Former University of Akron center Zeke Marshall can point to the moment when he realized he’d made progress in his trek to land in the NBA.
“When I saw everyone on their knees in Phoenix and I wasn’t,” he said without hesitation.
Phoenix might feel like eons ago — actually it was just three weeks — but Marshall blew through a tour of NBA teams who wanted to see what services he could offer them if he were drafted in Thursday night’s NBA Draft.
The first workout came for the Dallas Mavericks at the end of May. He said that helped to ease his way into the entire tour.
“It was different,” Marshall said. “I came in with the same mindset. I have to come in and do well, play as hard as I could. I think that was actually one of my best workouts.”
If he managed to impress either of those teams, it could very well be a good thing because both are in need of big men and they might represent Marshall’s best shot for landing on an NBA roster. Until recently, Marshall was expected to be an undrafted free agent, but some experts have said he’s worked his way into the second round.
“I’ve only gone by what people have said and ultimately the people who are talking are out of the loop,” Marshall said as he sat at a conference table in a hotel in downtown Cleveland. “Mock drafts and all that stuff really doesn’t show what GMs are talking about.”
Despite the fact that he’s asked not to be informed of where he might go in the association’s annual cattle call of talent, Marshall is pleased knowing that he’s turned a few heads.
“In a way, yeah, but ultimately it wasn’t my goal,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t want to know [my draft position]. Yes, I’m glad, I may prove some of the naysayers wrong.”
He wanted to go in the first round of the draft, but coming from the Mid-American Conference where the competition isn’t viewed favorably by the experts didn’t help nor did the label placed upon him that he needed to be more aggressive.
However, at 7 feet tall and with a wingspan of 7 feet, 5 inches, it would be easy to assume that some team would take a flyer on a center that averaged 13 points, seven rebounds and blocked 3.7 shots per game.
If Marshall doesn’t get drafted, he’s learned plenty about the NBA and himself because of the constant travel.
“It’s demanding,” he said quickly. “Going through the process, I can see why this lifestyle isn’t for everybody. It takes a lot out of you physically and mentally. I’ve been in a hotel room the past two months. It takes a lot out of you. It just shows how bad you want it.”
In a way, it makes it all worth it for him, as he’s grown into a more polished player than the one to come out of McKeesport, Pa., four years ago. He recognizes that it’s a step-by-step trip.
“No. The process is never over. If I get drafted or not, it’s what’s coming up after,” he said. “I’ll probably get invited to summer league, which is Friday and I have to leave early morning so it’s never ending. It’s not the time to take a break, you have to keep pushing.”
If he doesn’t get drafted, he gains more control of his career, being able to choose the team better suited for him with a need for a big man. The Mavericks and Suns fit nicely in that category.
He has no preference — including playing for the Cavaliers, for whom he worked out Monday — in teams. In fact he’s pragmatic in his feelings.
“I feel like whatever is the best opportunity and ultimately can give me the best paycheck and the best opportunity for my career and my development,” Marshall said. “Wherever the best place is I need to be, I want to get to. Ultimately, you have to prove yourself the next three years [of a rookie contract]. If you don’t prove yourself in those three years, you’re gone.”
What he is clear on is what the journey has meant for him thus far.
“I’ve learned that I’m capable of getting it,” he said. “As I told some GMs, I think the biggest thing about me now is I know what I need to do, I don’t know how to do it yet, which is why I’m focused on trying to ask questions and trying to pick things up as quickly as I can so I can get there.”
His journey will continue in some form at the end of this week.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.