When asked to describe his Ashland University teammate, Wendell Davis used the words "relaxed" and "laid-back." While those adjectives perfectly describe Marsalis Hamilton, his head coach, John Ellenwood, summed up the guy they call Sell with another term: "He's a winner."
In his senior season at St. Edward High School, Hamilton helped the Eagles win an OHSAA Division I state title. He then came to Ashland as a freshman and the Eagles won the GLIAC South. Ashland went to the NCAA Tournament in his sophomore season and advanced to the GLIAC title game for the first time in school history as a junior. This season, the script is yet to be written, but one thing is certain.
"He's a winner," Ellenwood said. "I constantly saw him make winning plays in big moments of big games. We needed somebody like that. I thought he was, without a doubt, the best winner I saw that year in recruiting."
The 6-foot-4 forward can do it all from his position, from guarding virtually any position on the floor, to slashing and driving, to cutting, to distributing to open guys, to popping out for 3-pointers.
"At a young age, my dad always told me you don't have to be great at every aspect of the game," Hamilton said. "Be really, really good at two to three things. I had size growing up and a quick first step, so just naturally I was a slasher. God gave me the ability to pass pretty well, so that came along with it. Those have been my main attributes throughout my life – passing, slashing and finishing at the rim."
He has showcased those abilities his entire career at Ashland. As a forward, Hamilton has averaged 2.4 assists per game, including a 3.4 mark this season that ranks eighth in the GLIAC. In a game earlier this season, Hamilton dished out 10 assists – the most for an Ashland player in nearly six years.
Never mind that Hamilton reached the 1,000-point mark on Jan. 13 this season, becoming just the 27th player in program history to do so. And forget that he has averaged 5.2 rebounds per game.
"He's got a little bit of Charles Barkley in his game," said Ellenwood. "He's the ultimate mismatch because he's so strong and he has the ability to score in a lot of ways. He is able to guard 1 through 5 because of his strength and his speed."
Hamilton continues to thrive in a system that leaves him space on the floor to get into the lane and get his own shot or create for a teammate. That's where he says he gets the most satisfaction.
"There's nothing better than beating your man off the dribble, having somebody else come, making a perfect pass to a teammate, and he just knocks it down," Hamilton said. "That's what basketball is all about. That's what good basketball is, just sharing the ball. The ball flying around and everybody getting a feel for it."
His willingness to share the basketball is not the only thing that endears him to teammates. It's also the way he plays. For fans that have seen Hamilton play at Kates Gymnasium and the way he interacts with his teammates, they see a player having fun on the basketball court. He is not one to take himself, or even the game, too seriously.
"Playing with Sell is great," said Davis, Hamilton's teammate for four years. "As hard as he plays and the things that he can do that are special, he's a real laid-back guy. Off the court, he's one of the most relaxed guys. I think that's why we bond so well. Most of the time I'm the energy. I'm the guy that's hype and Sell's on the other end. I'm like, 'Sell, let's pick it up, let's go, I'm ready, let's turn it up!' And he's like, 'okay, let's go, let's do it.' That's where we click very well."
His coach sees the same thing.
"He doesn't get too high, he doesn't get too low," said Ellenwood. "He knows it's a game, but he also understands that you have to put a lot of work into it at the same time. He knows it's a game, so likes to have a good time while he's playing as well."
And that's just it for Hamilton – a game. So what is there not to enjoy?
"Wendell always says at the end of the day it's still basketball, it's still a game, so enjoy it," said Hamilton. "We're coming down to the back half of the season, so we're just trying to soak in all that's left of it and what's still to come. It just naturally comes from loving basketball and understanding the game the right way. It's naturally embedded."
Now he'll take his love for the game into the final stretches of this season. Four regular season games remain and for Sell and his teammates, the chance to qualify for another NCAA Tournament is in reach.
"It's been good. I've enjoyed every second of it," said Hamilton. "I will always treasure Ashland University as a ballplayer. It's been really good."