The point guard from outside of D.C. had been a household name since he was 11 years old, featured on the front page of the Washington Post and in Rick Reilly's Sports Illustrated column before he reached middle school. So while receiving scholarship offers from the top schools in the country was definitely flattering, he didn't think much of it.
"At that time I was so young I was just playing basketball," Marshall said, looking back. "When I got a scholarship offer I was like ‘Oh cool. Great.' But the more in the summer when I got into it, the more serious I realized this stuff is."
The first offer came from Pittsburgh at the end of his freshman year. Then they started trickling in more and more. Georgetown, Villanova, Virginia and Duke all showed interest but Marshall had his eye on North Carolina.
After Roy Williams was stunned by losing Delvon Roe to Michigan State in the spring of 2007, followed by power forward prospects Samardo Samuels and Al-Farouq Aminu falling off the board to Louisville and Wake Forest, respectively, Marshall's summer league teammate Ed Davis became a top priority.
It was an unconventional opportunity to get a scholarship, but an opportunity nonetheless.
Williams watched Davis and his Boo Williams squad throughout the spring and summer, but couldn't help noticing the slick, left-handed point guard. That culminated at the Peach Jam tournament in Georgia, as the UNC head coach was courtside for a 7:15 p.m. showdown on July 13, 2007 pitting two of the circuit's top AAU programs—Boo Williams and the Metro Hawks. Playing amid a sea of future Division I players, all one, two or three years his senior, Marshall stole the show with a dominant 28-point performance.
"I think he was pretty impressed," Marshall said.
After the AAU season ended, Williams called Marshall and talked to him about possibly playing at North Carolina. Williams said he didn't usually offer so early in the process but in this case he would.
"It definitely surprised me," Marshall said. "It was one of those things I'd always thought about—going to Carolina. Growing up it's not something that you ever really consider becoming a reality. Then when it does, it's pretty mind-blowing."
Marshall didn't waste any time accepting the offer. Two weeks after speaking with Williams, Marshall officially announced he'd be a Tar Heel on Sept. 19, 2007.
"If you have a place you want to go, there's no need to wait and have someone else determine your future," Marshall said. "They're one of the best universities and basketball programs in the country. I think they can take my game to the next level and bring the best out of me."
Early and Often
It wasn't Williams's way to offer scholarships so early, but he saw the need to do it one more time.
With Marshall already in tow, Williams set his sights on an in-state shooting guard whom the staff had been familiar with for some time. Like Marshall, Reggie Bullock initially popped on the North Carolina radar almost by accident.
Assistant coach Steve Robinson's son Denzel played AAU basketball with the CP3 All-Stars in the summer of 2007. While watching his son play in tournaments, Robinson had ample opportunity to see his son's teammate, a tall shooting guard from Kinston.
Bullock was born in Baltimore but moved to Kinston when he was three years old. After a brief infatuation with the Terrapins as a kid, Bullock became more of a Carolina fan by the time he became a teenager.
"I always told myself I wanted to play for that university and I didn't really care who they were recruiting," Bullock said. ‘I just knew if I did the work that needed to be done, I'd go there and play."
Bullock's recruitment started to heat up as the temperature started to drop. At the prestigious holiday tournament in Raleigh, Kinston took on DeMatha High with Williams in attendance.
The Vikings lost at the buzzer but Bullock scored 23 points and earned Williams's respect. A week later, Williams called Bullock to talk to him about his recruitment.
"‘You've always been on my radar but I never had a chance to see you play until the DeMatha game,'" Bullock recalled Williams saying. "‘I love the intensity you bring to the game. You're a team player. You've got a sweet jump shot for a 6-foot-7 player. You're real versatile. Great players like you make coaches like me look good.'"
Bullock received an offer during the call and, like Marshall, felt no need to keep his recruitment going after his dream school offered. About a week after that phone call from Williams, Bullock became a Tar Heel on Jan. 9, 2008, choosing UNC over early offers from Wake Forest and Indiana.
