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October 31, 2014

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

from the press box:

Anthony Marshall still doing his job as an ambassador for UNLV basketball

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall pounds the court during their Mountain West Conference Tournament championship game against New Mexico Saturday, March 16, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. New Mexico won 63-56.

UNLV Runnin' Rebel Anthony Marshall

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall drives to the basket against New Mexico during their Mountain West Conference game Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 80-63. Launch slideshow »

About 20 students at Clifford O. "Pete" Findlay Middle School were peeking through the windows of the school’s theater Wednesday afternoon hoping to get a glimpse of Anthony Marshall.

For children of the North Las Vegas school, the former UNLV basketball guard is a rock star and someone whose path in life they strive to duplicate.

Marshall had his Findlay No. 23 jersey retired, drawing a huge crowd of teachers and students hoping to rub shoulders with the hometown hero. He was more than accommodating, signing autographs for anyone who asked and exchanging hugs with his former teachers and staff. He also answered questions about his career and gave advice on how to accomplish the goal of graduating from college — something he’ll do in May, becoming the first in his family with a degree.

Seemingly everyone had a story to share of his time there.

He attended Findlay as an eighth-grader during the school’s first year of operation. He nearly broke his leg early in the basketball season and only played in a handful of games.

But he never missed a practice or game, desperately hoping to persuade coach Heath Stahle to play him, and being there every step of the way in support of his teammates. Stahle knew then that Marshall had the characteristics of greatness.

Click to enlarge photo

Former UNLV guard Anthony Marshall holds his jersey No. 23 from Clifford O. Findlay Middle School. The school retired his jersey May 1, 2013.

“He was by far the best eighth-grade basketball player I have ever seen,” said Stahle, moments after exchanging hugs with Marshall, who still calls him “Coach.”

“At that age, you could tell he had something nobody else had. I am so proud of what he was able to accomplish. I told my class today, I’m not just proud of (what he did in) basketball, which he far exceeded anything I would have expected. He is a good kid. He has worked so hard and deserves everything he has.”

Marshall had better options five springs ago when he committed to UNLV, when playing for the hometown school — regardless of the sport — simply wasn’t the cool thing to do. UNLV, and not just the basketball program Marshall helped rejuvenate, is a better place because Marshall stayed home.

He showed that playing for the scarlet and gray is a viable option for locals. It’s too bad he didn’t play football, too.

He embraced the role of being an ambassador in the community, proudly accepting the responsibility of being the most visible face of the team, and becoming one of the more popular homegrown players in program history in the process.

Greg Anthony of Rancho High was the heart and soul of the consecutive Final Four teams in the early 1990s. Freddie Banks of Valley High is the best pure shooter in program history and one of its top all-time players.

Then, there is Marshall.

No matter what your take is on the Mojave High product’s career, which ended in March with a fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament but with no wins in the event, you can’t dispute the impact he’s made on the community.

He left the program in much better shape than when he arrived. And, those four tournament trips in succession hadn’t happened since the glory years in the late 1980s through the 1991 Final Four season.

Sure, no championships were won, and the Rebels had plenty of disappointing stretches of play late in the season. But that’s all part of the rebirth of UNLV basketball, something fans have painfully learned won’t happened overnight.

But at least the fans care, something that wasn’t always the case when Marshall turned down the likes of UCLA and Kentucky to commit to UNLV. He was a four-star prospect, ranked as the nation’s No. 85 overall recruit and was the Nevada Player of the Year.

But he picked UNLV, which was virtually unheard of for an area prospect in 2008.

“It is all up to you, really,” Marshall said. “I wanted to share the college experience with my family and friends, and be a role model to the younger kids in the community like you saw today.”

During Marshall’s freshman year, fans could bring a can of soup to certain games for a complimentary ticket. By the end of his career, which included more than 100 wins and playing in all but one game, the Rebels had multiple sellouts each season.

He was a great Rebel — not because of numbers he posted or what the record books say, but because of what he did in the community. He was nicknamed “The Mayor” and often looked like a campaigning politician when greeting fans, or posing for a photo with a baby, after games.

He told the students at Findlay how he cherished each game when the players ran out of the tunnel via the red carpet minutes before the start, and how playing in front of family and friends provided a great college experience.

He understands what it took to be a great Rebel. He’ll continue to carry the hometown torch in the next phase of his life, whether that be a professional basketball career, or working in the Las Vegas community he loves.

Just like he told the children: “Once a Rebel, always a Rebel.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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