By SAM HATCHERHe's recognized as one of the greatest basketball players of all time at his college alma mater. And in his hometown, Mt. Juliet, they say there's never been another one like him.

Tom Marshall, by all acclaims may just be the greatest basketball player to ever dribble a ball in Wilson County.

The "legend" as many describe him will be recognized in a special ceremony at the Mt. Juliet High School gym on Friday, February 11, when Mt. Juliet and Wilson Central square off against each other.

Marshall, 80, who now makes his home in Ft. Myers, Fla., plans to be there with his wife Betty. Marshall played basketball for Mt. Juliet High School for only two seasons, his junior and senior years. After attending school in Nashville for two years, he transferred to Mt. Juliet where his sister was principal and finished his high school career there. And what a finish it was.

Marshall dominated high school basketball in the mid-state. His court talents earned him honors as All-State, All-Mid-State, All-Star and other accolades.

A Nashville sports writer, Joe White, wrote in 1950 that Marshall was "regarded as the greatest college prospect from the Nashville Interscholastic League (Mt. Juliet competed in the NIL at this time) since Billy Joe Adcock (a Vanderbilt standout) starred at West High in 1946."

In his senior year at Mt. Juliet Marshall scored 603 points. His high school total was 1,236 points. He averaged 18.4 points per game. He was deemed one of the state's most sought after high school basketball players for college competition. The likes of Vanderbilt, Murray State and other prominent Southeastern Conference and Ohio Valley Conference teams came calling for him to attend their respective schools.

His ultimate choice was Western Kentucky where he became one of only three Hilltoppers ever to earn consensus All-American honors. During his stint at Western he was received All-American honors twice as well as All Ohio Valley Conference.

According to Western's athletic department, "Tom Marshall ranks as one of the most dominant basketball athletes in Western Kentucky hoops history." A member of the Western Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame, Marshall's teams at Western Kentucky for the four seasons he was there won 99 out of 123 games for a winning percentage of 80.5 percent.

He led the Hilltoppers in scoring both his junior (18.5 points per game) and senior years (25.9 ppg) and was the team's top rebounder both those years as well, hauling in 12.8 boards an outing as a junior and 14.9 his final season. He still holds the record at Western for the most rebounds in a game.

In 1953 Marshall managed 29 rebounds against Louisville. When Marshall completed his career at Western in 1954, he was the school's all-time leading scorer with 1,909 points, a mark that places him as third on WKU's all time scoring leaders list.

Marshall still holds six school records - rebounds in a game (29), field goals attempted in a season (692), field goals attempted in a four-year career (1,647), free throws made in a game (18), free throws made in a season (265) and free throws attempted in a season (359).

His number 41 is one of only six to be retired at WKU. He has been named to the OVC Half-Century Team and the OVC 40th Anniversary team.

A 6'4" forward, Marshall was drafted by the Rochester Royals after college with the 7th pick of the 1954 NBA Draft. After a promising rookie season, he was drafted into the Army and missed the 1955-56 season.

In a four-year NBA career, he played for the Royals (in both Rochester and Cincinnati), as well as for the Detroit Pistons. In his final year as a player (1958-59) he served as a player-coach and then coached the Cincinnati Royals for one additional season (1959-60) after retiring from playing. The Royals eventually became the Sacramento Kings many years after his retirement.

Although Marshall's athletic accomplishments were measured primarily on the basketball court, he was also an outstanding football player in high school. He was named to the NIL all star team his senior year for football and received other awards for his excellence on the gridiron.

Ed Rice, a friend of Marshall's who visited with him and his wife recently in Florida, said he remembers Marshall's greatness on the basketball court but he said he also remembers how impressed he was with the size of Marshall's hand.

"He has one of the biggest hands I've ever seen," Rice said. According to Rice, Western Kentucky ran a promotion to "let anyone in a game free who had a hand larger than Tom's. Nobody ever got in free."

As for his athletic ability, Rice points out that Marshall has the talent to be good in all sports."He's even had 16 holes-in-one in golf," Rice quipped.

© 2011 The Wilson Post

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