Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis didn't need to wait long after the Nittany Lions' 2008 season to land his first recruit for the class of 2009 that will enroll this summer.
Jermaine Marshall, a 6-foot-5, 192 pound wing-man from Red Land in Lewisberry, Pa., verbally committed in April, immediately raising eyebrows among the Nittany Nation faithful. Coming off a solid junior season in which he broke the school scoring record, the highly-regarded Marshal appeared to be a major recruiting coup for DeChellis and the Lions.
After speaking with Red Land head coach Scott Slayton, the sentiment still seems to hold true, even after Marshall missed his whole senior season after tearing his patella tendon in his right knee cap at an open gym in the fall.
BWI caught up with coach Slayton today to get a better idea of where Marshall stands physically and what to expect when the freshman arrives at Penn State's campus in late-June.
BWI: What is Jermaine like?
Coach Scott Slayton: As a player, he's very versatile. He can play a number of different positions. In fact, he's played all five positions for us at some point over the course of his career. He's extremely unselfish. He cares obviously first about team moreso than any kind of individual glory, although he had a lot of accolades passed down to him through local media and everything throughout his three years that he was able to play for us.
The most dangerous thing about him is the things that he's able to create for the other players on the floor. Not just a creator but be able to be a finisher as well and create for himself. With his unselfishness and yet his ability to still be able to create for himself makes him very, very dangerous on the basketball court.
BWI: Is he pretty much a three at the college level?
Slayton: I think they have hopes of maybe trying to move him into a two spot. He's a good outside shooter. I think he has the work ethic and the potential to become a very good outside shooter but I think that they're definitely going to want to have the ball in his hands as much as possible because he is a creator. He creates easy shots for other players because of his ability to be able to penetrate.
His vision on the court is unlike any other player that I've ever coached. I've been doing this for 11 years now and I've seen a lot of kids that have been able to move on to the next level and what Jermaine does better than all of them is be able to see things before they develop, not only as they develop.
BWI: So creating for others is just something he does incredibly well?
Slayton: I mean, the biggest thing that we had to adjust this year with him not being able to play was all the easy baskets that were created by Jermaine for our big guys and our three point shooters.
Their defenders were always out helping on Jermiaine's penetration or helping out on what Jermaine created. So, as long as you can catch the ball and finish plays, you were going to get open shots .
BWI: So he'll drive and dump.
Slayton: Yeah, he's deceptively quick and he's just deceptive with his movement. He's always finding gaps and when he finds them and somebody tries to fill them in, he's able to find the man that he left to be able to create for him. He was a 1,400 point scorer but I can't tell you how many points he accounted for... he was a 1,000 point creator for other kids with the assists that he was able to have.
BWI: And obviously he must have a pretty good handle on the ball too.
Slayton: Very strong. When we were playing the better teams come playoff time and everything else, it was Jermaine that brought the ball up the floor to make sure that we could beat their press or whatever else they were trying to throw at us.
BWI: What's his height at right now?
Slayton: He's about 6-5.
BWI: That would be pretty tall for Penn State at the two.
Slayton: He's not a true one. He'll never make it as a true one I think on the college level. He just doesn't have that kind of quickness up against a guy that might be 6-1 and lightning fast but I think he certainly has the capability of having the ball in his hands for an extended period of time in the half-court set.
BWI: He had the injury this past year. What was that like for you as the coach and how has he progressed since then?
Slayton: It posed a great challenge for us, one that I think that not only myself but also the staff and the kids on the team definitely embraced. We were still very, very successful this year, finished third in our district in quad A and qualified for the state tournament again for the third time in four years. So, we were still very, very successful but what I think it showed a little bit more about Jermaine was just how important the team really was to him, even though he knew he wasn't going to play for us at all this season.
I mean, there were rumors flying around that maybe if he progressed a little bit faster than normal that he might be able to join us for the post-season. But I think he and I both knew that that was an unrealistic hope that was hanging over his head the entire year.
He never removed himself from the team. He still was involved in practices as much as he could, came to every game, still kind of served as an additional assistant coach and was able to give his perspective from a much different view than a 37-year old guy sitting on the end of the bench.
But, you could tell he still was able to relish in our victories, still felt the agony of our defeats and I think that really showed the kids on the team just how important it was, not only for Jermaine to do well and not only all the positive things that are happening with Jermaine, but just how important it was to be a Red Land basketball player.
BWI: What is his basketball IQ like? How was he in terms of coachability?
Slayton: There was never anything that I asked him to do that he wasn't willing to do. And I think that's a big difference between him and say some other kids that I've coached before that had Div. I potential. They were always thinking about the next level. They were always thinking about what they had to do as individuals to maybe get to the next level.
With Jermaine, it was about being the best high school basketball player that he could be so that Red Land High School could be the best possible basketball team, knowing that the next level would take care of itself.
He obviously worked on his individual skills as well but never lost sight of what was best for the team in the moment. What I mean by that is, if we needed Jermaine to play center for a game, he would be willing to play center, even though he knows he's never going to play center in college. He was still willing to go down there and post himself up because that was our best opportunity to score for that particular opponent. And I've had kids before that just didn't want to do that. Every time we tried to go in and run a little something, their head would go down or something.
Not with Jermaine. He never lost sight of the ultimate team goals and they never took a back seat to his individual goals as well.
BWI: What is his body like right now? Is he a kid that you think can make the transition to college ball right away? Obviously, he has to deal with the injury and coming back from that.
Slayton: Yeah, I think his biggest adjustment will have to be getting back to the speed of the game because there's obviously a huge difference between the competition we face and what he's going to face on the next level. I certainly think he'll be able to make that adjustment, but I think more than anything else, he's willing to put that time in.
He's been coming to all our open gyms. We're working for next year's team and he's been at every single workout that we've had for that team, pushing our kids and trying to make us better but at the same time making himself better as well. He's committed himself to the weight room unlike I've seen in the six years that I've been working with him. But, when we're ready to shut it down and our open gyms are over and our quickness stations are over and everything that we've done, Jermaine is still in the weight room doing what he needs to do.
He was very proud of the fact that he had gotten his Penn State workout book the other day and was going through it. He was genuinely excited about strengthening himself up to try to give himself the best opportunity to be able to contribute as soon as possible.
BWI: If you had to make a guess right now, would it be a redshirt situation for him next year or not?
Slayton: I don't know. I don't know what's going on inside the mind of Coach DeChellis and Coach Kanaskie, whether they want to be able to do that so he can kind of have that year... because listen, he's a year removed away from any kind of real competition. So, I think that would be realistic but I certainly don't think that it would be shocking if he was able to bypass that and be a contributor right away.
BWI: Jermaine made such an early decision to go with Penn State. Was that a surprise to you or was it something you saw coming?
Slayton: To be honest with you, no, it was. The way that Penn State pursued him, the way that they made it very clear that he was a high priority for them and the first-class manner in which they handled the entire recruiting process - Coach Kanaskie was the one that I think was really the leader of the entire recruiting - and just was first-class from the very first time he called me to get some peripheral information about Jermaine until the day that he signed.
It was just first-class the entire way and I think Jermaine felt very, very secure with his decision and knew that there was not a better fit for him out there.
So, why wait?
I think he would have committed even earlier but his father wanted to make sure he thought about all his options. But I think he was sold on Penn State very, very early on and I think it's a direct reflection on the way coach Kanaskie and coach DeChellis handled his recruitment.
BWI: One of the recurring themes I've seen talking to the coaches and players involved with this class has been the family atmosphere that's permeating from the Penn State program. Did you notice that at all or was it something Jermaine expressed to you as being important to him?
Slayton: I think it's very clear that they're doing things the right way up there and I think the results speak for themselves. There was never any negative recruiting at all from anybody involved with Penn State, and I can't say that for every team that came in here and every coach that came in here. Sometimes they would spend more time focusing on what was wrong with the other programs that were recruiting him rather than what was right about theirs. And Penn State never went down that road.
It was always why Penn State was the best fit for him and I truly believe that he made the right decision.
BWI: Just touching on the negative recruiting, I'm sure there was plenty of ammo with the program coming off a couple of rough seasons when he made his verbal commitment.
Slayton: I think other people recognized though that the program is definitely headed in the right direction. It might not be as much negative as you would think about Penn State because I think people recognize the solid job that is being done up there.
When I say Jermaine made the right decision, I mean in all capacities - academically, it's close to home, and that family atmosphere and everything that goes along with it, not just basketball-related. I think coach Kanaskie and coach DeChellis made that very, very clear to not only Jermaine but to his family as well.
BWI: Is there's a specific area of his game that needs work?
Slayton: Overall, just being able to adjust to the speed and the strength of the college game. Jermaine, I said this the other night in our workout, he's ready for the next challenge because he's certainly mastered the challenges that come from a high school level. Even on the highest level. We play quad-A and play the best teams that the state has to offer. Last year, he went up and we played Pennsbury and he went face-to-face with Dalton Pepper and by all accounts, outplayed him.
When he was a freshman we were playing Harrisburg when they had Quincy Roberts. He's played against the best that this area has to offer. He's ready for that next challenge and I think he's embraced the opportunities that come with that.
BWI: Just in talking to him, he's a very respectful, nice kid in general...
Slayton: He comes from a great family, very, very humble regardless of all the accolades that have been bestowed upon him - deservedly so. But I think that's what makes him the person and the player that he is is the fact that he has remained grounded throughout this whole thing.
We knew we had a special player from the time he was in seventh grade and I think he knew that he was going to get some bigtime opportunities from the time he was a freshman. He was never treated like a freshman when he came into our program. He was treated like a varsity basketball player and he accepted all of the responsibilities that came with that and never allowed all of the attention that he was getting to ever really deter him from working as hard as he could.
I think that obviously has paid off for him for the fact that he's getting a scholarship to play in one of the prestigious schools in the country.
BWI: Recruiting sites are always hit or miss but what do you think it says about Jermaine that he's still rated by ESPN as a top-player on their grading scale? They felt comfortable ranking him that way without even seeing him his senior season.
Slayton: I think it speaks volumes for our area, for District III, quad-A basketball in Pennsylvania. They know what he has been able to do against the best competition that this area has to offer and he's been doing it since he was a freshman and I think the fact that he's been able to go on a national level with his AAU programs and playing in the Elite Tournaments out in Las Vegas and has been able to be as competitive as he was as a 16 and 17-year old kid because no one has seen him as an 18-year old kid being able to compete there, speaks for the basketball and the competition that we have in this area and the fact that Jermaine has been able to be such an elite player on that highest level.
BWI: Any favorite stories of yours about Jermaine?
Slayton: I don't know if there's one that really encompasses everything about him. He never backed down from a challenge. He always wanted to guard the best player. He always wanted to have everything that he could and always wanted the ball in his hands, even as a 14-year old kid.
I remember when he was an eighth grader playing on the freshman team and hit the game winning shot as time expired, he didn't really know how to handle all the glory that came with it and he ended up running underneath the bleachers. His teammates were trying to hug him and embrace him.
But, I think he's going to have to get used to being able to handle being in the spotlight because I think he's going to find himself there more often than not.
BWI: So you're saying Penn State is getting a pretty good kid?
Slayton: I just think it's a perfect fit for both sides. I really think he's going to do well there.