North Carolina Tar Heels: Ed Cota

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Add North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall to the list of great ballhandlers who haven’t made first-team All-ACC -- yet.

The sophomore -- who needs just five more assists to break the league’s single-season record -- was squeezed out of the first-team voting, announced Monday. Teammates Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes all made it (along with Virginia’s Mike Scott and Duke’s Austin Rivers). Marshall finished a mere two points behind Barnes, UNC’s leading scorer.

The results probably didn’t come as a complete surprise to Marshall, a Cousy award finalist who takes pride in making his teammates look good. Asked last week why scoring seems to hold more weight with voters than playmaking, Marshall said: “Naturally, scoring is more entertaining, so it may get noticed more -- and I have no problem with that at all. I would rather let my other teammates get those awards and accolades.”

As long-time ACC reporter Al Featherston pointed out in this story for Duke Basketball Report last week, voters historically tend to forget about pass-first ballhandlers. He wrote:
"UNC’s Ed Cota and N.C. State’s Chris Corchiani – two of the three greatest distributors in ACC history – never made first-team All-ACC. Clemson’s Grayson Marshall, No. 5 on the league’s career assist list, never even made second team (even though he led Clemson to an unprecedented second-place regular season finish in 1987). Even Bobby Hurley, the NCAA’s career assist leader, didn’t make first team until his senior season, when he upped his scoring average of 17.0 a game."

Asked about that trend, Marshall said he had recently learned that Cota -- who he grew up watching, and whose UNC single-season assist record he recently broke -- hadn’t made first team, and he was surprised.

“He’s considered one of the greatest point guards to ever come through here,’’ Marshall said. “It’s a little ironic, but when it comes to media, your job is to pick the best five players, scorers, whatever way you want to look at it for that award. I can’t really fault anybody for the way they vote, the way they pick, they all have their own opinions.”

UNC coach Roy Williams said Monday, before the teams were announced, that he appreciated having such a great playmaker on his team.

“I like all my point guards to score, but I’ve never felt as comfortable with a guy making decisions,’’ Williams said of Marshall, who also recorded two games with 20 or more points in UNC's last four outings. “And I nitpick on him all the time, I pick on him if he makes one bad decision. But he makes better decisions with the basketball than any point guard I’ve ever had.”

Of course, Marshall -- who is averaging 9.6 assists per game, second in the nation -- still has a chance to make the All-ACC first team next season (and the season after that), unless he turns pro early.

And like a true assist man, Marshall applauded his fellow Tar Heels after the awards were announced Monday

Tweeted @kbutter5: "happy for my teammates".

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

Rapid Reaction: UNC 88, Maryland 64

February, 29, 2012

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- A quick look at sixth-ranked North Carolina’s 88-64 victory over Maryland at the Smith Center on Wednesday night:

How it happened: On senior night, it was senior forward Tyler Zeller’s night; the 7-footer scored 30 points, including shooting 20-of-23 from the free throw line, a Smith Center record (and one off the school record) for made freebies.

It wasn’t seamless early, though.

Both teams shot worse than 40 percent in the first half, as Zeller and junior forward John Henson combined for 25 of the Tar Heels’ 36 points en route to a 36-25 lead. Maryland turned it over 11 times before the break, while the Tar Heels committed six turnovers and outrebounded the Terps by only two.

The Tar Heels were sloppy, so much so that coach Roy Williams stripped off his sports coat in frustration after a bad pass with 15:40 left, with his team leading by eight. Terps coach Mark Turgeon showed some angst of his own, picking up a technical foul about four minutes later, when his team trailed by 11. UNC, though, followed that with a 16-0 run, breaking open the game.

And the only real question then was whether Zeller would break his career scoring record. In the end, he came up two points short of tying it. But the ACC player of the year candidate took his curtain call with 6:39 left -- hugging Williams, high-fiving his teammates on the bench and waving to the chanting, standing, appreciative crowd.

Henson added 19 points for the Tar Heels, who shot 39.4 percent.

Nick Faust led the Terps with 17 points.

