If you have watched any Xavier basketball this year (I haven’t, I just study stat sheets in my mom’s basement) you have undoubtedly heard announcers rave about Xavier’s sensational freshman Naji Marshall. And utter the phrase “nylon song” for some reason. Marshall has been touted as the heir to JP Macura’s chaotic throne due to the trouble he causes at the top of the 1-3-1, his well rounded offensive game, and that awesome dunk against UNI. It is pretty frequent that fan bases compare current players to past ones or even other current ones in order to create a framework for what to expect out of a given player. True, there are times you get a program defining talent like David West and such comparisons fail, but for the most part we want to have someone familiar we can point to and base our expectations on. Which brings us back to Naji Marshall, who is currently treading a path well charted by a former Xavier great.
Cast your mind back with me, if you will, to the year 2006. Bush was in the White House, I couldn't grow convincing facial hair, and Xavier was a mid-major power under Sean Miller, coming off a heartbreaking loss to Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament. The only things that have changed since then are the president and Xavier’s conference, because my attempts to grow a beard and Sean Miller’s to reach the Final Four still end the same way: disappointment. Xavier launched their campaign with a deep, experienced team which featured 3 seniors and 3 juniors and an explosively athletic freshman named Derrick Brown. It would end in heartbreak again, but Brown was a breakout star for X, averaging 6 points and 4 rebounds a game while leading the nation in 2P%.
In similar minutes this season, Marshall is averaging roughly 7 and 3 and, although he isn’t shooting Brown’s gaudy 70% from the floor, is showing more confidence in his jumper than Brown did, shooting 41% from three. Both are 6’7” and in the neighborhood of 215 and both excel on the offensive glass and in blocking shots because of their length and athleticism. Both have come in on established teams and been aggressive about contributing to the offense, especially when it comes to scoring the basketball. In fact, on KenPom Marshall’s closest comparison is Derrick Brown’s freshman season (which I honestly did not know until I opened his page in preparation for this article). So what might that mean the future holds for Xavier’s young stud?
All Brown did over the rest of his career was rack up over 1,000 points, gain Second Team All Conference honors, lead Xavier to wins with memorable performances against UC and Dayton as a junior, and play his way into being taken with the 40th pick in the NBA Draft, lasting 5 seasons in the league before heading to Turkey. More importantly, Brown was a part of Xavier teams that gained 3 and 4 seeds in the NCAA Tournament and made the Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen in his last two seasons. Brown also developed into much more of a threat from deep, shooting 43% from three as a junior on his way to a 13.7/6.1/1.9 line.
The similarities between these players are there for all to see, or at least anyone with a KenPom subscription and the ability to read. Is Marshall locked in to becoming a high flying defensive menace like Brown was? No. Does his already more polished long range game point to a player who will likely not score half of his points via dunk for his first two years? Almost certainly. All that being said, though, there are far worse players from Xavier history to be similar to than Brown. Plus, I would love to see Naji get thrown out for letting UC know he owns them.