Fri Oct 07 09:54am EDT
Skim through the rosters in the Mountain West Conference, and you won't find a player more primed for a breakout season than UNLV's Anthony Marshall.
He has shown flashes of immense potential his first two seasons in the program. His tantalizing athleticism and ability to finish at the rim fits perfectly in new coach Dave Rice's up-tempo system. And he's spent much of the summer trying to improve the outside shot that has been a liability for him in the past.
Marshall should take graduated senior Tre'Von Willis' place in UNLV's starting lineup this season, providing the perfect slashing complement to Chace Stanback's smooth stroke and Oscar Bellfield's steady leadership. The 6-foot-3 junior spoke with me earlier this week about how he's prepared for an increased role, how the transition to a new coach has been so far and what motivation he draws from a blowout loss to Illinois in the opening round of the NCAA tournament last year.
JE: How shocking was it when you learned Lon Kruger was leaving for Oklahoma, and how did you find out about it?
AM: I actually found out on Twitter. It was April Fool's Day, and we'd had a Friday morning workout, we came to the weight room feeling great and I happened to get on Twitter and see somebody mention it. Since it was April Fool's Day, I thought somebody was playing a joke on me so I was like, 'Whatever.' Then one of my teammates contacted me and asked if I'd heard about coach. I'm like, 'Really?' And he said, 'Yeah, it's real.' I texted one of my assistant coaches, and he didn't reply right away, so I knew something was wrong. Coach Kruger, he called me and let me know what was going on before he left and for that I appreciate him and respect him a lot. I can't fault him for it at all. Stuff like that happens all the time in the game.
JE: With all the uncertainty at that time, did you worry that some guys might leave and that this great nucleus you have coming back might scatter?
AM: Right after we found out he was leaving, we made a pact as a team that we were all staying together. We all came to UNLV for a reason. And even though coach left, we still felt we could accomplish the goals we wanted to accomplish. We all had faith in our administration to pick the best candidate for the team and we just stuck together.
JE: How has the transition been from Coach Kruger to Coach Rice so far?
AM: It's been a smooth transition. His style plays into how we want to play as a team. We feel we have a pretty athletic team and everyone gets up and down the court well one through five. The previous games we played against BYU, we liked the up-and-down game, the layups and the fast breaks. That plays right into our strengths.
JE: Are there any differences you've noticed between Coach Kruger and Coach Rice, or are they pretty similar?
AM: They're more similar than you'd think. They both preach family, team work, promoting one-another. It's all about we, we, we, not me, me, me. They're both great mentors on and off the court. So there's not too much different. They're both great people, and I feel lucky that both have been my coach.
JE: With Tre'Von Willis and Derrick Jasper graduating, do you see an opportunity for you to move into the starting lineup permanently and maybe have a breakout season?
AM: I definitely believe so. That's a role I want to take on. I like to put pressure on myself in a positive way. We have a veteran ball club coming back, but I feel the opportunity is there and I have to take it. All my teammates are behind me on it.
JE: What did you do this offseason to prepare for that increased role?
AM: I spent some time in LA playing against different players out there since LA's a hot spot for basketball. And then I tried to work on my overall game. I'm still developing stuff here and there before the season, shooting, ball handling, better defensive stance. There's a lot of little stuff that plays a big part in my game.
JE: You've never had any trouble getting to the rim, but your three-point shot has been a weakness the past two seasons. How did you work on improving that?
AM: I have confidence in my shot. I just had a bad year. Part of it is how I caught the ball, how my footwork was, how I stepped into my shot. There were a lot of little things that played a part in it. I worked on mid-range shots, game-speed three-pointers, threes off one and two dribbles. I just tried to do as much as I could.
JE: Was that especially important considering how much the team struggled as a whole with its outside shooting last season?
AM: Not being able to hit open shots and not knocking down threes hurt us in a lot of games. A lot of teams zoned us last year because that was one of our weak points. This year from our team workouts and open gyms, a lot of guys are making shots and feeling confident, so we're excited about that.
JE: Dave Rice has talked extensively about installing a more up-tempo system at UNLV. How much more conditioning do you have to do to prepare for that?
AM: We're running a lot more and a lot harder than we did in the past. The way we want to play is up-tempo, and the only way to play that way for a whole game is to be in the best shape possible. In practice and the group workouts, we've done a lot of running with the plays we've put in and then afterward we do conditioning with our strength trainer. We do a lot of different agility drills and change of speed drills. Right now, we're feeling good. There are days that we're pretty tired, but at the end of the day we're feeling better than before.
JE: Were you disappointed to see BYU and Utah leave the league and to not have those games on your schedule this year?
AM: I think we'll miss them. Any time you have two good teams like that who go somewhere else, you miss it. BYU has a great fan base, so if you can go in there and steal a win on the road, it's definitely exciting. It's a great time to be playing basketball. Those are the games you live for.
JE: One of the most important newcomers you have this year is Mike Moser, a transfer from UCLA who many people expect to start at the four for you guys. Are people going to be surprised by the impact he makes?
AM: They're going to be very surprised. People didn't have a chance to see him much at UCLA, but he's a workhorse. He works hard, he pushes me every day, he's one of the more vocal guys on the team, he can shoot from inside or outside, he runs the floor well and he can handle the ball. He's going to be a tough matchup for other teams, so we're happy to have him on our side.
JE: Considering you lose only two players off last year's roster, how much can this team accomplish this season? Can you return to the NCAA tournament and do some damage?
AM: I believe the sky's the limit. Right now we're putting in the work in the gym and then once the season starts you have to play hard each day, not only in games but in practice. You play how you practice. We all have goals and we know we have the team that can accomplish them.
JE: The Illinois game in the NCAA tournament obviously didn't go the way you guys wanted it to last season. How much motivation do you take from that game and from the opportunity to get back there and play the way you know you can?
AM: It provides a lot of motivation. We have them again on the schedule this year. Going into the NCAA tournament and not performing the way we'd have liked, it's a lot of motivation. Whether it's seeing stuff people had to say about it or watching a replay of the game, it's added fuel to the fire. Every workout, every drill we run, that's the motivation.
More conference previews from the Dagger:
ACC: Lessons from the pros keep North Carolina humble and hungry, ACC projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Wake Forest star Ish Smith scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league ACC games, Q&A with Florida State junior Michael Snaer
Atlantic 10: Temple's Micheal Eric hopes to seize his chance, A-10 projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Xavier star Byron Larkin scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league A-10 games, Q&A with St. Louis guard Kwamain Mitchell
Big Ten: How Zack Novak became Michigan's emotional leader; Big Ten projections and storylines to watch ; Ex-Ohio State star Jim Jackson scouts the league; Ranking the 15 best non-league Big Ten games; Q&A with Michigan State forward Delvon Roe
Big 12: Big 12 projections and storylines to watch, Iowa State's Royce White aims to capitalize on second chance, Ex-Oklahoma guard Michael Neal projects the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league Big 12 games, Q&A with Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson