CHICAGO — Hoops star George Marshall never imagined having to pay for his college education — but he now realizes it was something he had to do in order to get closer to his dream of playing in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
As one of the country's top point guards as a Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep senior, the Ashburn native selected national power Wisconsin over a slew of other offers. In 2012, he became only the second freshman to start at point guard for the Badgers under Bo Ryan; the other was longtime NBA player Devin Harris.
But after starting the first games of his Badgers career, Marshall lost his spot in the starting lineup and eventually saw fewer and fewer minutes on the court. A few games into his sophomore season, Marshall decided to transfer. Again, full-ride opportunities came rolling in, but Marshall instead selected South Dakota State, even though at the time the Jackrabbits didn't have a scholarship available.
Instead of a free education, Marshall chose to pay for one semester of out-of-state tuition and room and board, about $10,000. His parents, George Sr. and Maria, paid for some of the tuition, but Marshall took out a "several thousand dollar" loan to pay the rest.
"Never in a million years did I think I'd have to pay for college," Marshall said. "It was definitely something that blindsided me, but I knew this was the place I wanted to be at."
Marshall wanted to attend South Dakota State for several reasons. The program offered him more minutes and a chance to showcase his game. It also was a consistent winner — something Marshall had been his entire career: winning Small Fry tournament titles as an 8-year-old at Marquette Park; a seventh-grade city championship at Beasley Elementary; and a city title and third-place state finish as a Brooks senior.
Marshall believed South Dakota State could take him to his ultimate basketball goal as well: the NCAA tournament. And after coming up one point short in the Summit League tournament championship game last season, Marshall, now a senior and on scholarship, and the Jackrabbits advanced to the NCAAs by winning their league tourney title with a victory over North Dakota State on Tuesday. A 12 seed, SDSU faces 5 seed Maryland in the round of 64.
"He was so excited when he came here to be kind of turned loose and still have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament," South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy said. "The opportunity to win here and get to play free trumped some of the other stuff like a" scholarship at the time.
Said Marshall: "When I came here, I knew they had the pieces around me and other guys coming in with me that would give us the potential for this very moment: getting into the NCAA tournament."
Marshall's mom supported his desire to attend South Dakota State, but his dad admitted he was originally against it. George Sr., who played hoops at Austin High School and eventually Bowling Green, said he wasn't going to get in the way of his son's decision.
"To be perfectly honest, [South Dakota State] wasn't my first choice, but we made an investment, and it worked in his favor," George Sr. said. "He's graduating in May, and he is going to the Big Dance."
It hasn't hurt that Marshall is finally healthy after a number of high school and college injuries. At Brooks, he broke his hand, fractured a toe and strained an oblique muscle. At Wisconsin and South Dakota State, he's dealt with a stress fracture to his right leg, an ankle sprain and a torn ligament in his wrist.
Marshall said even if he had never reached the NCAAs with the Jackrabbits, going to the Brookings, S.D., campus was the right call. He won all 29 home games of his South Dakota State career, and the Jackrabbits (26-7) have the nation's third-longest home winning streak.
And he'll leave with an interdisciplinary studies degree that Marshall hopes will help him with several potential future careers, including owning a business, franchising a restaurant or dealing real estate. His loan repayment kicks in six months after his graduation.
Marshall expects to play pro ball — Nagy said he has the talent to compete overseas — but after his career ends, he wants to return to Chicago to help neighborhood kids.
"I'm excited to give back and help younger kids growing up, whether it's in sports or just getting on the right track," he said. "There are a lot of negatives in the city, and I think I can help kids think positively and help them stay on the right road."
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