The Star Spangled Banner had been sung, the starting lineups had been introduced, and the opening tip had been tossed up.
It was then that the seven-footer who made a habit of swatting shots all over the Mid-American Conference for four years took his seat on the bench. Here was Zeke Marshall, the MAC's all-time leader in blocked shots, a first team All-MAC selection, and one of the most dominant defensive players the conference has ever seen, watching and waiting for his shot.
Marshall, who is playing for the Maine Red Claws (the Boston Celtics' D-League affiliate) ended up checking in after a few minutes of play and it was then that the familiarity returned. His team was playing the Canton Charge in a gym less than 30 minutes away from Marshall's former home at the University of Akron, something made clear when a chant of "Zeeeeeeeeke!" came from the many Zips fans in attendance. An absolute monster block came a few minutes later. While Marshall didn't dominate as he did many nights at the collegiate level, he played well - 9 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 blocked shot in 20 minutes with a team-best +7 on-court rating.
It's a process - one that will take time and one with no guarantee of reaching the eventual goal - the NBA. There are, however, plenty of positive signs for Marshall. He has earned more playing time as he has developed further, including an outstanding double-double effort last week in Los Angeles. Maine's head coach Mike Taylor noted after Monday's game that the Celtics' interest in Marshall is legit. Asked by the Akron Beacon Journal's Marla Ridenour if Marshall's perception that the Celtics really wanted him was correct, Taylor said, "Without a doubt. The Celtics front office made a trade to bring him here."
Before Marshall can achieve his dream of playing his games at the Boston Garden (or any other NBA arena), he has a lot of work to do. His offensive game needs polished, he needs to improve on staying out of foul trouble, and he needs to adapt to the very-different style of professional basketball. He certainly has the talent and size as well as an excellent support system with his mother, Nicole, and Zips coach Keith Dambrot, who was in attendance Monday afternoon to watch his former star. Anyone who has ever met this impressive young man would have a hard time betting against anything he has put his mind to. What a wonderful story it would be for Marshall's family, the Zips program, and the Mid American Conference as a whole.
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