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Former McKeesport, Akron star Zeke Marshall sets sights on NBA

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Akron center Zeke Marshall dunks against VCU in the first half of an NCAA Tournament second-round game Thursday, March 21, 2013, in Auburn Hills, Mich.

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Monday, March 25, 2013, 12:36 a.m.

Within 48 hours of his accomplished college basketball career coming to an end, Zeke Marshall was back home in McKeesport this past weekend.

While he welcomed the chance to relax with friends and family, Marshall's visit was only temporary. Make no mistake, the 7-foot McKeesport High graduate wasn't in any hurry for the basketball portion of his time at the University of Akron to end.

“It couldn't have been better,” Marshall said of playing for the Zips, an experience that ended with a first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday. “I don't think I could have asked any more of it to happen any better than it did.”

Marshall intends on finishing up an associate's degree this spring, and he has plans on eventually earning a bachelor's in the coming years. His immediate future, though, involves preparing for the NBA Draft.

A two-time Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year, Marshall was all-MAC as a senior after averaging 13.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game in leading Akron to the MAC regular season and tournament championships.

The NCAA Tournament appearance was Marshall's second during his four years with the Zips, a period of time in which he played in the conference championship game all four years.

“They say when you go to college, you find yourself,” Marshall said. “You find out more about who you are.

“Physically, mentally and psychologically, I've seen myself grow up in college.”

When Marshall left high school, there wasn't much room for him to grow in terms of height. That's OK, Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. He's grown in plenty of other ways.

“Most importantly, he's really matured as a man,” said Dambrot, a veteran of 10 years of Division I coaching experience who also was LeBron James' coach in high school. “Second-most importantly, he's really spent a lot of time in the gym, especially this year, so he's really improved his consistency level.

“He's not letting things bother him as easily, he's made big improvement as far as that goes.”

Shot-blocking is what stands out about Marshall — his 7-5 wingspan allowed him to break the MAC career blocks record. And that's likely one of the first things that will catch the attention of NBA scouts.

But it's not Marshall's only attribute, says Dambrot.

“He's got great instincts for (shot-blocking), but he's also gotten stronger,” Dambrot said. “He's a strong guy — he doesn't even realize how strong he is.

“He's a good lateral mover; he's just got to continue to get greater consistency and just keep maturing — that's the biggest thing. He was a late-developing guy. If he can continue to improve over the next one, two, three, four, five months as he did in the last year, he's going to be in good shape.”

Marshall is soliciting advice from coaches and scouts about how to refine his game in advance of the draft and to impress teams who might be interested in signing him should he not go in the two-round draft.

Marshall said he will continue to work out on the Akron campus this spring.

“Just getting better at all aspects of my game before I leave,” Marshall said. “Refining what I'm good at and getting better at what I'm not good at.”

McKeesport coach Corey Gadson followed Marshall's career closely. Gadson said there were times Marshall came back to work out with Tigers, sharing his experiences about college life and the college game.

Gadson has noted the improvement in Marshall's strength and conditioning since arriving at Akron — and he also has seen him develop a much stronger love for the game.

“He's just shown tremendous growth from a kid into a man,” Gadson said. “He's really matured as an individual; I'm just so proud of what he's done.

“He knew where to go where he would mature as an individual and in his game and also academically. He's stuck to it. Akron was just a great fit for Zeke. He's become a tremendous player, one who's sought after for the NBA.”

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