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October 11, 2011
Butler forward Khyle Marshall admits he needed time to adjust to his role last season. The presence of Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack allowed Marshall to work his way into his new responsibilities.
This season, he won't have that luxury.
After improbably leading Butler to consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament championship game, Howard and Mack have ended their college careers. The only player left on Butler's roster who played more than one minute in each of the two championship games is senior guard Ronald Nored, who provides an abundance of leadership and defense but doesn't offer much scoring.
Somebody has to pick up the slack, and Marshall is the obvious candidate.
"I've been hearing from the outside that Matt's gone, Shelvin's gone and now it's your time to step up," Marshall says. "I've definitely heard that from the outside. Last year was a year where I had some pretty inconsistent [performances] throughout the season, but we could afford that because we were young and it's something many freshmen go through."
This year, Marshall must become more consistent.
On a team full of under-the-radar prospects, Marshall is the rare relatively high-profile recruit. Marshall, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, arrived from Pembroke Pines (Fla.) Flanagan as the No. 118 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. The only other top-150 recruits who will play for Butler this season are sophomore guard Chrishawn Hopkins (No. 124 in 2010) and freshman forward Roosevelt Jones (No. 129 in 2011). Butler's roster also includes 6-foot guard Rotnei Clarke - the No. 104 prospect in the 2008 class - but the former Arkansas player must sit out the 2011-12 season to follow NCAA transfer rules.
But Marshall didn't make an immediate impact at Butler. He started just three games as a freshman while averaging 5.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 15.2 minutes.
"There was a lot of stress in school, in basketball," Marshall says. "It was a little tough to balance it out. ... I sort of felt a little homesick. I went through a little period when I was a little down, but I had teammates and coaches to pick me up as time went on."
His postseason performance gave him plenty of reason to smile.
Marshall's ordinary season totals don't accurately reflect how big a role he played in Butler's march to the national championship game. Marshall's NCAA tournament output justified his recruiting ranking and showed just how much he could mean to Butler's program the next few seasons.
He had seven points and seven rebounds in a Southeast Regional semifinal victory over Wisconsin. Marshall followed that up by collecting 10 points and seven rebounds -- all on the offensive end -- in a 74-71 overtime triumph against Florida that sent Butler to the Final Four. Marshall also had six points and nine rebounds in a 70-62 NCAA semifinal win over VCU.
Marshall finished the tournament with 23 offensive rebounds, the most of any player in the 68-team field.
"It certainly was a tremendous boost to his confidence -- to play that well on an elite stage," Butler assistant coach Matthew Graves says. "It showed that he's capable of doing that against the best in the country. Now it's a matter of putting that into work on a daily basis."
If his NCAA tournament performance weren't enough of a confidence boost, Marshall got a chance this summer to play for the U.S. team that finished fifth in the FIBA Under-19 World Championships in Latvia.
Gordon Hayward and Mack also played on the under-19 team the summer after their freshman seasons and went on to lead Butler on its Cinderella run to the national title game as sophomores.
"It definitely gave me a lot of confidence," Marshall says. "It showed that I can hang with the top upcoming sophomores in the country."
Marshall understands what's demanded of him. He knows he must remain aggressive on the boards as Butler attempts to replace Howard, a tireless worker and former Horizon League player of the year who averaged 16.4 points and 7.7 rebounds last season.
Marshall also must improve his shooting as Butler tries to withstand the loss of Mack, whose fearless approach from the perimeter helped him average 16 points per game and sink 87 3-pointers a year ago.
But here's the paradox: While Marshall realizes he needs to do much more, his coaches want to make sure he tries not to do too much.
"The biggest thing first and foremost is we need him to do exactly what he did last year," Graves says. "That's playing aggressive, attacking and going to the offensive glass. I think a lot of times, players in general make mistakes that they've got to do more and go above and beyond -- and they forget what makes them good to begin with.
"Once he establishes that, then we'll continue to add other things."
That hasn't stopped Marshall from attempting to expand his game. Last season, Marshall missed both his 3-point attempts. He won't let that happen again. At the start of just about every workout, Marshall takes 50 3-point shots in an attempt to expand his range.
"It's just something I needed to improve on," he says. "Last year I just didn't have as much confidence in it. This year I realized I needed to be more confident in shooting from the outside. ... It definitely will take a little time for me to finally get the full effect. It's definitely a work in progress."
Marshall also will continue to learn from his two departed teammates. When he looks back on his freshman season, Marshall remembers a text message he received from Mack shortly before the Horizon League tournament. Marshall was in a bit of a slump at that point and had played just two minutes in the Bulldogs' final regular-season game.
Mack's message advised Marshall to remain focused and noted that the Bulldogs would need him during the postseason. Sure enough, Butler likely wouldn't have advanced to the Final Four without him.
"That's something I remembered throughout the whole tournament and up to now," Marshall says.
Nor does Marshall forget the blue-collar attitude Howard carried into every game. Marshall said he wants to take that same approach each time he takes the floor.
"Matt's not really much of a talker, but he was always telling me, 'Don't keep your head down,' " Marshall says. "He's more of a guy who leads by example. Just watching him play, it's something I want to mimic. Just watching the energy he brings, the hard work he puts on the floor, it's something I put in my mind. Once I get in, I want to be just like Matt."
Now that Mack and Howard have moved on, a third consecutive trip to the championship game for Butler would seem even more improbable than the first two appearances. Butler doesn't return a single player who averaged in double figures last season. The Bulldogs' top returning scorer is 6-11 junior center Andrew Smith, who averaged 8.5 points and 5.6 rebounds.
The Bulldogs won't be expected to return to the Final Four. They might not even be picked to win the Horizon League.
That doesn't concern Marshall. He's more bothered about how last season ended.
The Bulldogs led Connecticut at halftime in last season's national championship game, only to let a title slip through their grasp because of their inability to make shots. Butler shot just 19 percent in the 53-41 loss to the Huskies. After playing so well throughout the tournament, Marshall was held scoreless against Connecticut.
Now he wants to make amends.
"That's something you're never going to forget," Marshall says. "It's never going to leave your mind. You always remember that one final game. You just feel you're at the finish line and fall short. It's something that's never going to leave your mind. We just use it as motivation. It's just one more step.
"All we need is one more step."
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