Tobacco Road Rivalry Morphs into Friendly Bond in Los AngelesPosted by Chris Kehoe on February 14th, 2014
Both Ryan Kelly and Kendall Marshall were highly regarded prospects coming out of their respective high schools in the south — Marshall from Bishop O’Connell in Northern Virginia and Kelly from Ravenscroft Academy in the heart of ACC country, North Carolina. Marshall was the pure, pass-first point guard who at 6’4” could see over the top of most defenders, and Kelly was a 6’11” reed thin stretch-four. Both chose to play in the ACC, but at different programs that happened to be a part of one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports. Marshall went to North Carolina, where he bid his time behind Larry Drew until he set an UNC single-season record with 351 assists and won the Bob Cousy Award his sophomore season at Chapel Hill. While Marshall was breaking records in his first two seasons as a Tar Heel, Kelly had a longer and more arduous route to prominence as a Blue Devil in Durham. Kelly really emerged as a junior and senior, where he began to average over 25 minutes per game and double figure points. He clearly became an integral part of Duke’s interior defense as well, not rebounding extremely well for his size but being a great help defender, communicator and rim protector alongside Miles and Mason Plumlee. His defining moment came in his return from injury in a 36-point performance versus a loaded ACC champion Miami (FL) team at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Unfortunately during their collegiate careers, both Kelly and Marshall suffered through rough injuries, Kelly with a recurring foot problem that caused him to miss a good stretch of games and Marshall’s fractured wrist which took him out of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. But even after his wrist injury, Marshall declared for the NBA Draft and was taken in the late lottery at 13 by the Phoenix Suns, one pick before UNC teammate John Henson. A product of a crowded backcourt of Goran Dragic, Shannon Brown, Sebastian Telfair and even Jared Dudley, Marshall struggled to find consistent playing time. But, Marshall also lacked the ability to create for himself, score in isolation, or shoot from the perimeter. His size was a huge benefit at the next level but his lack of elite athleticism had people worried if he would ever make it in the NBA.
Marshall hit an all-time low after being traded by the Phoenix Suns and then released by the Washington Wizards and then being finally picked up by D-League franchise the Delaware 87ers. But he wisely made the most of his opportunity in the ‘minor leagues’, notching an eye-opening debut, tallying 31 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds, showing a little of what he is capable of. Apparently his newfound sense of confidence and purpose in the D-League ranks caught the eyes of one of the NBA’s most famous and historic franchises, because as an early holiday gift, the L.A. Lakers signed Marshall in December 2013. Due to a host of injury concerns in the backcourt (L.A. lost Kobe Bryant, Jordan Farmar, Steve Nash and Steve Blake to injuries) Marshall was thrust into the Hollywood spotlight on one of the NBA’s brightest stages. And boy, did the former Tar Heel respond. Grasping his chance at quality minutes on a struggling team fighting against tanking rumors, Marshall has been a lone bright spot on this young and inexperienced Lakers roster. He even dished out 17 assists in his second start in gold and purple, and is currently averaging 10.3 PPG and 9.5 APG. Although Steve Nash has returned, he is only a shadow of his former self and Marshall should continue to blossom under the two-time MVP’s tutelage.
Not only is this Lakers team without its biggest stars, but it has an extreme depth issue, showcased recently as former Gonzaga forward Robert Sacre fouled out, and in one of the weirdest things you will ever see, he continued to play after the fact. The Lakers had literally no one left they could play, so Sacre had to return or they would not have enough people to field a team. Which brings us to another Lakers forward, who travelled a different path than Marshall but ended up on the West Coast nonetheless. Taken 48th in the second round of the 2013 NBA Draft, Duke’s Ryan Kelly was largely an afterthought in last year’s draft, a prototypical European big man who seemingly didn’t have what it took to be successful in the NBA. However, alongside Pau Gasol and pass-first point guard Marshall, Kelly has largely had a successful rookie campaign, to the tune of 7.2 PPG in almost 20 minutes per game.
While the Lakers have had one of the more trying seasons of their storied franchise, Kelly and Marshall have taken it upon themselves to lighten the mood and bond over their collegiate past. It started with a team trip to the Miami-Duke game while the Lakers were in town playing the Heat. Kelly received tickets through his Alma mater behind the Duke bench and invited Marshall as his guest. But that didn’t stop the former UNC point guard from auctioning off his ticket because of the location, taking to Twitter to showcase his Carolina pride. While Kelly has been relatively quiet on the matter, not openly or playfully poking fun at UNC, Marshall has taken a different approach. With the Duke-UNC game coming up for ESPN’s Rivalry Week, Marshall took to social media to show a video of the point guard going into Kelly’s Lakers locker and removing a Duke-blue shoe of Kelly’s and kicking it across the empty locker room. Kelly was a bit more professional about the situation, saying he would let the ‘game do the talking’ after having his shoe kicked in a Marshall ‘temper tantrum’. After the ACC rivalry feud match was postponed due to extreme weather, UNC fans took to Twitter to complain about Duke not being able to make it the eight miles to Chapel Hill. Placing the blame on Duke in the postponement of their rivalry game was classic fodder for fans on both sides and Marshall chimed in with this hilarious gem of his own:
— Kendall Marshall (@KButter5) February 14, 2014
Needless to say the Duke-Carolina rivalry reverberates at the next level but if anything can be learned from this progressing relationship is that it can also create friendships between unlikely partners striving to achieve professional greatness at the highest level.