"It was real important for me to go there," Bullock said the day he made his commitment. "With all the hard work I've been putting in … to go to that college I finally have the chance."
After news hit the Internet, Marshall hit the phone, calling Bullock to talk to his first new teammate.
"I was excited to find out my first teammate in the same incoming year as me," Marshall said. "We both committed so early and knew we were going together, it was a chance for us to start talking and build that relationship before we got there."
A Star is Born
Harrison Barnes would've loved to have a list of potential schools in 2007, but that would've meant there were schools interested in him. When Marshall committed to North Carolina in 2007, Barnes read about it on the Internet, but more as an outsider than a top prospect in his own right.
"At that point nobody knew who I was. I hadn't played in any national tournaments or camps," Barnes said. "I was just watching it all from afar."
That didn't last too long. The summer (2008) following Barnes' sophomore year in high school he went to the Nike Hoop Jamboree and after a solid showing there, was invited to the LeBron James Skills Academy where he was regarded as one of the top performers regardless of class.
"In a three-day span I went from having three to 22 offers," Barnes said.
Marshall remembers that summer's Skills Academy, too.
"He plays very effortlessly. It's not saying that he doesn't play hard, but he just makes it look easy," Marshall said. "He's just very efficient with the moves he uses and he reminds me a lot of Paul Pierce. He's very good with the jab and using his pump fake, one dribble and pull up and getting to the basket in one dribble. I admire that about his game."
It was a crazy time period for Barnes but it wasn't like he suddenly became good overnight. He'd been good. He just had to play in front of the right people.
Suddenly schools like Texas, Louisville, Oklahoma and Kansas were all beating down his door.
"Those were just the schools I had never thought would recruit me," Barnes said. "It was an eye-opener with the level I could play."
Barnes had some contact with North Carolina after that Skills Academy performance, but the recruitment got more serious in August when Williams called Barnes.
"First time I was a little taken aback that a coach of his caliber had taken the time to call me," Barnes said. "It was a great experience to be on the phone with him and get a feel for what kind of person he was."
Barnes wasn't in any rush though. After an impressive performance at the Nike Elite Camp the summer before, Barnes got excited about his first round of attention and according to his mother, Shirley Barnes, thought he'd found the school he wanted to attend.
A friend of his committed to the school and he wanted to be able to room with him during college. Noticing a honeymoon period in her 15-year-old's judgment; Shirley told her son he wasn't allowed to commit anywhere until he was 16.
"When kids normally get offered, they're kind of excited and everything is peachy and they think might want to go somewhere," Shirley said. "I told him I wouldn't let him commit anywhere until he was at least 16 because if you feel this way about this school, you'll feel the same way about it next year."
By the time Barnes was 16, his friend had de-committed and he had learned his lesson. Barnes decided he was going to wait until his senior year to make his decision.
Cause for Concern
As Barnes's recruitment developed, it seemed all roads pointed to Durham.
While Williams and North Carolina had made a good impression on Barnes, so had Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski—and he had done it earlier.
On the surface, it seemed like a fit. Barnes was a smart kid and a phenomenal basketball player. Duke offered one of the best educations in the country and also one of the top basketball programs. The Barnes family valued the people who had been around the longest and some feared Williams had joined the game too late.
Barnes denied anything was a done deal and that he would see his recruitment through to the end. But that got a little harder to deny after Barnes and his family visited Krzyzewski for the coach's birthday on Feb. 13, 2009. It was supposed to be the nail in the coffin for the other schools pursuing Barnes.
But Williams wasn't ready to concede defeat. In fact, he dug in his heels. With a deep stable of post men, a point guard of the present and future, and a wing already locked up for the class in Bullock, Williams could swing for the fences with Barnes.
Names like Terrence Jones, Roscoe Smith and C.J. Leslie left the North Carolina radar as quickly as they popped up. For 2010, it was Barnes or bust for Carolina, setting up one of the most dramatic recruiting battles between two legendary coaches.
In a way the summer circuit is almost like one big middle school dance. Coaches and players talk and posture, showing interest in many, casting a net out wide but not too wide.
