up throwing praise the preteen's way. As the NBA press release points out without a hint of irony, some outfit called Hoop Scoops has Kendall "ranked as the #1 eleven year old in the country."
Hoop Scoops touted Kendall's play not with Evangel Christian or the Hylton Boys and Girls Club, but with Team Maryland, an AAU squad based in Prince George's County. Team Maryland won the national championship for 11-year-olds last year. The real news there, of course, is that there is a national championship for 11-year-olds. Alumni from Team Maryland include current NBAers Steve Francis, Don Reid, Lonny Baxter, DerMarr Johnson, and Terence Morris.
Coach Fisher, who has been at Evangel Christian for nine years, says he'd been hearing about Kendall since the boy enrolled at the school, which goes from kindergarten through 12th grade, as a third-grader.
"But I'd never seen him play until this fall, when he approached me and asked me if he could try out for varsity," Fisher says. "I was apprehensive, mostly about him getting hurt playing against 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5 guys, but after consulting with the athletic director, the administration at the school, and his parents, we all said OK."
Kendall is too young to play varsity at any public high school in Virginia. Tom Zimorski, director of compliance for the Virginia High School League, the governing body for school sports in the state, says only ninth-graders on up are eligible. But private schools are free to make their own eligibility rules, and Evangel has no such barriers. And so the kid plays.
The longer the season goes on, Fisher says, the surer he is that suiting up the sixth-grader was the correct decision.
"The only people who would say I shouldn't let him play are people who haven't seen Kendall play," says Fisher. "The other night he was knocking down NBA threes."
Among those who have seen Kendall play are numerous scouts. Not college scouts. Scouts from other high schools in the area.
"I know DeMatha would like him to come there in a couple years, and O'Connell calls him all the time," says Fisher.
Fisher expects that he'll have Kendall at least through eighth grade, after which the boy will become eligible to play for Virginia public schools or any of the many D.C.-area schools that serve as feeders for the NCAA and NBA. The coach is even holding out some hope that Kendall will stay put, and that Evangel will use the prodigy's presence as a reason to escalate its basketball program to compete with the DeMathas and Riverdale Baptists.
"I've got another sixth-grader that's really good, too," says Fisher. "He's not on the team now, but he'll probably be with Kendall in the backcourt next year. You should see him play." --Dave McKenna