What it means: The victory kept the Tar Heels tied atop the ACC standings with Duke at 13-2; the rivals will face off Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the regular-season league title and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. Expect a focused showdown. Not only will UNC be trying to avenge its one-point loss earlier this month -- when Devils freshman Austin Rivers buried a game-winning 3-pointer to secure a double-digit comeback -- but both teams are trying to keep their hopes alive for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Maryland now has lost three of its past four games.

Hubbub: It took a while, but North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall set the single-season school assists record with about 18 minutes left on a pass to Harrison Barnes. Entering the game, he needed four to pass Ed Cota (who had 284 in 1999-2000), and Marshall finished with eight. He now needs only 15 more to pass former Georgia Tech guard Craig Neal for the ACC record; he tossed 303 in 1987-88.

Hubbub, too: As expected, senior walk-ons Stewart Cooper, David Dupont and Patrick Crouch joined senior reserve Justin Watts and regular senior starter Zeller in the opening lineup for the quintet’s final game at the Smith Center. The score was tied at 2 when the normal starters joined Zeller at the 17:55 mark.

What’s next: The Tar Heels will face the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday. Maryland hosts Virginia on Sunday.
Catching Up With: Ed Cota

Former North Carolina point guard Ed Cota said he’ll definitely be keeping an eye on Wednesday night’s Maryland-UNC game. And if sophomore ballhandler Kendall Marshall dishes out the four assists needed to break Cota’s single-season record?

[+] EnlargeEd Cota
NCAA Photos via AP ImagesFormer Tarheels point guard Ed Cota still holds the UNC single-season assist record... for now.
“I’ll be proud of the guy,’’ Cota said in a phone interview. “He’s a great kid. And it couldn’t happen to a better person.”

Marshall grew up watching Cota play for the Tar Heels, and has called the playmaker -- who holds three of the top five season assist marks in UNC history, including the best at 284 in 1999-2000 –one of his favorite players.

So maybe it’s not surprising that Cota sees a bit of himself in Marshall, who has dished out 281 assists this season and is averaging 9.69 per outing.

“As far as having control of the game, we are similar,’’ said Cota. “If I go off of vision, we have similar vision. But I think he’s more textbook than I am.

“…But we are a rare breed, the way we look to pass first. A lot of stuff came naturally to me, but I was always I student of the game. I always wanted to make other people look good on the basketball court, better than myself. And I think [Marshall] is the same way.”

After amassing a school record 1,030 assists in his career (another school record) and helping the Tar Heels to three Final Fours from 1996-2000, the 6-foot Cota went on to play in Belgium, Lithuania, Russia, Israel and Spain. After a knee injury four years ago, he settled in Charlotte, N.C., where he now enjoys spending time with his two children.

He hasn’t retired quite yet – and may play again, he said, if the right opportunity comes along. But he’d also like to coach in the future.

As for Marshall, who he met last season, Cota said he’s happy he made an impression on another Tar Heels point guard.

“I’m proud of him, and I’m glad I set the bar for somebody to be able to achieve what I’ve achieved -- and more,’’ he said. “Hopefully he’ll be able to break the all-time record – but he’s got a long way to go.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
Kendall MarshallBob Donnan/US PresswireKendall Marshall is 42 assists away from breaking the ACC's single-season record.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall allowed himself to savor his latest double-digit assist effort -- 13 against Clemson on Saturday -- for all of 90 minutes.

"Until I went and checked ESPN, and saw that [Iona's] Scott Machado had 15 assists," he said Monday, smiling and shaking his head. "I was like, 'Oh, God. I'm still struggling to catch this guy.'"

Don't get the sophomore Bob Cousy Award candidate wrong. The first way Marshall judges his play is whether his seventh-ranked team, which faces rival NC State in Raleigh on Tuesday night, wins. "If our team is getting great shots, it doesn't matter to me if I'm getting credit for the assists."

Another way is his turnovers: "I think a good game for me is when I keep them under one or two."

