Marshall handled the decision the same way he’d always gone about life: quietly and without much fanfare. The 28-year-old even declined an interview request for this story.
Dating back to Marshall's days as a Tar Heel, it’s never been about him. Not then, not now and not when he made his way back to Chapel Hill in the fall of 2017.
Not last month, either, when he was named the director of recruiting on head coach Roy Williams’ staff.
“He’s one of the five smartest players I've ever coached in 32 years now as a head coach,” Williams said at UNC’s media day. “A guy that generally understands basketball as well as anybody that I've ever been around.”
‘Always pass first’
Tyler Zeller met Marshall in the summer of 2010 and was immediately blown away.
Zeller was a rising junior at the time and Marshall was an incoming first-year. During pickup games, Marshall’s ability to “make the plays nobody else even saw” impressed him.
“He's the guy who makes all these plays look so simple,” Zeller said.
A 6-foot-4 guard from Dumfries, Virginia, Marshall was a four-star recruit who played behind then-junior Larry Drew II for part of his first season.
But after a 20-point loss at Georgia Tech in mid-January, Williams inserted Marshall into the starting lineup. On Feb. 4 of the same year, Drew II unexpectedly transferred out of the program. There was more weight on Marshall’s shoulders than he’d initially anticipated.
Still, he was prepared, and it showed.
“He was groomed for the moment,” Henson said. “He was ready — that’s as simply as I can put it. It wasn't really an adjustment period. It wasn't like we had to get him under our wing … And from that moment on, the program, especially our team, we went to a different level of playing.”
With Marshall running the offense, the Tar Heels won 12 of their final 13 regular season games, claimed the ACC regular-season title and advanced to the Elite Eight before falling to Kentucky.
Marshall averaged a conference-high 6.2 assists on the year, and was named a first-team Freshman All-American and third-team All-ACC.
That was only the beginning, though.
As a sophomore in 2011-12, Marshall had double-digit assists in 17 of UNC’s 36 games. Though he was never a high-volume scorer, his signature “pitch ahead” passes made his game exciting to watch and the Tar Heel offense a thing of beauty.
“I think in a lot of ways, you don't see a lot of point guards anymore who want to pass the ball first,” Zeller said. “Usually, it’s score first, pass second. And Kendall would always pass first, second and third.”
With averages of 8.1 points and 9.8 assists, Marshall won the Bob Cousy Award, given to college basketball’s best point guard. Marshall’s 351 assists that season broke the UNC and ACC records.
But a dream season for Marshall went sour in UNC’s NCAA second round matchup against Creighton. After being fouled midway through the second half on a layup attempt, Marshall hit the deck hard, landing on his right wrist.
He played seven more minutes in the game, dribbling with one hand in a blowout win. But the long-term prognosis wasn’t good; Marshall’s wrist was broken.
During post-game interviews, in a moment that could have been only about him, he never wallowed in self-pity. Instead, Marshall focused on how the injury would impact the team.
That was the final game he’d play in a Tar Heel uniform. No. 1 seed UNC won its next game but fell to Kansas in the Elite Eight.
After the season, Marshall — along with teammates Henson, Zeller and Harrison Barnes — declared for the NBA draft.
‘Willing to help somebody else’
Marshall and Williams remained close throughout Marshall’s up-and-down professional journey. Williams expected Marshall to have a lengthy NBA career if healthy, but Marshall wasn’t so fortunate.
“Most of his injuries were fairly severe and that curtailed, needless to say, his career,” Williams told the DTH. “Because I thought he could have played 10 or 12 years in the NBA if his body would have allowed it.”
The head coach knew of his former player’s desire to remain in basketball, no matter the capacity. So when Williams got a call from Marshall in 2017 informing him of his decision to retire, he had a plan in mind.
Williams would find a role for him on the coaching staff. But the first step was for Marshall to finish his degree, since Division I coaches are required to have at least a bachelor’s.
Initially, Marshall joined the team as a student-coach. In December 2018, he earned his UNC degree.
Knowing how valuable Marshall could be to his team, Williams was thrilled.
“Even when he was playing, he was willing to help somebody else, his teammates, if they had any questions or anything,” Williams said. “Everybody had a tremendous feeling of his appreciation and his understanding of the game.”
On Oct. 2, UNC officially named Marshall the program’s director of recruiting. But the title, Williams said, is a bit misleading.
Marshall’s responsibilities range from finding tape on prospects to bolstering the team’s social media presence to being a sounding board for his old head coach. Williams will often ask Marshall how he handled certain situations as a player, both on and off the court.
“He'd always kinda said when he got done, he wanted to get into coaching in some respects,” Zeller said. “I think what he's doing now is a perfect role for him.”
Per NCAA rules, only four coaches can be on the court during practices. Marshall isn’t one of those four for the Tar Heels yet.
For now, though, he’ll look to help North Carolina by doing what he’s always done: leading and mentoring, all without caring about the credit or spotlight.
“He's gonna continue to work his way up the ranks,” Zeller said. “And whether it's assistant or head coach, I think he'll help the program tremendously.”
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