I caught up with ex-Cavalier Donyell Marshall yesterday, who in July, was named to the George Washington University Men’s Basketball staff. We talked about his time with the Cavaliers during that ’07 Finals run, his thoughts on playing for Mike Brown, as well as his coaching career set to get underway this season with GW. Our conversation is below.
Stepien Rules: A few years ago in that run the Cavaliers team had, you made six threes in that game six of the EC semis and that team ended up going to the NBA Finals. Can you talk a little bit about that team, and that run that season?
Donyell Marshall: That team was a team that was unified, we fought hard for each other. If you look at the regular season we were in the top-10 in defense in the NBA, and in the playoffs we were the number one defensive team in the NBA. You know, its amazing how a lot of people feel that we were lucky to get to the championship. They sit up here and say ‘look at the teams we played.’ The last time I recalled, you tried to position yourself to get the easiest schedule to get to the championship [laughs]. That’s why teams try to get the number one seed, and it’s not our fault that we played everybody who was put in front of us and we beat them. Unfortunately, when we played San Antonio they were probably just more experienced and knew what to do when it came championship time.
I think that people don’t give that team enough respect, especially in the Cleveland area. I think when you look at it, we were the only team from that area to ever make it to the championship. Whether you thought we were the best Cleveland team or not, really doesn’t matter, but what matters is we’re still the only team to ever let you experience that. And I think that you don’t give enough credit.
These last couple teams, yes they won sixty games, or sixty something games, so yeah they might have been the best regular season team, but we were the best postseason team.
What do you think that ’07 team had that these past couple teams didn’t have?
Donyell Marshall: We had unity, we fought for each other. When we hung out, it was always three, four, five of us together. We cared about each other. I’m not saying that these last couple teams didn’t, I wasn’t around to really know, but I know that the 2007 team really cared about each other. We hated to lose, we didn’t want to lose, and when we lost we felt like we let somebody else down.
And coming from that 2006 team, we knew we should’ve beat Detroit in that 2006 series, and we let that one slip. So 2007, we were not going to let that same thing happen to us again. We learned from our mistakes, and we knew we had a good chance of coming back and winning that. I think it was just more that we really were unified.
As far as when you say “a team” that was probably one of the best “teams” I’ve been on in my NBA career. In Utah, we had a good team there, but as far as team, and people who cared about each other and didn’t really worry about scoring, and just did what they had to do and sacrificed, I think that 2007 team was one of the best ones I’ve ever played on.
Stepien Rules: Can you talk about Mike Brown as a coach, and are there things you’ve taken from him as far as his philosophy and approach?
Donyell Marshall: I think if I take anything from Mike Brown obviously it would be his defensive philosophies. I think that he was a very good defensive coach. He had people, you look at myself, Damon Jones, Boobie, we weren’t known as great defensive players. We were known as offensive players, but we weren’t known as great defensive players. But we had the best defensive team in the playoffs, and one of the top-10 defensive teams in the regular season, and that was because of his philosophies.
We were always in the right place at the right time. In defense, one of the terms they say is that everyone must be on a string, and we were on that. Somebody got beat, the other guy was already over there to help, and I think that’s one of the philosophies if anything that I would take from Mike Brown.
Stepien Rules: What would you say about his philosophy offensively, what were some of the issues there that you could point to, if anything?
Donyell Marshall: He wasn’t necessarily known as an offensive coach, and he had gotten some help with that. That’s why John Kuester came, and some of the other guys he brought in to help him on the offensive side. But that didn’t take away from him being a great coach though. That didn’t take away from him at all.
I just think sometimes when you have a player of LeBron James stature, and you know you can get the ball to him in the 4th quarter, the offense probably goes away, and a lot of people start to question your offense, and I think that was probably a little bit of a problem that it was.
Stepien Rules: Do you see him being a head coach in the NBA again in the near future?
Donyell Marshall: Yeah, he can definitely be a head coach again, and I think he definitely will. I think a lot of people are going to question did he do what he did because of LeBron, but I think he did what he did because he was a good coach. I think that he will definitely get another chance and he is definitely going to want to prove to people that he was a good coach, and I think he was a good coach.
Obviously, you had a good player like LeBron, but I think Coach Brown also had to put you in the right position to do that, and I think he is a good enough coach to do that. I think it had nothing to do with LeBron, I think that he is definitely a coach that can coach again in this league, and be successful.
Stepien Rules: What were some factors that motivated you to get into coaching?
Donyell Marshall: I had sponsored an AAU team for 16 years when I had first gotten into the NBA, until this year since taking this job, but over the last four years I had actually coached the team. So, [coaching] was something really that I liked doing, and wanted to get in on that level after I stopped playing. When I had signed my last contract with the Cavaliers, I tried to put myself in a position to do some other things, that is why I went back to school to get my degree so I would have all kinds of options.
