Marshall must flourish in new role

The big picture that Anthony Marshall envisions comes in small parts. It is as much about Northern Arizona as an opportunity at playing in the NBA, as much about today as tomorrow, as much about sacrificing numbers as refining his skill.

“I’m OK with that,” Marshall said. “A leader has to be.”

Basketball teams with championship dreams often do a better job than most of defining roles early in a season, of determining which players at what spots on the floor allow for the best chance at success.

UNLV, ranked 18th and set to open its most anticipated season in decades against Northern Arizona tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center, needs one such change to work if all the hype is to translate into wins.

Marshall, who will start at point guard as a senior, was previously counted on to score on a consistent basis while owning an aggressive offensive approach, to find points when others struggled doing so.

He was a second team All-Mountain West Conference pick at shooting guard.

These are different times.

“We’re asking him to be more of a distributor,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “It is important he show leadership and sacrifice his own game for the rest of the team. That’s critical for us. If we’re going to have success, much of it falls on Anthony’s shoulders.

“It’s an adjustment. The No. 1 job for all of us is to win basketball games, and yet we also want to give each of our players the best possible chance to play professionally after college. The best opportunity for Anthony to do that is at point guard. But first, I’m counting on him heavily this season.”

There is precedent here.

A major one.

Greg Anthony was one of the best point guards in college history, but he also came from a scoring background before making the switch. He was a major scorer at Rancho High School, then as a freshman at the University of Portland.

He transferred to UNLV in 1988, almost gave coach Jerry Tarkanian a heart attack by shooting so much in his first game, and eventually accepted his place as the guy in charge of getting all the other talented guys good shots.

Marshall was also a local prep star, at Mojave, who grew up thinking shoot before pass. It’s a tough transition for any player, much less a senior who knows his team will be watched closely this season by countless NBA scouts, who understands that teammates such as Mike Moser and Anthony Bennett are very much on the radar of pro teams and that he also has a chance to earn their interest.

He will just have to do so in a different manner than in the past.

“A lot of people say my scoring will go down, and that’s fine,” said Marshall, third on the team last season with a 12.2 average to Moser and departed forward Chace Stanback. “You don’t have to go out and score 18 to 20 points to be considered a great player. I have a lot of talented teammates. They’re going to make it easy for me to run the team.

“If the opportunity opens up for me to score, I’ll take it. But being a leader is the most important thing on and off the court. Whether it’s reminding the new guys to do the right thing, get treatment on their bodies, watch more film, just making them feel welcome, it’s important for me to communicate with them during games and after them. It’s important I lead by example.”

It’s important he continually supports the offensive mindset UNLV needs to adopt to make a deep run in March, one that preaches intelligence within the frantic pace Rice prefers.

The Rebels love shooting 3-pointers like rich people do sailing.

Problem: Rich people can afford to sail; the Rebels can’t afford to shoot as many 3s as their players often prefer.

It’s on Marshall to sense trends in games, to slow the pace and demand extra passes when average shots become terrible ones, to completely grasp how the Rebels are playing a certain night and adjust accordingly, to remind bigs that it’s not totally uncool to venture inside once every five or so trips down the floor.

It’s on him to embrace this new, significant, critical role.

A big picture move that comes in small parts.

“I hate to compare anyone to Greg Anthony, but he was in a similar situation,” Rice said.

Worked out pretty well, too.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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