In other words, a recruit will know if a coach likes them, but it's hard to tell whether they like him, like him. Barnes knew that North Carolina was interested in him but it didn't really set in until the summer of 2009.
Barnes attended several camps with Bullock and Marshall, and the point guard had begun to sell him on the idea of playing in Chapel Hill during the first event of the circuit, the Boo Williams Invitational in April.
"I'd hear from Kendall every now and then. He'd say he wants to play with me and Carolina was the right place," Barnes said. "Kendall did a good job—needless to say—of recruiting me. But the thing I enjoyed the most was the friendship that developed out of that."
After already helping the Heels land Tyler Zeller and Dexter Strickland in his first four months as a Heel, Marshall wouldn't deny he talked to recruits about Carolina, but he didn't consider it recruiting.
"The way I look at it, I'm just getting to know kids and becoming friends with them and we just happen be looking to go to college," Marshall said. "The summer circuit and playing basketball is a great way to meet a lot of people."
While Marshall's sales pitch was nice, North Carolina became a legitimate candidate in late July of 2009. When Barnes took a two-week hiatus from the AAU circuit to work with his high school team in Ames, he got a surprise visit from Williams.
"When coaches came up to see me, that was big because it shows the time they took out of their schedule to come see me," Barnes said. "That's what I really value."
Marshall and Bullock spent most of the summer thinking 2010 might just be a two-person class. But as buzz started to build around Barnes and Carolina, Marshall and Bullock threw their hats in the race.
"As the summer wore on, Carolina started going after Harrison harder and harder," Marshall said. "He started opening his eyes up a little more and taking a bigger look at them. At that point, I'd say, it was around late July, and Reggie and I were like, ‘We might as well go after Harrison because he could be the third in our group.'"
When Williams swung for the fences for Barnes, he didn't bring a whiffle bat. Williams used a Babe Ruth, 40-ounce solid ash bat—or in other words, he invited Barnes for his official visit Sept. 4, during alumni weekend 2009.
Not only would Barnes be there at the same time as every star Carolina basketball player over the last 30 years, but he'd also get to see half of them in action during the alumni game.
Williams also brought in some additional heavy hitters in Marshall and Bullock, who were both invited to show Barnes around.
If Barnes didn't go to Carolina, Williams wasn't going to leave any ifs, ands or buts about it.
When they got there Friday night, the three teenagers headed straight to the game and the star gazing started soon after.
"In a 15-minute span, I got to meet Dean Smith, Phil Ford and Vince Carter," Marshall recalled. "I think it was amazing for an alumni game that you were able to have that many players in the NBA and not playing anymore, come back and still support the program and play in that game."
Later on, Marshall got to meet Michael Jordan. Right before the tip, Bullock got to meet him, too.
Barnes just let everything sink in.
"He had one purpose for that visit and that was to see how the team interacted," Shirley said. "Not so much with him but how they interacted with each other. How they cared about each other as a team. That was his main focus."
Barnes said the Tar Heel family was on display right in front of him.
"The whole Carolina family was there so it was great for me to be able to see that and interact with those guys and just see the success of the guys who had come before me as well as the process the guys right now are going through," Barnes said.
On Saturday, Marshall, Bullock and Barnes went to the football game and then Barnes met with advisors and coaches to see what Carolina had to offer.
One sticking point for Barnes was the fact that Carolina offered a top five undergraduate business school program and Duke didn't have an undergraduate program.
"Everything with Carolina just seemed to be on point," Barnes said. "I had a meeting with the undergrad business advisor and they laid out my plan for me and the classes I would take and how I'd get my degree in three years.
"From an academic standpoint they hit it right on the head what I was looking for and did a very good job."
Marshall said as the trip progressed, Barnes' comfort level grew; Barnes is known for his hard shell but by the end of the trip, he was at ease with Marshall and Bullock.
Barnes was also dropping subtle hints to Marshall that the trip was going well.
"There was one time when he was just talking and talking and then he mentioned something about rooming together," Marshall said. "It just made me stop and think ‘Whoah, wait. Maybe he is coming to Carolina.'"