Is there something in particular about college that motivated you to want to coach college players more so than the NBA?
Donyell Marshall: I don’t think it was a factor of wanting to coach college more or wanting to coach in the NBA, but it was more a situation where this was the first thing that opened up. If something had opened up in the NBA, there is a possibility that I may have taken an NBA job. So I can’t say it motivated me more to coach college than it did in the NBA.
Stepien Rules: What are some of your coaching goals at this point? Do you want to be a head coach in college one day, or possibly join an NBA staff?
Donyell Marshall: I think everybody’s goal is to become a head coach at some point in time. As far as the NBA, I guess that would just be on wherever it takes me to, but right now my goal is to be the best assistant I can be for George Washington and help these players get back to where they were a couple years ago as a school and as a program. I think if I can come in here and be the best coach that I can, and learn, I think everything else will take care of itself.
Stepien Rules: What are some of your responsibilities and/or goals on the GW staff this season? Are you working with the bigs, a particular position, or anything along those lines as far as what your focus will be?
Donyell Marshall: Well, we obviously can’t work out with players yet because they’re not in school as well as the NCAA rules, but I think because of my position and the way I played in the NBA and played in college I was not necessarily a big man, and not necessarily a small man. I was what you’d call a tweener, so I would probably work with anybody depending on what day of the week it was. One day I might work with the big guys, and the next I might work with the guards depending on what the situation was.
Stepien Rules: Do you think that gives you an advantage, or maybe a different perspective, than maybe others making the player to coach transition, the fact that you played a number of positions and can relate to both big players and wing players?
Donyell Marshall: Well I think it helps just because I’m not restricted to just one area. If a coach says I’m looking for a big man coach, or a looking for a guard, they could get the best of both worlds with me. With me playing so many positions, obviously I can’t teach a PG, but at the other positions I think I can teach them. I shot the ball as well as a two guard, and I rebounded as good as a four or a center, so I think those are all the things that can help me out. And you’re always going to have guys on your team that play multiple positions and for me to be able to teach those guys is really going to help alot.
Stepien Rules: Is there one coach in particular that you played for throughout your career that you have tried to model your coaching philosophy after?
Donyell Marshall: No, not really. I think if you realize you are always going to take something from somebody, and you’re always going to not take things from people, so I think its a mixture. It just depends on what you liked from that team or that organization whether it was NBA or college, no matter what. There’s been times where I watched basketball, and liked a play that they run, and ran it on the AAU team. So you’re always learning something, and you’re always taking something from somebody and learning and trying to put it into your program, especially from coaches that are successful.
Stepien Rules: As far as your AAU team, are there some recognizable names of guys who played on your team over the years?
Donyell Marshall: Royal Ivey played for my team, he’s now with OKC Thunder. Alexander Franklin who was the MAAC POY last year with Siena played for me, Trinity Berdine who will be at Siena this year as an incoming freshman he played for me. There is a kid named Trey Lewis from Ohio who just signed with Penn State, there’s also a kid at PSU now named Jermaine Marshall who played for me. Jonny Flynn played a couple games for me, as well as Brandon Trist who’s at Syracuse now, so we’ve had some good players.
Stepien Rules: Throughout all your experiences in the NBA, what are some of the main lessons that you might have learned from guys you played with that you plan to pass along to the players your coaching now at GW?
Donyell Marshall: These kids are trying to make it to where I was. So there are always lessons through things guys taught me or things I went through myself that I hope to teach these guys. That is one of the good things about being on a staff like this. Sometimes you have kids that might be naive or hard-headed where they could say to a coach ‘what do you know about the NBA coach, you didn’t play there.’ They can’t say that here, and now when we say you got to get in the gym, I can come back and say, how do you think John Wall is working out? What do you think Andre Igoudala does? I was there with LeBron who as great as he is, still stays in the gym and shoots 1000 jump shots after every practice, works on his free throws, lifts weights all the time. I was there, I played with these guys, I saw it first hand, and did it first hand.
Stepien Rules: In talking about getting to the next level, was it important for you to also get your degree recently to stress the importance of that to your players, with not everybody being able to make it in the NBA?
Donyell Marshall: The importance of getting your degree is something that I tell people all the time, even when I did speeches before I ever became a college coach. That’s one of the main things that I talk about, in telling them there is only 30 guaranteed positions each year to open up in the NBA. You have that many people in your classroom. Most classrooms have 30 people in the room, so you have to figure how many people there are in this world, and only 30 people are guaranteed to make it in the NBA each year, and that’s definitely less than one percent.
Thanks to George Washington and Donyell Marshall for checking in with us.