Fox Sports analyst and former basketball star at Connecticut and with the NBA’s New Jersey Nets and Cavaliers Donny Marshall takes time for some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby:
Q: Does St. John’s need to win the Big East Tournament for an NCAA Tournament bid?
A: I don’t think they do, I think they have to win two. I don’t want to be playing them.
Q: How do you see the St. John’s-Seton Hall quarterfinal?
A: Those kids have grown up playing against one another, some of them, there’s always that New Jersey versus New York. … That is the most compelling matchup, at least early, in all of the conference tournaments.
It’s a St. John’s team that, they run you out of the gym, they make you turn the ball over, they’ll do three things beautifully and then two things right after that that you’re scratching your head about. And for Seton Hall, they need Mamu (Sandro Mamukelashvili) to be the alpha male. I think Seton Hall needs to take St. John’s as seriously as St. John’s is taking Seton Hall. Seton Hall was one of those teams that was picked at the top in the beginning so there’s always that feel of, “OK, we are good, we just have to play like we’re good, we gotta show everyone how good we are.” Where St. John’s is like, “No one believed in us. We got a chip on our shoulder. We’re gonna go shock the world.”
So I think that there’s more pressure on Seton Hall because of the expectations at the beginning of the season, and because of the pieces they have. … To me, St. John’s is one of those teams that’s playing with that dog in ’em. They’re trying to shock the world.
Q: Which one of the St. John’s kids has caught your eye?
A: Posh Alexander knows how to work hard, and he works hard every single time he’s on the floor. You gotta live with mistakes that some young players make, but I would take him on the floor with his mistakes over a lot of freshmen anywhere in the country right now. Love that kid.
Q: Thoughts on Julian Champagnie?
A: The most improved player in the Big East. He’s also leading better. Vocally he’s better for his team. He’s improved on every level of his game.
Q: Who do you like in this Big East Tournament?
A: You can never discount Villanova, even with Collin Gillespie down, Justin Moore with the ankle, their system is plug-and-play. They’re gonna kill you a thousand paper cuts at a time. … Creighton has probably the most versatility. Those guys love playing together, they’re unselfish. … Now obviously we know the turmoil that’s going on in that locker room, so any distraction this time of year, it’s hard to avoid, even when the games start. … Connecticut I think is fortunate that (James) Bouknight had the time off. I think they showed Danny Hurley that you’ve got more than James Bouknight on this team. … To me, the most athletic team in the Big East.
The other team I would say, and people think I’m crazy, but I do not want to play St. John’s. To me Mike Anderson is hands down, it’s not even close, the coach of the year in the Big East. They’ve done a tremendous job of, sometimes helter-skelter, gaining the respect, not just in the Big East, but nationally. I’m looking down the list of Big East teams and after Connecticut, to me, St. John’s has to be the scariest team.
Q: What’s your reaction to Creighton coach Greg McDermott’s racially insensitive remarks to his team?
A: It hurt me when I heard it, it pained me. … I will say the Greg McDermott I know has always been … respectful, standup. … I don’t think a DUI makes you a drunk. I don’t think one comment makes you a racist. He said the wrong thing, now what are you gonna do to fix it?
Q: Are you OK with him coaching in the tournament (following a one-game suspension)?
A: It really isn’t my opinion to say that he should or shouldn’t. … I’ve seen lesser things happen to coaches and they’ve been fired and they’ve been suspended. … It’s not my position to say if he should be fired or suspended, but I do think that we will have our eyes wide open in seeing where this goes from here. The players now have to go into the locker room and decide, “Are we gonna play hard for this guy who said something we didn’t like?” It’s an impossible situation for everyone involved.
Q: What is it about Mike Anderson that you admire so much?
A: You’re trying to prepare a meal with someone else’s ingredients. Only great chefs can do that. The way he did that was basics: you play hard for each other, you care for one another, you listen to each other. Every single team that he’s coached in college basketball, he’s had a winning season. You know how hard that is to do? … He is a great coach before he’s a great black coach.
Q: Who are some of the players to watch?
A: People who haven’t seen Bouknight play, they are going to be in for a treat. He makes you play at his pace, and to me that’s what great players do. Everything looks effortless, the way he shoots the ball, the way he handles it, he’s never panicked. It’s really a player we haven’t seen at UConn in a long, long time. This was the best year for UConn to make the transition back into the Big East to have a chance early.
I think Creighton’s whole team. I love Mitchell Bullock, the shooter. He has range as soon as he steps in the building. Marcus Zegarowski is preseason Big East Player of the Year. … I will be paying attention to who’s gonna fill that void of (Villanova point guard) Collin Gillespie and then will Justin Moore be ready, what will that ankle be like? So they’re gonna rely on Jeremiah Robinson-Earl big-time.
There’s gonna be a guy that was a little lower on the scouting report that’s gonna get hot and now you’re gonna be like, OK, what do we do with this? It’s just tournament time, we’ve seen that every year, it happens. I’m excited to see who that guy will be.
Q: A sleeper team?
A: I like Xavier. I always lean on those veteran-laden teams. Zach Freemantle, he’ll make a lot of money playing professionally.
Q: What do you like about Danny Hurley?
A: I love how he’s no nonsense. He doesn’t candy-coat anything. I think you have to respect how genuine he is when it comes to how he talks to his players, how he talks to the media. That’s the kinda guy that I could play for, because you know where he stands. If you’re dogging it, you’re not gonna play, and he’s gonna tell you. I think he holds every player accountable. When you have a coach like that, your AD, those guys, they gotta get out of the way.
Q: There will be slightly fewer than 1,000 fans allowed in.
