As Donyell Marshall ambled towards Rider’s locker room at Manhattan College’s Draddy Gym, a young man ran over to the barricade and stopped him.
It’s not every day you see one of your favorite NBA players coaching — assistant coaching, actually — at the mid-major level, and Chuck Lerner, 22, wanted to meet the man who once hit 12 three-pointers in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers. That record-tying night 10 years ago left an everlasting impression on Lerner, who imitated Marshall’s shot during middle school lunch periods.
“We had been planning to go see Rider for a while, and I gave away all my other jerseys to younger kids who I knew would wear them,” said Lerner, who went with friends to see Rider beat Manhattan, 82-79, on Jan. 18. “I kept Donyell’s with the hopes of getting it signed. I got it signed to Chuck, personalized, no secondary market value. To me it will be a memory.”
Make no mistake: It will be a memory for Marshall, too.
Special moments with fans and his team are accumulating, and the second-year Rider assistant couldn’t be happier.
“I’ll take those moments,” he says. “They’ll live with me forever.”
This is a man who made $72.4 million over 15 NBA seasons. He flew from city to city on chartered planes and dressed in palatial locker rooms across the country.
Now he shifts around coach bus seats, trying to appease his wide, 6-foot-9 frame. He drives his own car to recruit, and his salary is just a sliver of the $1.2 million the 76ers paid him in 2008-09, his last and lowest-paying NBA season.
But Marshall isn’t a cautionary tale, another statistic on the long list of professional athletes who have gone broke after retiring. Assisting Rider head coach Kevin Baggett isn’t Marshall’s desperate way of making ends meet.
“He’s not a guy that’s blowing his money,” Baggett says. “I’ve been around him enough to know that he’s not lavish with his money. He’s always thinking things through before he makes any investments or any purchases. To me, he’s a smart guy all the way around.”
Marshall loves basketball. That much is obvious about the Reading, Pennsylvania, native who parlayed his success at UConn into AP All-America First Team honors and the No. 4 pick in the 1994 NBA draft.
Not every passionate hoopster can teach, though. Marshall realized he could when he began coaching the Donyell Marshall Foundation, an AAU team he founded as an NBA rookie, towards the end of his playing career.
“I saw how I could relate to the kids,” Marshall says. “I thought this is what I wanted to do.”
That’s why he is at Rider.
Marshall has also held assistant coaching jobs with George Washington University and the NBA D-League’s Maine Red Claws. At Rider, however, he has made a profound impact, particularly on the team’s most consistent player, a 7-foot center named Matt Lopez who has led the Broncs (18-9, 12-4) into second place in the MAAC.
Lopez is a two-time transfer. He began his career at La Salle and stopped at Utah State, where he shot 45.7 percent from the floor in 2012-13.
In his one season at Rider, Lopez is leading the MAAC with a 59.7 percent clip. His 12.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game lead the Broncs.
Marshall has spent countless hours studying film and working with Lopez, who says he arrived at Rider with an ambidextrous hook shot but not an ability to consistently create favorable launching points.
“One of the stats that really shows how much Donyell has helped me is my field-goal percentage,” Lopez says. “That’s really where you can see coach Donyell has helped — recognizing good shots and getting good position, realizing that I have this big body, getting good position deep and making easy shots.”
As a former NBA power forward, Marshall knows a thing or two about playing on the block. He practiced against Zydrunas Ilgauskas in Cleveland and Tyson Chandler in Chicago and, of course, Karl Malone in Utah.
“With Matt,” Marshall says, “I’m able to use my experiences of playing with some quality big men as well as playing the big man spot and being coached by some wonderful big men. I can transfer that over to Matt as well as our other bigs.”
And how cool is it to impress a former pro?
“It’s cool when he gives me compliments and tells me I’m doing something very well,” Lopez says. “Coming from him it’s a compliment. It means that much more coming from him because he’s had so much success.”
Baggett also appreciates the value of Marshall’s NBA pedigree, though he initially wanted Jason Kidd to join his staff in the spring of 2013.
“It was funny because I remember when Jason kidd [retired] and he had mentioned he wanted to coach,” Baggett recalls. “I told [assistant coach] Mike [Witcoskie] to send out a tweet that we’d love to have Jason Kidd join our staff. That’s when Donyell reached out to Mike and said, ‘hey, if you have an interest in Jason Kidd, then I certainly have interest as well if coach is interested in hiring an NBA guy.”
Witcoskie and Marshall had become friendly after meeting in 2010-11, when Marshall was on the road recruiting for George Washington. So Witcoskie passed along Marshall’s interest to Baggett, and soon enough Rider had its new assistant coach.
“You always get guys coming in thinking that they want to be in the NBA but not knowing what it takes to play in the NBA,” Baggett says. “To have a guy in the program that can tell the guys every day, and the success that he had in the NBA — he wasn’t just a player; he had a great deal of success — it made it neat.”
Says Marshall: “When there are days that our kids don’t feel like practicing or they say that they’re tired, I let them know that [former teammate] Lebron James might be tired, but he’s still going to come out and practice hard for two hours, or that Karl Malone did the same thing. Then they understand and say, ‘well, I guess I have to do it.’”
Marshall enjoys shooting the breeze about the previous night’s NBA games with his players. He likes sharing his knowledge about the game, whether he’s on the court or in his office.
And, occasionally, he proves his skills have not deteriorated with age.
“There’s times I’ll shoot against the kids when they start talking trash,” Marshall says, laughing, “and I’ll let them know that I’ve still got it.”
Marshall’s long-term goal is to become a head coach.
“You’re not always going to start at the top,” Marshall says. “You’ve got to work your way up, and honestly, I don’t feel like I’m at the bottom or anything. I feel like I’m in a good situation.”
“He’d like to be at UConn,” Baggett says, “but there’s only X amount of seats on that staff, so he hasn’t gotten a chance yet. I’m sure some day, if those guys are smart, they’ll bring him back because I think he is a good coach and he’s only going to get better.”
And while Marshall waits to get there — or wherever coaching sends him next — he’ll be sure to appreciate every moment: the Chuck Lerners seeking meet-and-greets, the players jokingly threatening to defecate on a long bus ride home from Buffalo.
The MAAC might not be the NBA, but coaching at Rider, Marshall says, undoubtedly beats the alternative many former pros choose and keeps him connected with the game that paid him millions of dollars.
“You don’t ever want to sit around the house and spend all your money and the next thing you know you don’t have any,” Marshall says. “I think at the end of the day, yes, the reason I coach is because I love the game.
“I love the kids, and I love to pass it on.”
Follow Ari Kramer on Twitter for more on the MAAC.