CHAPEL HILL — I wrote a story that ran in the paper today about Kendall Marshall’s vision. That, of course, is the one thing people most often talk about when talking about Marshall. His vision. How he sees the court. How he sees things.
If you read the story, though, you know that Marshall’s vision has actually become worse over the years. He wears one contact lens, in his left eye, and probably should be wearing one his right eye, too. But he said he doesn’t want to mess with it in the middle of the season.
I had a chance to sit down with Marshall for a while last week. We spoke about his vision, his speed, his father and how he learned to pass. Here’s the interview:
Andrew Carter: So you just told me you wear a contact lens in your left eye only. What’s the story there – why just the left?
Kendall Marshall: I don’t know. I know I scratched my cornea as a baby. It was, like, bleeding. So I think that was part of the reason. They called it iritis, I think. So, it’s something I deal with – light sensitivity, stuff like that. I went through middle school, my eyes were really, really sensitive to where if I’m riding in a car, I would just put my head down because my eyes were very sensitive to light.
AC: Is it still like that, with the light sensitivity?
KM: No, it’s gotten a lot better. And obviously my vision’s gotten worse now, with the prescription. But as far as that problem, it’s gotten better … I went to the doctor to get new glasses, and he told me my right eye’s gotten worse, too. So I probably need to be getting contacts in that eye, too. But I’m trying to wait until after the season because I don’t want to mess with it mid-season.
AC: So it’s just one contact lens in your left eye? That doesn’t bug you?
KM: I guess I started wearing contacts my junior year, and glasses. So I’ve gotten used to it. Last year I played the whole season without wearing contacts in the game because they were just annoying to put in and take out. So I could see a lot better this year than last year.
AC: What’s it mean to you when you hear coach Williams say you have the best vision of any player he’s coached?
KM: It’s a huge compliment from him. He’s coached a lot of great players. But also at the same time I humble myself and realize that these great players that he’s coached, they didn’t just stop in college with these accomplishments. They kept going. So I’m just trying to strive to keep getting better every day. And hopefully one day I can be mentioned with my final body of work, and what I’ve done in my career can be mentioned in the same light as the players that have come before.
AC: OK – but when you hear coaches talking about a point guard’s vision, what are they talking about?
KM: It’s funny you say that because I guess I’ve thought about it more this year since people stressed about, like, how I see the floor. I don’t know. I have no idea. The majority of the time when I’m out there, I feel like I’m making the obvious play. My teammates do a great job of telling me where they want the ball, how they want the ball. You know, it’s not hard to pass it in to John and Z. It’s not hard to give it to Reggie and Harrison spotting up to shoot. I can’t control if they make shots or not. You know, that’s all them. So I try not to take too much credit for the way I see the floor. I think it’s more based on my teammates and how they make it easy for me.
AC: Right, but you’re also known for making the more creative, difficult pass. That’s probably where the stuff about having great vision comes in.
KM: Yeah, I’d say so. And I think part of my gift – and also part of my curse – is I feel like there’s no pass I can’t complete. And that gets me in trouble sometimes. Me and John ran a pick and roll against N.C. State in the first half, I threw to him, he dunked it. Tried the same play and I’m falling down, and I’m like, I can get him this ball. I turn and launch it into the bleachers. So stuff like that where I feel the majority of the time I’m helping my team but there are points in the game also where I need to get better at pulling back and realizing that might not be the best play.
AC: Have you always had that courage to make those passes that some might shy away from – and where does that come from once you develop it?
KM: I have. You know, my high school coach used to always get on me and he used to call me selfish. And I never understood it. He was always like, ‘Don’t be selfish, don’t be selfish.’ And I’m like, I’m trying to pass, how is that selfish? But the way he would put it is it’s not always about making the great play, but making the best play for our team.
AC: Who’s most responsible for nurturing your basketball ability when you were growing up?
KM: It was definitely my father. I’d say since the age of 8 or 9 he’s had me in the gym. When I was younger I was in the gym two or three hours every day, about six days a week. We would go to the gym, there would be two full courts going. He’d make me sit on the side and do ball-handling drills and passing drills. And I hated it. But it made me the player that I am today.
AC: What kind of passing drills were you doing?
KM: It was different stuff. Working on passing against the wall. Behind the back against the wall while dribbling. It was many drills. He did a great job of I guess you could say stealing drills. I went to a lot of camps when I was younger – from Five-Star, Eastern Invitational, Deron Williams, Steve Nash when I got older. So those drills that I learned at camp and he saw, we would always incorporate into our workouts.
