In his only year on the ASU men’s basketball team, senior guard Jermaine Marshall has quickly emerged as one of the Sun Devils’ most valuable players.
His value became obvious when the team struggled in his absence in its first game against UA on Jan. 16 in Tucson. When Marshall fully recovered from his groin injury, he hit a game-tying shot at California that forced overtime. A week later, the transfer from Penn State hit a couple big shots late in the game to help ASU beat Oregon on Feb. 8.
The State Press sat down with Jermaine Marshall and spoke with him about his leadership role on the team, the Sun Devils’ morale and missing the first game at UA.
The State Press: You guys have been playing a lot of close games lately. You hit two big shots against Cal and Stanford, then put up some late points against Oregon on Saturday. It seems like you’re very comfortable performing when the game is on the line.
Jermaine Marshall: I try to be. I’m just trying to be a fifth-year senior and being a vet. I think that comes with leadership. I just try to be a leader on the team. Not just the shots, I try to talk to them and tell them that everything is going to be fine, especially that Oregon game. They made a late run; we were up 20. I just try to calm my guys down and still let them know and believe we’re going to win the game.
SP: It seems like you already have everyone’s full respect as a leader, which is impressive considering this is your only year on the team. Did you earn that respect right away or did you need to prove yourself at first?
JM: I think it was a little bit of both. When I first got here, guys knew I was somewhere for four years. I kind of knew the ropes a little bit. I had to prove it with my play in practice and just show guys that I know what I’m talking about.
The main thing is trusting the coaches, and I think they did that. The coaches put that leadership role on me, and I took firsthand with that.
SP: Back in the Oregon game, you didn’t shoot the ball very well all night, but you still went out and had a big bucket with less than a minute left. When a shooter has an off-night, he usually plays mind games with himself to get back on track, but did your mindset change at all that night?
JM: Yeah. It was funny, I was playing mind games with myself, giving myself a lot of motivation and just telling myself everything is going to be fine. Also, I just tell myself, ‘I got to pick it up,’ and I think once I did that, (it goes) to that last stretch where a lot of things picked up for me. It worked on my end. Like I said before, guys on my team trusted me to give me the ball in certain situations, and I was able to pull through.
SP: After the Oregon game on Saturday, (senior center) Jordan (Bachynski) raved about whenever the game is close, he’s talking from the bench, you’re talking, (sophomore point guard) Jahii (Carson) is talking, (senior forward) Shaq (McKissic) is talking and so on. How well does this team manage itself?
JM: I think we’ve gotten a lot better. I think that’s one thing we’ve struggled with at the beginning of the year, but the coaches can only do so much. The other half needs to be our leaders on the floor, and Jordan’s one of them, Jahii’s one of them, and I think guys look up a lot to Shaq, too. They listen, and I think we do a good job of leading our team to the right path.
SP: The team has won five of its last six games. What’s the team’s morale like right now, especially with the NCAA Tournament on your sights?
JM: We’re hungry. We had some team meetings just talking about the NCAA Tournament, the things we have to do and winning as much games as possible. We’ve got seven games left. Like you said, we’ve won five our last six, but our mindset now is to try and win every game that’s left on our schedule.
SP: What’s the biggest improvement you’ve made since coming to ASU?
JM: Maturity. Leadership. I think another one was just being coachable, listening and buying in to all of what coach (Herb) Sendek says and what he wants. Not just him, our whole coaching staff, so just being coachable and just being a leader.
Sometimes in the past year, I was just kind of scared of that leadership role. I was always like that as a younger guy, but now I’m a fifth-year senior, and I have to take over that role.
SP: You played against every team in the conference already. What sticks out to you the most about Pac-12 basketball?
JM: How competitive it is from top to bottom. You can’t really take any games off because when you do, you get a loss in the loser column. It’s a tough, competitive conference. Everybody’s good, all players are talented, and I just think we got to be the team that outworks everybody.
SP: You didn’t play against UA last month due to the groin injury. How tough was it sitting out?
JM: Not just because it’s UA, I think it was just tough for me to sit out a game, period. I never really saw myself sitting out of a game, and I never did. It was my first time sitting out of a game in my college career. So it wasn’t just about the UA game. Obviously, it was a rivalry game and all of those things. If we were playing another team that same night, I would’ve been disappointed.
SP: It’s been two weeks since I asked you about your groin and you said you were fine. Are you feeling 100 percent now?
JM: Yeah, absolutely. I just think it was a confidence thing. I passed all of the tests before the Utah game. I went in still kind of hesitant, and also in the Colorado game, the same thing. After that, I just told myself, “You’ve got to let go.” Talking to (assistant) coach (Stan) Johnson, he was just telling me, “You can’t really think about that, because if you think about that and try to play at the same time, it’s not going to work.”
SP: I just found out Tuesday that Friday’s game is sold out. How excited are you to play against UA?
JM: It’s great. Coming into Tempe, having a nice crowd is a positive. They do a great job in Tucson, and I think we do a great job as well. Having a sold-out crowd is definitely a plus for us; it’s a homecourt advantage and I think with that, it gives us the best chance to win. On top of that, we have to come out and have a great week of practice, preparing and believing we can win. It’s not only about the fans, it’s about us.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Josh_Nacion