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Confidence, Leadership Keys to Playing Point Guard

O’Connell’s Marshall well versed in dealing with pressure.

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Bishop O’Connell point guard Kendall Marshall signed with the University of North Carolina as a sophomore.

Senior point guard Kendall Marshall and his Bishop O’Connell teammates spent 30 minutes in their home locker room after the Knights’ 83-55 blowout loss to DeMatha on Jan. 20.

When players finally emerged from the postgame meeting, Marshall was one of the last players to enter the hallway. Cool, calm and collected, Marshall answered questions about what it takes to be a successful point guard. Leadership was discussed, including the role Marshall felt he needed to take to help turn around an O’Connell team which had lost nine of 11 games.

"We have to be able to get everybody on the same page," said Marshall, speaking of O’Connell’s half-hour postgame gathering. "Right now, our team, our coaching staff, we’re not clicking right now. We’re not going to be successful until we all learn to get on the right page. I’m definitely trying [to help smooth things over]. I feel like as a leader on this team, being a veteran here — this is my fourth year on varsity — and being a player that they look up to, they’re going to do what I do."

The pressure to lead and to perform can be hard on a point guard. But few know more about dealing with pressure than Marshall. As a sixth-grader, the Dumfries, Va., native garnered media attention when an editor of an online publication ranked Marshall the nation’s No. 1 recruit for that age group. As a high school sophomore, Marshall committed to the University of North Carolina. As a senior, Marshall is the nation’s No. 22 overall recruit in the class of 2010 and the No. 6 point guard, according to ESPN.com.

WHILE MARSHALL plays a position which attracts the focus of others, the 6-foot-4 left-hander has faced scrutiny longer than many could imagine.

"It’s tough. That’s probably one of the hardest things for me as I’ve grown up — since I was 12 years old. I’ve always been in the spotlight," Marshall said. "You just have to keep working hard and be able to get through that because at the end of the day, people are going to criticize you. The more you’re in the spotlight, the more they’re going to be nitpicky, the more they’re going to notice all the [bad] things instead of the positive things you do, so you just have to be able to stay positive and work hard."

Marshall said he felt more pressure once he committed to North Carolina.

"I had that target on my back now," he said. "All eyes are on me every time I step on the court. People whisper behind your back, they’re talking about you: ‘That’s the kid right there.’ So I just have to go out and perform every night."

Marshall said his family acts as his support group when he feels like talking about the pressure. As someone who has long been in the public eye, Marshall is careful about who he associates with.

"I feel like you have to keep your circle tight," he said. "You can’t let too many people in because you never know why they’re there. … You have to deal with groupies all the time — male, female, it doesn’t matter. They’re coming from everywhere."

DR. KEITH KAUFMAN, a Washington, D.C. therapist specializing in sports psychology, said it is important for a point guard to maintain balance in his or her approach.

A point guard should "be decisive and confident but at the same time be balanced and incorporate as many facets as possible," Kaufman said. "… Basketball players like to get really fired up but they need to make sure they’re not too fired up so they’re making good decisions and thinking clearly. … [A point guard should] express confidence and decisiveness but at the same time survey the opinions of teammates. … If you have a point guard who isn’t buying into what the rest of the team is doing that can create a lot of problems."

On the court, Marshall has the athletic ability to score, but makes his biggest impacts distributing the ball, playing defense and being a leader.

"I approach every game, first of all, thinking I’m going to win," he said. "You have to go into the game with that mentality. … Second of all, I have to put my team on my back. Not scoring-wise, but to put them all on the same page. … It takes a lot of confidence. … [There is] a fine line between being cocky and confident. You have to be able to yell at a player and realize off the court you all are still going to be cool, but he can hate you … on the court. He will follow you if you tell him the right thing."

Along with Marshall’s physical talents, O’Connell head coach Joe Wootten said the point guard has a strong work ethic.

"I can’t remember a practice where he hasn’t worked his tail off," Wootten said. "… He enjoys passing the ball, which I think is something that any great point guard does --- they enjoy seeing someone else find success. … He’s a great kid off the court. He’s the type of kid you want to be around."

<b>Pass First Works for Kahlenberg<'b>

It’s early in Friday night’s game against Richard Montgomery (Rockville, Md.) when Whitman (Potomac, Md.) point guard Caroline Kahlenberg fires a cross-court pass to Susan Russell, who finishes with a transition layup. Later, Kahlenberg finds Clara Kelly cutting down the lane for a bucket and a 13-point lead. Finally, with the Vikings attempting to survive a Rockets comeback, Kahlenberg tosses an inbound pass to a streaking Russell, who scores and is fouled.

Kahlenberg, a three-year starter, has been a key part of Whitman’s 11-3 start. The left-handed floor general specializes in getting others involved, including eight assists in Friday’s win over Richard Montgomery and seven in Monday’s victory against Walter Johnson. While Russell carries much of the scoring load for Whitman, Kahlenberg distributes the ball and runs the offense.

Strong point guard play is critical to the success of any basketball team. While there are different ways to play the position, Kahlenberg’s pass-first approach suits the Vikings well.

"She came to us with a gift for passing and she’s very selfless as a person — team is the most important thing," head coach Pete Kenah said. "I think those are real important traits for a point guard. It seems in today’s game the scoring point guard is what’s so en vogue. She’s more like the throwback, the Bob Cousy, John Stockton [type of player]. … She’ll take shots when she needs to — I’d certainly like her to shoot more – but her nature is pass first."

Kahlenberg is in her fourth season with the varsity. She was a shooting guard her freshman season before taking over as the starting point guard her sophomore campaign. She played both positions for youth teams, but said she prefers running the point.