AC: Were you alone doing all this work or did you bring along a friend?
KM: Most of the time it was me. I had a best friend, Justin Burrell who plays at Holy Cross now. He’s a freshman at Holy Cross. And we did work out together a lot growing up … We didn’t go to the same high school. But just, I guess repetition, doing it over and over again. Like I said, he always had me in the gym. And at the time, I hated it but it worked out for the best.
AC: Now you look back and you don’t hate it so much, I imagine.
KM: Not at all. And I think another big thing was how I always played against older players. I was always the smallest kid on the court. So I think my junior year of high school, when I grew to like 6-3, 180, I was like OK, now I can start using my body. You know, I’m not the little guy any more. So I think that also helped me out.
AC: Was that a conscious decision to add some weight and bulk up when you got later into high school?
KM: I mean, since seventh grade it was always a conscious effort. And then I guess one day it just – OK, it’s time to grow into your body now. And before that time, I was a shooter. People were like, that kid’s a shooter. And then, it transitioned to, ‘That kid’s a passer.’ So things changed a little bit over time but, you know, I think it was for the best.
AC: When did that moment come, when people said that kid’s a passer?
KM: Probably going into my junior year – I guess that’s when the transition happened where I became less of a scorer and more of a facilitator.
AC: When you get the ball on the inbounds after the other team scores, what are the first things you’re looking for going up the court?
KM: First thing, we want to score as fast as possible. You know, coach is really big on having a lot of possessions in a game. The more possessions in a game, the more it’s working to our advantage. So the quicker we shoot, that’s going to happen. And also, I’m lazy – I don’t want to run up and down the court dribbling, so I’d rather just throw it up there. And my teammates do a great job of getting on the break. Zeller’s the most athletic center, for a 7-footer, I’ve ever played with. And a lot of bigs aren’t able to run with him. So when he gets out to run the court, I want to reward him for running the court. Players like Reggie, Harrison, Dexter when he was healthy – they are very good in transition, so if I could throw it up to them and let them makes plays, it helps our team.
AC: Are there certain tells you look for, in terms of the defense, that tell you which way to go with the ball?
KM: You can tell early on in a game how a team is trying to play you. For instance, State – they were trying to really contain us in the halfcourt to where our next game, Georgia Tech, they tried to pressure me fullcourt – pick me up right when I caught the in-bounds pass. And usually teams can’t keep up that same trend for a whole 40 minutes so you might be able to sneak past a team and throw that long pass, or maybe they’re jogging back on defense, or tired right before a TV timeout comes, so you just want to take advantage of those opportunities.
AC: Do you feel like you play better against one style or the next?
KM: It’s tough. I feel like I’ve done a good job of adjusting no matter what the [defense] is. I think coming to Carolina, people were like, oh, he’s not fast enough to play there. You know, he’s not Ty [Lawson] fast, he’s not Ray Felton fast. Well, I’m going to find a way to get it done. I think I do a great job of adjusting no matter what situation I’m put in.
AC: Do you feel like people still say that same stuff about you, about the speed?
KM: Yeah. I don’t know why.
AC: Does it bother you?
KM: Sometimes. But on the same token, I’m like, ask the players I’ve played against how fast am I. I get to where I want to get to on the court and I feel like no matter how fast I am from point A to point B, I don’t think that determines how quick I am in a basketball game.
AC: So you have great vision on the court – does it translate off the court? Do you notice things people might miss?
KM: I’d say something like off court, shoes is the biggest thing that I pick up with my eyes. I’m always looking to see what shoes people are wearing, stuff like that.
AC: I hope you approve (kicking up my brown slip-on shoes).
KM: (laughs) I’m more of a sneakerhead. I like sneakers a lot. I remember people by what shoes they have on. I feel like you can tell a lot about a person by his shoes, stuff like that. So as far as vision goes off the court, that’s probably the main thing.
AC: You said your dad helped you develop as a player growing up more than anyone. I know he comes to every game. How close are you guys?
KM: Me and my dad have a very close relationship. And growing up, he was always hard on me and people would always have something to say about it – well you’re too hard on him. Or telling me, you know, why doesn’t your dad let you do more stuff. And I didn’t like it at first. I felt like, why can’t I do what all the other kids are doing. But like I said, I thank him for that now. And not even on the court but off the court, he’s instilled these values in me by being so tough on me that now when I am presented in situations where peer pressure – stuff like that, it doesn’t faze me.
Thanks to Kendall Marshall for his time.