MADISON, Wis. — Effusive praise for George Marshall’s basketball talent flies at such a dizzying rate from his University of Wisconsin teammates that it’s sometimes difficult to discern what is real and what is a stretched truth.
Is Marshall, a redshirt freshman from Chicago, the best-kept secret in college basketball, as forward Mike Bruesewitz suggested last month? Is he good enough to supplant the all-time greats in Wisconsin history, as former point guard Jordan Taylor surmised in March?
“You probably won’t even remember I was here by the time George gets done,” Taylor said then. “Or maybe even Devin (Harris), too.”
Such high approval could be overwhelming for a guy who has logged exactly zero minutes in a college basketball game, but Marshall isn’t concerned. After putting in his time on the scout team a year ago, he’s simply ready to show his stuff and prove teammates right — so long as they allow him to make a few mistakes along the way.
“I don’t think they expect me to come in and just be some type of superhero,” Marshall said.
Though it’s unclear how Marshall will adjust to the speed of Big Ten play, there is little doubt his skills as a point guard will be integral to Wisconsin’s success in 2012-13. Marshall often dazzled while serving as the scout team point guard last season, going toe-to-toe with Taylor and starting guard Josh Gasser.
“George is a heck of a player,” Gasser said. “He’s fun to go up against. He’s so quick. He’s electrifying. He makes plays that not many players in the country can make, and he’s only a freshman.
“Last year on scout team, just going up against him every day in practice covering him, he’s one of the hardest guys I had to cover all year. He’s definitely going to play a lot for us.”
At most major college programs, a player with Marshall’s skill level could have seen court time as a true freshman. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Marshall earned second-team all-state honors in Illinois as a high school senior at Chicago Brooks College Prep. He averaged 17.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.3 assists, leading his team to the Chicago Public League championship.
But with Taylor, a preseason All-American, running the Badgers’ show at point guard, not much time remained for Marshall. Taylor averaged 36 minutes played per game as a senior.
As a result, Marshall made the difficult decision to take a redshirt season and save a year of eligibility.
“Last year was a great learning experience,” Marshall said. “Something I was kind of indecisive about at first. As time went on, I felt it was the best decision. It helped me a great deal. I’m just ready to show everything I’ve learned, show I’ve gotten better. It was definitely a beneficial year.”
With Taylor gone to graduation, Marshall is a candidate to see significant minutes at point guard, possibly splitting duties with Gasser. And it’s Marshall’s speed that could be particularly appealing to the Badgers.
Wisconsin assistant coach Lamont Paris described Marshall as a player with the ability to break a defender down off the dribble, squeeze into the lane and finish at the rim. If a play collapses, Marshall possesses an above average mid-range jump shot that he can get off when he wants.
His ball handling skill also makes him the most likely candidate to use ball screens that help set up Wisconsin’s offense. And defensively, Paris believes Marshall can pressure the ball more than other Wisconsin players have in years past.
“Some of it will be what he can take on his shoulders,” Paris said. “He’s still a young guy. He still has zero minutes logged. Some of it will just be how he responds in a game situation. The more he can handle, the more we would pile on him because he has some physical gifts that would allow him to bring a different look at the point guard spot.”
Marshall isn’t some type of superhero, and he isn’t an All-American just yet. But he has four seasons to show the public what so many teammates have already discovered behind closed practice doors.
“I feel I’ve gotten a lot stronger,” Marshall said. “I’ve gotten a lot smarter as far as making reads, adjusting to the college game. I’m ready to make that type of impact, to help the team in whatever way I can.”