Donyell Marshall, former NBA forward, loving mid-major life at Rider

Donyell Marshall and Chuck Lerner after Rider's Jan. 18 win at Manhattan. Courtesy Photo / Chuck Lerner
Donyell Marshall and Chuck Lerner after Rider’s Jan. 18 win at Manhattan. Courtesy Photo / Chuck Lerner

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.”

Donyell Marshall laughs with two Broncs. Courtesy Photo / Rider Athletics
Donyell Marshall laughs with two Broncs. Courtesy Photo / Rider Athletics

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.”

Donyell Marshall, fourth from the left, sits on Rider's bench. Courtesy Photo / Rider Athletics
Donyell Marshall, fourth from the left, sits on Rider’s bench. Courtesy Photo / Rider Athletics

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.

Donyell Marshall instructs Rider guard Jimmie Taylor. Courtesy Photo / Rider Athletics
Donyell Marshall instructs Rider guard Jimmie Taylor. Courtesy Photo / Rider Athletics

“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.

Rider’s transfers having fun leading Broncs

Matt Lopez would sneak into Teddy Okereafor’s dorm room — as much as a 7-footer could sneak anywhere — and mark up the team poster hanging on the VCU transfer’s wall.

“I would come in,” Okereafor [oh-KEY-ruh-fur] says, “and be like, ‘When did I get a mustache?’ or ‘When did I get a tattoo on my neck?’”

The two transfers were redshirting their first year at Rider, per NCAA rules, and they had plenty of time on their hands when the rest of the team hit the road. Drawing on each other’s walls, as Lopez phrased it, became common practice, along with an array of other practical jokes.

“Teddy says I’m a goofball? Nah, I don’t know about that,” says Lopez, a fifth-year senior who transferred from Utah State after starting his career at La Salle. “I think that’s just me and Teddy’s relationship.”

Matt Lopez leads Rider in scoring and rebounding. Courtesy Photo / Neil Davis
Matt Lopez leads Rider in scoring and rebounding. Courtesy Photo / Neil Davis

It’s a relationship that has blossomed since Lopez, a New Jersey native, and his English chum first met during a pickup run on Rider’s campus two summers ago.

“I remember being pissed off because I was never on Teddy’s team,” Lopez says. “I wanted to play with him a little bit because I’m good at getting my guards open with setting screens and stuff. I was looking forward to playing on the same team with him instead of against him.”

The wait is long over.

Lopez and Okereafor are two of three first-year Broncs in Kevin Baggett’s starting lineup. Anthony D’Orazio, the third, is a graduate transfer from Lehigh and a childhood friend of Lopez’s.

That trio has helped Rider to a 6-2 start in MAAC play and 12-7 record overall. D’Orazio, a 6-foot-2-inch guard, initiates the offense and pesters opposing floor generals defensively; Okereafor, a 6-foot-4-inch guard, offers offensive versatility and the havoc traits he developed at VCU; Lopez, the center, leads the team in points and rebounds and demands attention in both the low and high posts. Together they’re an important piece of a team Baggett describes as “extremely close.”

“Those guys,” Baggett says, “they’ve not only brought experience to our team. They’ve also brought a level of confidence, a level of maturity and a level of just having fun, too, which is always part of the course as well throughout a long season.”

Teddy Okereafor is averaging 10.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists in his first year at Rider. Courtesy Photo / Peter G. Borg
Teddy Okereafor is averaging 10.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists in his first year at Rider. Courtesy Photo / Peter G. Borg

Okereafor spent his first two years of college under Shaka Smart at VCU. Before that, when he was 17 years old, his mother flew from London to Virginia with him, settled him into his dorm at Christchurch School and returned home. “I didn’t really think of it is as being a 17-year-old kid being alone in the world,” says Okereafor, who was named Virginia Prep League Player of the Year as a Christchurch senior. “I looked at it as me doing exactly what I wanted to do.”

All Lopez and D’Orazio wanted to do was play for the same college.

They grew up in neighboring developments in Southern New Jersey, according to Lopez, and played travel ball together from fourth grade through high school. They could have played together at local public school Washington Township, too, but D’Orazio opted for Camden Catholic.

Lopez and D’Orazio each committed to college programs as sophomores.

“During the recruiting process,” Lopez says, “I tried to get him to come to La Salle and he tried to get me to go to Lehigh.”

They remained close friends throughout high school and the early years of college. Lifting, shooting and eating together became a regular routine. So did double dates.

When D’Orazio faced the trials and tribulations of playing behind future NBA guard C.J. McCollum, Lopez broached the idea of D’Orazio transferring to La Salle. “Some things didn’t work out,” Lopez says. Then when Lopez decided to leave La Salle, D’Orazio wanted his friend to transfer to Lehigh. Lopez says Lehigh had no available scholarships.

Fortunes finally aligned last spring, when D’Orazio graduated from Lehigh with one remaining year of eligibility. He expressed interest to Lopez in spending that year elsewhere, and Rider’s center immediately spoke with Baggett.

“I was like, hey, let’s give this one last go-around, and said, ‘hey, my friend Anthony D’Orazio has a fifth year. Would there be any interest?’ and immediately coach Bags was like, ‘yep.’ It was like, ‘oh my God.’ It was eerie, like it was meant to be.”

Says Baggett: “Matt really was the reason why we brought Anthony D’Orazio to our program because he spoke highly of him, said Anthony wanted to come and play his last year with Matt. After having done our homework on Anthony, we thought he’d be a good fit for us, which he has been.”

D’Orazio also fit well with his prank-pulling suitemates, Lopez and Okereafor.

“He’s actually way louder than everyone thinks,” Okereafor says. “People think he’s a quiet kid that came from Lehigh, but he’s always joking, too.”

Anthony D'Orazio, a graduate student, transferred from Lehigh for his final year of eligibility. Courtesy Photo / Neil Davis
Anthony D’Orazio, a graduate student, transferred from Lehigh for his final year of eligibility. Courtesy Photo / Neil Davis

On the court, Rider’s no joke. The Broncs, a defensive-minded bunch, rank 109th in the nation with an adjusted 97.9 points allowed per 100 possessions, 37th with a 22.5 percent turnover rate and 45th with an 11.4 percent steal rate. And after a 2-5 start that included losses to Kansas, Michigan State and Georgia Tech, Rider has won 10 of its last 12 games.

That hot streak has lifted the Broncs into a three-way deadlock with Iona and Monmouth atop the MAAC. They’ll have an opportunity tonight to take sole possession of first against the Gaels, who dealt them a 77-64 loss on Dec. 10.

Nobody around the league expected Rider to be near the top as the halfway mark of MAAC play approaches. The Broncs had graduated Anthony Myles and Daniel Stewart, their top two scorers and rebounders, and opened the season with several unknowns, at least to the rest of the conference.

The three transfers, especially, fell into that category.

They’re not Stewart or Myles, but Lopez (11.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Okereafor (10.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg) are Rider’s top two scorers and rebounders. D’Orazio, meanwhile, is averaging 5.1 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 21.9 minutes per game.

“They just fit the puzzle, so to speak,” Baggett says.

And they’re having fun doing it.