Khyle Marshall flourishes in NCAAs
NEW ORLEANS -- Khyle Marshall's seven offensive rebounds and critical three-point play against Florida in the Elite Eight wouldn't have occurred if it weren't for a rainstorm in Orlando in the summer of 2008.
"I wouldn't have seen him because I was about to leave for another gym, but my car was parked too far away and it was raining so hard I couldn't leave, so I ended up watching his game,'' said Butler assistant Micah Shrewsberry, who was in Orlando recruiting that July but had no intention of staying around for Marshall's summer-league game since Shrewsberry had no idea who he was at the time. "I stuck around once I saw this kid. He was long, active and athletic, and I wrote his name down.''
Shrewsberry didn't call Marshall until mid-to-late August. And once the coach got on the phone with him, he knew Marshall was a Butler kid.
Butler has something unique going on right now in college basketball. The karma that is flowing through the program the past two seasons is Zen-like. Everything seems to end up just fine, even when it appears the game, a string of losses this season or even the weather goes awry.
Had the sky not opened up with a typical July afternoon rainstorm, Marshall probably would have been at Old Dominion, possibly competing against Butler in the second-round of the NCAA tournament two weeks ago. Instead, he was immediately drawn to Butler.
"I wasn't really recruited at all, and then it came down to Butler, Old Dominion and UAB,'' said Marshall, a freshman from Davie, Fla. When ESPN.com was on Butler's campus in November, Marshall said he "loved it" there. He immediately connected with the staff and the players on his recruiting visit. Marshall is the first player from the Southeast to go to Butler who didn't have Indiana ties.
"It was just one of those fluke things,'' said Butler assistant Matt Graves. "[Head coach] Brad [Stevens] had already left the gym. Micah stayed. And then he sees this 6-foot-6 kid running around, dunking everything and tipping balls. Micah and Khyle developed a great relationship, and it went from there.
"Is he a different type of athlete than what we've had? Yes, but at the end of the day, he's the same type of character of kid that we've had here,'' Graves said.
Marshall committed to the Bulldogs at a time when they were desperately searching to replace Willie Veasley, who was a senior on last year's national runner-up team. Marshall was looking at the Bulldogs early last season, long before their improbable run and a national title-game loss to Duke. He was so enthralled by it all that he had to come to Indianapolis last April to see it in person. And it pained him so much that he said he wished he could have been born a year earlier to participate in the magical season.
And then this season started and discussion outside Butler was all about last season's team -- a group that he wanted so desperately to be part of. He was still hopeful he could help create another historic opportunity.
"It started to get a little bit annoying at first,'' Marshall said. "And then after we lost to Youngstown State everyone said 'last year's team was last year's team and we can't live off it.' This year's team is what we have, and we have to move on with it.''
And Marshall deserves credit for his role, which he has coveted. "I wanted to contribute, to do something big here,'' Marshall said.
Marshall's minutes fluctuated as Stevens played Andrew Smith and Matt Howard together. Marshall's best game came in a late January loss to Milwaukee, when he had a double-double (14 points and 10 rebounds). But Marshall's work in the past three games has been critical to the Bulldogs' advancing. He had six points and six rebounds in 17 minutes in the win over Pitt, seven and seven in the victory over Wisconsin, and 10 points and seven rebounds (all offensive) against Florida in the Elite Eight.
"Khyle in this tournament has been terrific,'' Stevens said. "For him to have seven offensive rebounds against Florida as a Florida kid is terrific.''
Smith said the three-point play, which was on an offensive rebound that broke a 62-62 tie with 3:33 left in overtime, was one of the top plays of the NCAA tournament for Butler. "When you lose a player like Willie and Gordon [Hayward], we needed him to come in and play really well,'' Smith said.
Marshall's long reach is an added bonus and helps his offensive board work. "He gives us a presence, an ability to get extra possessions, and if you go back and watch the Wisconsin and Florida game, you see there were a couple of balls where three or four years ago we wouldn't get to,'' Graves said. "His athleticism allows that, and that offensive rebound and putback and foul against Florida shows that. There was a play against Wisconsin where he beats Jordan Taylor to a loose ball that he had no business getting to it. He gave us an extra possession.''
So much is rightfully made about junior Shelvin Mack and Howard, a senior, but Marshall's contributions are starting to get noticed.
And if Butler is going to beat VCU and then either Kentucky or Connecticut, Marshall will have to play a significant role off the bench. "He adds a different element that we haven't had before,'' said Shrewsberry. "It's funny how it all worked out. We never would have known about him if I had just left the gym, but I didn't because of it was raining so hard.''
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.