"I like to distribute the ball," she said. "I like to communicate with the coach. I like when other people make shots. … I definitely like to have the ball in my hand. Especially as a senior, I feel confident with it. I feel like I can get it to the open person."

Kahlenberg excels at both ends of the floor — she had seven steals Monday — and is a team captain. While Kenah would like No. 1 to be more aggressive at times from a scoring standpoint, the coach said he’s lucky to have such a leader. Kahlenberg has an impact in many facets of the game while spreading the offensive wealth to her teammates.

She is "just so cerebral," Kenah said. "She has an incredibly high basketball IQ. Not only that, but she’s a wonderful teammate. Teammates love playing for her. … I learned with Caroline, she is who she is. She’ll never be a 20-point-a-game scorer, but she really fills up the stat sheet. … I think as a coach you have to appreciate the player and not try to make them someone they’re not."

Kahlenberg said experience has her feeling more comfortable on the floor. She also said the closeness of the Vikings helps her succeed as well as enjoy her — and the team’s — achievements. Kahlenberg and Russell have strong chemistry on the court, are friends off of it and will play against one another at the college level next season. Kahlenberg will attend Middlebury College and Russell is headed to Bates College — both members of the New England Small College Athletic Conference.

"I’m definitely more confident dribbling, especially if they’re pressuring me," Kahlenberg said. "I would look to get the pressure off me as a sophomore but now I sort of enjoy going one-on-one against a person. I think I know more about the game now. As a sophomore, I looked more to Kenah to call the plays but now I like to discuss [situations]. … I think one of the big things about being point guard is having good players to pass to. For me it’s really important to have a really close team because then you feel good when you pass to someone and you feel good when they [score]. If someone is a huge ball hog or not nice off the court, it’s more difficult to be happy when you pass to them [for a] score, so it’s really good to have an off-the-court relationship with them as well."

<b>Carrying the Scoring Load</b>

<bt>While Kahlenberg’s pass-first approach works well for the Vikings, Churchill (Potomac) point guard Jake Eskin carries more of his team’s scoring load. The senior is averaging nearly 18 points per game for the inexperienced and offensively challenged Bulldogs. No other Churchill player is averaging double figures.

But Eskin wasn’t always a scoring threat. Prior to his senior season, Eskin played at Northwest High School, where he said his career high was six points. Growing up, Eskin possessed a mentality similar to that of Kahlenberg.

"When I was real young, and still to this day, I used to always like passing a lot," he said. "I was the passer, I never really shot the ball until this year. … If you can dribble the ball a little bit and you can pass, you’re the point guard. It’s kind of become a natural thing for me. … I’m a natural passing, distributing point guard, but sometimes you’ve got to step up and you’ve got to see what your team gives you and what you have to do to win."

Eskin transferred to Churchill prior to the 2009-10 campaign. He credits hard work in the offseason for allowing him to become the top scoring threat for a Churchill program that graduated much of its talent from the 2008-09 season.

"The last few years I’ve played with very minimal confidence," Eskin said. I’ve been kind of shaky on the court. … [I was] too afraid to shoot, not making the right play because I was nervous. But now I’ve kind of come into my own game."

Head coach Matt Miller said Eskin is at his best when he attacks the basket and uses a second move to score inside. No. 10 also has a soft touch from the perimeter.

"In Jake’s scenario, he does a nice job attacking while keeping floor vision," Miller said. "He knows exactly when and where to [pass the ball]. … We tell Jake, always attack. … We’re trying to develop our guys into players that are able to stay aggressive while playing smart."

While Eskin is the Bulldogs’ answer at point guard this season, Miller is grooming sophomore Christian Bonaparte as his floor leader of the future. Bonaparte is new to the position, having played shooting guard in the past. But Miller said Bonaparte’s improving ball-handling and defensive abilities make him a potential standout at the position. Plus, Miller said, working with Eskin in practice has improved Bonaparte’s game.

"If he develops at the rate he did this past year [during the next two years]," Miller said of Bonaparte, "… I think he can be a very, very good point guard by his senior year. We’re hoping he’s ready by next year, as well."

Eskin said hard work will help Bonaparte down the road.

"He’s grown probably more than anyone on this basketball team this whole year," Eskin said. "When I first saw him I was like, ‘This kid is going to play JV.’ But now he’s come into playing the last five minutes of the fourth quarter almost every game because we need him on defense, we need him to handle the basketball."

Bonaparte said he enjoys the feeling of distributing the ball to his teammates, but added the transition to point guard has been "pretty tough" and is "a lot of pressure." Eskin said the best way for a point guard to deal with pressure is to have a short memory.

"We’re handling the ball 90 percent of the basketball game, so if we make a turnover that’s just got to get out of your head right then and there," Eskin said. "I used to think about all these turnovers … I can’t do that anymore. I was thinking about turnovers too much instead of my whole entire game. I’ve just got to move on to the next play."

<b>Be a Leader</b>

Cavanaugh Hagen is in her second season as head coach of the T.C. Williams (Alexandria) girls basketball team. Hagen was a point guard and four-year starter at T.C. Williams. After graduating in 2001, she went on to play at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y. Hagen said the most important traits a point guard can have are confidence and leadership.

"You have to be a confident point guard because if not then you’ll get rattled easily — your team will get rattled," she said. "I think if you’re the one that’s leading that you need to be the one that has control over situations on the court. … If you don’t demand the ball in your hands your team won’t know what to do because you’re the one that’s supposed to make them better, or set them up for success."