By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK - Central assistant boys basketball coach Mickey Clinedinst stood by the stacked bleachers in the waning minutes of a Falcons basketball practice.
The five-on-five drill he observed was going well, so the whistle strung 'round his neck was surely dry; four-year starter Aaron Heishman drained bucket after bucket, and second-year starter Seth Bauserman gobbled in rebounds and spit out points.
And as head coach Roger Wilkins blared compliments to his team -- "good job, Aaron" -- Clinedinst simply raised a finger and whispered: "That's him, right there."
The outstretched finger reached toward the tallest player on the court, Michael Marston, whizzing unguarded through the paint.
A pass, a catch and an easy layup for Marston.
Clinedinst's finger extended into a powerful fist pump: "That's how you finish a practice!"
Fitting that Marston capped the drill with those points in the paint, announcing, in a sense, that Central, even after losing big men Stuart French and J.J. Armentrout to graduation, can still be a force on the blocks.
"He's our major post player," Heishman said of Marston. "He's real athletic, he can rebound -- he picked up the rebounding from what [Armentrout] was doing last year, and he's just a huge asset scoring."
Bulkier and more fine-tuned than he was a season ago, Marston scores 11.6 points a game, third-best on the team, and nabs a team-leading seven rebounds a game. And with 13 total blocks, Marston anchors a Falcons defense that, though it lacks bulk, has improved since last season.
"It's more [about] knowing what to do, it's not so much [about] size," Marston explained. "You just have to be smart and play -- not leave the basket open -- so that just comes with experience."
And Marston, though he lacks time as a starter, has plenty of experience. One of Wilkins' first players off the bench last season, Marston's prime role as a junior was to relieve Armentrout in the post, or French in his dual role as a post and perimeter player.
Thus began the rise of Marston, one of Central's more versatile players. Able to finesse himself to the basket off the dribble, or power through the paint, Marston is a near-perfect blend of Armentrout and French.
"It's definitely something new this year," Marston said of his role this season, "because last year [Armentrout] was always there. This year it's kinda like, 'I'm not the only one, but I'm the big guy now.' It's a new role."
And in Central's case, new roles, in a sport so dependent on retaining some level of consistency, seems to be working quite well. Though the team rebounds don't come at the rate they did last season, Central's team scoring is more spread out, largely because each Falcon can flourish at multiple positions. The Falcons, according to Marston, are interchangeable.
Wilkins said that, in Central's motion offense, Marston has the freedom to either play under the rim, or pop out for a 15-footer: he's dangerous in both instances.
And recently, to the surprise of Wilkins and Clinedinst, Marston has even been wont to run the point and push the ball down-court.
"I know that if you get everyone involved it makes everybody's job easier," said Marston, who said he began playing basketball when he was 6. "It's not like you can just live in the paint or on the outside, so it's not really a big pressure on any one person.
"You gotta get everybody involved and everything will just open up."
The Falcon offense has certainly opened up this season, while the ever-improving defense has effectively shut the doors on opposing teams. Scoring 64.7 points a game, Central (6-1) gives up a paltry 47 points on average.
Of course, Central's success is largely attributable to Heishman's team-best 20 points per game, and Bauserman's 12.1 points per game. And it's attributable, as any Falcon will attest, to Central's complete team effort.
But so much of it goes back to Marston, who took the opportunity to play football for the first time in the fall, which made him bigger, faster, stronger. So much of it goes back to Marston playing for the Rising Stars this past summer, where he faced other lifelong ballers who were also bigger, faster, stronger.
"His confidence in himself is a lot better, I think that's the biggest improvement," Wilkins said. "I think you get that by playing basketball with the Rising Stars. The more you play the more confident you get.
"I still don't think [Marston] has reached his potential, though -- I think he could improve a lot more if he wants to."