A: Whenever we played at MSG when I was in school, it was a home game for us — even when we played St. John’s! There’s no doubt about it, that when the Big East Tournament comes around, UConn fans filled that building. … There’s no negative to my alma mater being back in the Big East where it belongs.
Q: Your favorite Big East Tournament memory?
A: When I stepped into that Big East Tournament the very first year, Alonzo Mourning was still in school, Malik Sealy, Terry Dehere. … it felt like the NCAA Tournament. It was the biggest show on the stage. … Spike Lee was sitting there waiting for the Big East Tournament to start. I’ll never forget that. That’s when I knew I had arrived — or I made a mistake, this is too big for me (laugh). Spike Lee is sitting in the same seat he watches Knicks games to watch the Big East Tournament!
Q: What drove you as a biracial child growing up?
A: Probably growing up having a mother (Bobbi) who raised me since I was 1 all by herself, my brother (Buddy) was 6 at the time. … Having seen her work two, three jobs to give us everything we had. … There was never any negativity in the house, there was never any drugs, never any violence. … The black kids are calling me white and the white kids are calling me black, there was never any feeling sorry for yourself, it was: Have pride, do something that no one in this family has ever done before, and do something that no one expects you to do.
Q: How did it feel though with the black kids calling you white, and the white kids calling you black?
A: My mom’s blond-haired, blue-eyed, her heritage is from Ireland. Growing up in Seattle helped. It’s very gentrified, very diverse. I grew up in a healthy community, and everyone accepted everyone. But you’re still a kid. … The scariest part of racism for me was I got it from my dad’s side of the family later on in life, them calling me “white boy”, then not accepting me as really one of theirs because my mom was white. It was indoctrinated a little bit in me of who are you? Find out who you are. My mom saying, “Listen: You are black and white. But you also have the same color blood.” We all bleed red, but with my mom it was, “Be yourself. Be who you are, and you will be accepted. And if those people don’t accept you, they don’t deserve to be in your life.” … Jason Kidd, my teammate in New Jersey, called me The Glue. And I told him that that’s what they called me in college, and that’s what kind of my nickname was in high school.
We have a street in Connecticut, it’s Albany Avenue. It’s really low income when you first leave downtown Hartford, you keep going on that for about three miles, you’re at the Governor’s house. I tell people I can be the same person walking down Albany Avenue. in the hood as I am when I walk and continue to walk and drive down Albany Avenue. into the mansions and into West Hartford and past the Governor’s house. To me, that’s all about how I was raised. You don’t have to be what one group thinks you’re gonna have to be one day and then change the next day. I always tell kids, “Be yourself.”
Q: Your father (Donald Canaday) passed away in 2009.
A: There was a time I went about 17 years where I did not see him, and I found him when I was 30 years old. I had just retired from playing. I stopped at the house, I’m telling you on a whim. I knock at the door, old guy opens, and hugs me. I haven’t seen the guy in 17 years. As I’m standing there I realize he’s got a T-shirt on that I actually got when I went on my recruiting trip to UConn. It was given to him by my uncle, my mom’s brother. They were best friends, that’s how my parents met. He had no idea I was coming to the house, it’s eerie.
So we kinda rekindled it, but I told him two things: “I learned so much from you but you taught me nothing.” I learned how to be a man, I learned how to be honest and faithful, I learned how to be a great friend, I learned how to be loyal, because he was none of those things. And I said, “I live every day of my life to be nothing like you.” That affected him. He was into drugs, he was always in the streets, drink, smoked, and still to this day, I never had a drink in my life, not one sip, no drugs.
That next three, four years, I would always visit, I’d keep in touch, and he ended up passing in his sleep, he had heart disease. I called his wife at the time, said, “Hey I’ll pay for everything, whatever you need for his funeral, I’ll take care of it.” And she said, “Why would you do that?” And I said, “ ’Cause I know he wouldn’t do that for anyone.” … I got to get it off my chest, and we kinda moved on from there. I found out that he collected all these newspaper clippings from when I was in college. … He didn’t know me, I was a baby, I was a kid. So it wasn’t like, “I don’t like this kid, I’m never gonna be in his life again.” So it was the situation, it was his life, but I never held that against him. I did use those situations to make myself into the man I am today, but I never held a grudge against him and my mother didn’t either and I think that’s where I got it from.
Q: How would you describe your on-court mentality when you played at UConn?
A: I think because I was a late bloomer — I really didn’t get into the game until I was about 16 — I always had something to prove. Everything was a fight, everything was a challenge — sometimes a literal fight. … I was an extension of Jim Calhoun because we were a lot alike. We came from a rough upbringing — single parent, his dad died when he was young — so you had to be the man, and you always had to show that pride and play with that. I was one of those guys that you hated probably playing against me, but if I was on your team. … Maybe you didn’t love it all the time that I was your teammate, but for the most part.
Q: Coach Calhoun said this once about you: “There’s no big man in America who can run with Donny Marshall.”
A: I played soccer since I was 5 all the way up to high school. I always believed that I was a soccer player playing basketball. I used those skills from soccer and carried those over onto the court. I took pride in being in shape and being faster than everyone else.
Q: You upset the University of Washington when you chose UConn.
A: It was never telling me what I was going to become if I went there. They never really told me that “We can help you become a great man,” which is what Jim Calhoun did. … It was time for me to go and see the world.
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: Barack Obama; my (late) grandmother (Violet Wilt); Prince.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: The Count of Monte Cristo.
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Johnny Depp.
Q: Favorite actress?
A: Jodie Foster.
Q: Favorite singer-entertainer?
A: Brian McKnight.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: Thai vegan.