But the pass-first ball handler freely admits he enjoys those double-digit assist games. (He's posted 11 this season and 17 for his career.) And during a season when his closest ACC competition averages more than three fewer dish-outs per game -- the Wolfpack’s Lorenzo Brown is second in the league at 6.5 -- Marshall often looks to Machado's numbers (nation-leading 10.1 assists, compared to Marshall's 9.7) as a personal challenge.

He also eyes the record books, where his 262 assists are closing in on some historic digits.

"Obviously, those are feats I want to accomplish. I know I've got 22 to tie Ed Cota [for the single-season UNC record for assists], I know I've got a long way to go to get the ACC mark," Marshall said. "First and foremost, we want to win games. But I feel like we're winning games at our best when I'm getting my teammates great shots. So they sort of go hand in hand."

Indeed, Marshall's ability to find his teammates 13, 14, 15 times an outing has become so commonplace that it's often taken for granted.

“Sometimes you think, ‘I’m open right now; I’d really like -- and then bam! It’s there," UNC forward Harrison Barnes said. “He always finds you. And that’s why we’ve got the best point guard in the country.”

But what Marshall can do, and so often, is rare.

Consider this:
  • With six guaranteed games left (four regular-season, at least one ACC tournament, at least one NCAA tournament), Marshall needs to average only 3.83 assists to break Cota's single-season school mark of 284, set in 2000, and would need to average only 7.0 to top Georgia Tech guard Craig Neal’s ACC record of 303, set in the 1987-88 season.
  • He's on pace to exceed Wolfpack great Chris Corchiani's single-season ACC average of 9.6 assists per game, an ACC record that has stood since 1991. (Cota holds the school record at 8.1.)
  • Marshall already has posted five career games with 15 or more assists. To put that into perspective, Raymond Felton (18), Jeff Lebo (17) and Cota (17) are the only other players in UNC history who have dished out that many in a single outing. And they did it only once apiece.

“He’s so unique -- you don’t see many guys like him,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Saturday. “His ability to pass, his unselfishness, his IQ for the game is tremendous. Who wouldn’t want to play with that guy? Who wouldn’t want to coach him? He takes so much pressure off you as a head coach because he makes so many decisions that you don’t need to tell him a whole lot.”

Everyone likes to talk about Marshall's extraordinary court vision, but there's more to it than just seeing (especially considering he wears a contact in his left eye). It's about feel, about thinking two or three throws ahead, about knowing exactly where his teammates want to catch the ball and being able to get it there.

Marshall freely admits he lacks the foot speed of most elite point guards, but he pushes the ball up the court with lightning pinpoint throws -- looking not for the first pass but envisioning the one that ultimately leads to a bucket.

“I think that's where Kendall is different than any other point guard in the country -- he can really pass ahead," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “And not just a pass ahead for somebody to make a move. He's made the move for the guy with the pass.”

UNC coach Roy Williams said that’s an innate skill that can’t really be coached.

“Great poker players have that memory, and I think Kendall sees the game as a whole," Williams said. “It’s hard. Some players never see the game as a whole. Tyler Hansbrough did not. It was ‘Give me the ball, I’m putting it in that basket.’ But Kendall sees the whole court -- and when he doesn’t see it, he still has that vision in his head.”

Marshall said he doesn’t know exactly where his court sight comes from, only that he’s always loved to pass. Growing up, he remembers, his dad actually used to get mad at him for not shooting the ball more.

And although he’s worked on his shot this season (he’s averaging 6.6 points), he’s still always looking for his teammates first. “That’s what makes our team special," senior forward Tyler Zeller said. And Marshall, who is averaging a team-leading 32.4 minutes, so invaluable.

In the coming weeks, there will be plenty of debate about ACC Player of the Year candidates, and "Barnes" and "Zeller" will be among the most repeated names in the chatter.

Marshall, though, should be credited for the often-umpteen times he finds the duo (and the rest of his teammates) for dunks or hook shots or jumpers. Even though he allows himself only scant hours to enjoy those double-digit outings and soon-to-be records.

“I do pay attention," he said, “... but winning games comes first.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.