UConn legend Donyell Marshall loving life as an assistant, now at Buffalo

Photo via Paul Hokanson/

Donyell Marshall loves basketball.

That’s why he crams his 6-9 frame onto coach buses and heads out on long road trips, why he spends 14-hour days in the gym watching high schoolers, and why, with millions in the bank after a 15-year NBA career, he’s now working as an assistant coach at the University of Buffalo.

Marshall accepted that job just over a week ago, after spending three years as an assistant at Rider in New Jersey. He’ll join the staff of newly minted head coach Nate Oates, who replaced the Arizona State-bound Bobby Hurley.

The 1994 Big East Player of the Year retired from the NBA in 2009 after an incredibly successful run with eight teams over 15 years. He never became the explosive, dunk-over-you presence in the league that he was in college, when he was UConn’s first-ever first-team All-American and the No. 4 pick in the ’94 draft. But he adapted his game, evolved like a fine wine and eventually became the guy that tied Kobe Bryant’s record with 12 made three-pointers.

Now, he’s lending his wealth of basketball experience to college kids.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Marshall said. “The kids have been very kind, and they want to learn. They come into the office and ask me to tell them stories. That’s all you can ask for, is their respect and the opportunity to teach them.”

The 41-year old made over $72 million in his NBA career, but he says he enjoys the bus rides, the college atmosphere at gyms across the country, and no kidding–he even enjoys recruiting.

“Yeah, I’m not taking private jets or anything like that, but it’s fun,” he said. “I get in the car and I drive and think. You’re going to see a kid and you’re hoping the kid is very good and that he is interested in you as well.”

The job change does come with some growing pains. Marshall said that sometimes he’ll walk into a gym on a recruiting trip, and people won’t realize that he’s there as a coach. He got into coaching at the same time former teammate Kevin Ollie did, and though he hasn’t been thrust into instant national success, he’s climbing the ladder.

“It can be draining sometimes,” he admits. “This past Saturday, I was in the gym from 8 in the morning until 9 o’clock at night, seeing game after game after game, but you know, it’s good. That’s what I’m here for.”

It’s not hard to see why Donyell is a valuable assistant. He’s passionate about the game, kids respect him because of his time spent in the league, and they relate to him, even if they weren’t born yet when he was the Big Man on UConn’s campus.

“They all want to play professionally, whether it’s the NBA or somewhere in Europe, and so they’ll gravitate towards somebody who has done that,” Marshall said. “I think one thing that’s good for me is, I haven’t been in trouble. I’m able to talk to them about being professional. I’m able to give them experiences I’ve been through, and they listen to you.”

Marshall said he started to get a feel for coaching when he launched an AAU team for kids in his hometown of Reading, Pa. He ran the program for 15 years, and took over as its coach late in his NBA career.

Courtesy: Rider Athletics

During his last couple of years in the league with the Sixers, he would sit in on coaches’ meetings and watch how Maurice Cheeks and Tony DiLeo would put together practice plans and break down film. He wasn’t getting on the court as much, so he spent his free time preparing for a post-playing career as a coach or TV commentator.

After Marshall retired, he spent a year as a postgame analyst on Sixers games for Comcast SportsNet. “I liked it, but I just wanted more to do,” he said.

So he gave a call to UConn assistant Karl Hobbs, then the head coach at George Washington. “He had an opening at the time, so I just asked for an interview.”

Marshall got the job.

“Ever since then, it’s been great,” he said.

After one year at GW, Donyell moved on to the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League. From there, it was on to Rider, a job he landed after a Broncs assistant coach sent a tweet out to Jason Kidd, jokingly asking if he was interested in joining the staff.

“I said, ‘Jason Kidd may not be available, but I am,” Marshall said. He got the job a few days later.

Now, he’s on to Buffalo.

“Buffalo made the tournament last year, and now they have a lot of guys coming back. They have the Player of the Year in the MAC (Justin Moss), and I just thought it was a good fit,” he said.

“My family still lives in Ohio (from his days as a Cleveland Cavalier), and it’s closer to home. I’m able to get home and see my kids play and do their events a little bit more.”

His goal is to become a head coach, though he knows it’s going to take some time.

“Hopefully that chance will come. We have the program here to win. Hopefully somebody will take a chance on me one day and give me that head job. I think I can do that. I know what I’m doing,” he said

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