Julia Marshall may not look the part, but make no mistake about it, she is not to be taken lightly on the basketball court.
Standing five-foot-five — probably shorter than that, but she pleaded for that height when talking to the Times— and weighing just 125 pounds, Marshall is not the prototypical basketball player.
And while there is nothing wrong with that stature or weight for most 18-year-old girls, those are not ideal measurements for someone wanting to play at the highest level of university basketball in Canada.
Playing for the powerhouse Brookswood Bobcats senior girls basketball program the last couple of years, it is not likely that many noticed Marshall, especially playing alongside such big — both literally and figuratively — players like Tayla Jackson, Aislinn Konig and Louise Forsyth.
But it was the diminutive Marshall who took home the top defensive player award at last March’s BC high school 3A senior girls provincial championships. Marshall was also a second team tournament all-star, matching that same honour she won in 2015 when Brookswood had again won the provincial crown.
“The challenge for her was there were a lot of other players on that roster getting attention. I thought she did some really good things playing off some big personalities on that Brookswood roster but still held her own,” said Trinity Western Spartans coach Cheryl Jean-Paul.
“But I do think they needed that other person and she took on some tough defensive responsibilities and did whatever the team needed her to do.”
Junior coach a big fan
Jean-Paul has watched the Brookswood program for many years now — Marshall is one of three former ’Cats on her squad — but she admits she wasn’t there to scout or recruit Marshall.
That assist goes to Brookswood junior girls coach Sarah Cameron, who also spent a season on the TWU bench as an assistant coach.
“(Sarah) has been a big fan of Julia Marshall for a long time and just kept saying keep an eye on this kid,” Jean-Paul said.
“She’s always been considered undersized but she plays bigger than she is,” said Cameron, who coached Marshall on the Brookswood junior team.
“She is a very hard worker, the type of player that you don’t have to get after. If she feels like she isn’t doing something well, she will work on it until she can.”
“(Julia) has a determination that not many people have,” Cameron added.
Marshall is now a first-year player on the Spartans.
And Marshall is driven by a desire to show that she belongs.
“I am pretty competitive and like to show people they are wrong with me,” she explained.
“People always told me that I wasn’t going to make it in basketball because I was too small, I wasn’t good enough. I just wanted to prove them wrong.”
She says all this with a smile, not a trace of anger in her voice of a player who feels they have been slighted or disrespected.
Neil Brown, Marshall’s senior coach at Brookswood, described her as a hard worker but someone who used her lack of size as an excuse for not succeeding.
“We all make excuses, reasons for our failure so we can justify our failure,” he said. “She just stopped making excuses early in her Grade 11 year and I think that has carried over to the CIS level.”
Brown added that those looking at Marshall would likely not believe she could succeed at the university level.
Lots of basketball experience despite young age
What also helps Marshall is the fact with all the early-morning workouts and practices, playing with Brookswood and then also playing club basketball, she probably packed eight years experience into her five years at Brookswood.
“She is not a first-year kid in terms of her basketball experience; she is a first-year in age only,” Brown said.
The veteran coach raved about her defensive skills.
“If the court is 94 feet long, she would defend pretty damn hard 92 feet,” she said.
So where does her defensive prowess come from?
Marshall credits going up against Konig — who is now a first-year player in the NCAA with North Carolina State and has also spent time with the Canadian junior national team program — every day in practice the past two years.
“I think a lot of it was from defending Ace in practice,” Marshall said.
“I got to defend a better player and learned how to read them and anticipate what they are going to do.
“And then I just came to really enjoy that.”
After playing a starring role at Brookswood the past two seasons, Marshall had to adjust to watching from the bench at the start of this Canada West season.
But while she wasn’t getting game action, Marshall was making her presence felt at practice.
“We did have expectations for her first year because of how hard she competed, how she pushed our older guards. She wasn’t afraid to make them look bad in practice,” Jean-Paul said.
“That kind of intensity just filters through other people. I think it just allowed some of our other girls, who are also competitors, to just kind of raise the compete level of our practices.”
Marshall’s adaptability was also on full display. Having not played much point guard in high school, that is part of her new role with the Spartans.
She played sparingly in the season’s first half, suiting up in four of 10 games for a grand total of 27 minutes.
But since January, Marshall has gotten into every contest and averaged 12.2 minutes in those 10 games.
And while her numbers have not been eye-popping — 1.1 points, 0.9 assists, 0.6 rebounds and 0.5 steals per game in 10.6 minutes of action — Marshall is now a regular off the bench.
Jean-Paul said Marshall is easy to coach because they know what to expect with her and that her teammates like that predictability.
“Often times when you have a first-year point guard, people are a little anxious. But the girls have never sensed that with her,” she said.
“When she has the ball in her hands, the girls feel confident that she is going to do what needs to get done.”
TWU hosts Brandon in playoff action
The Spartans finished the regular season with a program-best 12-8 record.
The team is hosting the Brandon Bobcats in a best-of-three Canada West playoff series at the Langley Events Centre. Game one is tonight (Thursday) with game two set to tip-off Friday at 7 p.m.
If necessary, game three would be Saturday, also at 7 p.m.