Marshall and Bullock had their letters of intent signed and delivered to the Carolina basketball office by Nov. 12, but it wouldn't be quite as simple for Barnes.
Barnes's announcement was scheduled for Nov. 13 in the gym at Ames High School, where he would choose from among North Carolina, Duke, UCLA, Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State.
The hysteria surrounding Barnes' decision was—ironically—a result of how professionally he handled his recruitment. There was no leak of information and there wasn't a snap decision. People were left with a lot of time and only quotes and facial expressions to derive information from.
Even Marshall and Bullock were starting to get a little nervous about the whole process.
"It got to the point where me and Reggie were just like ‘All right, I wish this kid would just make a decision. Either he's coming or not,'" Marshall laughed. "I had kids at school coming up to me asking me if he was coming to Carolina."
The week leading up to the decision, while the fans were a nervous wreck and the media dissected every move, the Barnes family was busy.
On Monday, Harrison called the schools to let them know how the rest of the week was going to unfold. He also needed to collect additional information from two of the schools. On Tuesday, he spoke to former players at each of the universities, including Paul Pierce, gathering references.
On Wednesday morning, he told his mother and his sister what his decision was. On Thursday night he allowed coaches to make their final cases for their school and why he should go there. He also tipped his hand a bit.
Barnes had used Skype—an online video phone program—with North Carolina assistant coach Steve Robinson. Barnes and his mother decided they would use Skype to inform the chosen school of his decision.
The next day, Shirley Barnes contacted Robinson.
"I said, ‘Are you guys watching today?'" Shirley remembered. "He said ‘Well, we're going to be in practice.' I said, ‘Well, if you watch, you might want to have your Skype on."
During school Friday, Barnes was surprisingly calm. Aside from the Skype working properly, math class was his only concern.
The Skype was set up around 1:30, though the signal was a bit weak with so many people pulling off the school's wireless Internet. Around 2:40, Shirley Barnes entered the Ames High gym for the 3 p.m. press conference and she was stunned by what she saw.
"The place was absolutely packed," Shirley said. "I was like, ‘Oh my goodness."
Neither Harrison nor his mother expected it to be such a big deal but it had become national news.
"Toward the end it felt like it was a big secret, but he just hadn't made up his mind," Shirley said. "Once he did, it was just his news to tell. It was only really a couple days after he had made up his mind and if he wanted to change his mind, it was no big deal because who would've known?"
In Virginia, Marshall was at a friend's house, watching ESPN's signing week coverage and preparing himself to find out if Barnes was headed to UNC.
"I started to get into it a little bit and I was on the Internet, trying to see if I could find any hints anywhere," Marshall said. "That last 15 minutes before he committed, my hands started sweating a little bit, it got intense."
Marshall was nervous but at the same time convinced Barnes was coming to UNC. He'd felt that way since the end of the summer and he'd really felt that way since the alumni weekend.
"I just say if anybody ever had a visit like that," Marshall said, "there's no way you could turn a college down."
As the clock hit three, it was go-time. Lights on. ESPN cameras on. Cue Harrison.
‘What's Up Boy?'
Before the decision, Bullock didn't have his hopes high. Like many others, he had read articles online and figured Barnes was headed to Duke. When 3 p.m. came, and Williams's face popped up on the big Skype projection screen set up in the Ames gym, Bullock wasn't near a TV and as the news of Barnes's commitment to UNC quickly spread, Bullock was online, reading about the decision. Then he got a phone call.
"What's up, boy?" Barnes's voice said on the other end.
Soon after, Marshall's voice broke in.
Watching the announcement at home, Marshall had seen a reporter he knew at the press conference and wanted to find out what the atmosphere was like. Marshall called him and by the time he got through, the reporter was standing next to Barnes.
"Harrison asked to talk to me," Marshall said. "Then I called Reggie."
Bullock recalled what Barnes told them in the conference call: "He basically said that he loved Carolina, it had one of the best coaches you could play for."
And Bullock's response?
"Welcome to the family."