Cody Marsh and C.J. Marshall sat in Lakeside High School's locker room last week conducting an interview for a story that will likely join other newspaper clippings on the wall of the small space.
The Panthers' locker room doesn't house lockers. It's just a collection of chairs that line its perimeter, with an ancient chalkboard and a dirty marker board on which "WIN REGION" has been scrawled in black ink.
Marsh and Marshall, both seniors, don't mind the low-key digs. They say it actually helps keep the team a close-knit group.
And given a chance to expound on individual accomplishments that will land them alongside past Lakeside standouts, both choose to talk about a little-known teammate.
"Some of those guys, they don't get the 'Spotlight' you might say, because they're practice players," Marsh said. "Nobody knows about Kealan Diehl because he's not playing in the games. But as a team, we know Kealan's out there every day busting his butt, making us better."
Said Marshall: "He pushes us every day. Non-stop. He never stops running."
The Panthers have gripped the team concept and held fast. They believe the current crop of Lakeside players have been through too much not to.
When Marsh and Marshall started their varsity careers, the Panthers were struggling to win a game a season. When Marshall was academically ineligible to play his sophomore season, Marsh was on him all year, ensuring he'd be back on the floor for their junior years.
Marshall made the grade. The Panthers finished 12-12 last season, one of the best in school history, but were shut out of the playoffs after losing a coin flip after the final game of the regular season.
The close call was something else to draw from as the Panthers gathered for another season of dressing in their small, stuffy quarters.
"We're trying to improve on that," Marshall said. "I wrote that on the board Monday -- win region -- because that's what we want to do."
Marshall loves to talk. He predicted an undefeated season for the Panthers football team during the spring and sat out two basketball games recently after being ejected during one for jawing at an official.
Marshall admits he lets his mouth get the best of him at times, but he credits Marsh and his other teammates for helping him keep his head since the earlier incident.
"He has his mess-ups," Marsh said. "But it's just because he plays with so much intensity."
And Marshall often backs up his words.
After a flare-up against Hephzibah last week, during which Marshall was on the fringe, he responded with a key layup and 3-pointer in the third quarter to keep the Rebels at arm's length. He finished with 16 points.
Marsh, too, said he allows himself to be swept up in the atmosphere at times. His trademark long hair, pulled back in a ponytail this season, is often the object of taunting from opposing fans.
Marsh reacted after a big basket earlier in the season by flexing for the visiting crowd. Sometimes he will bring his finger to his lips to urge silence.
The hair was longer during football season. Marsh chopped off 11 inches and donated it to Locks of Love, a nonprofit that gives hairpieces to children with medical conditions that cause long-term hair loss.
"Hopefully, over the break, we'll get it braided, so when he comes back they won't say 'ponytail,'" Marshall said. "But when he's in the game, he don't take it to the head. He likes when they do that. It motivates him. If somebody starts talking junk to you, you're going to want to play."
Marsh and Marshall said they hope to play at the next level.
Marsh prefers to play from the perimeter, but he has been asked to also show an inside game because of the Panthers' lack of height. Marshall is a quick guard who can get to the basket and make a precision pass if needed.
Their individual skills should be enough to land them on a college roster next year.
Right now, both are satisfied to be part of the group in the dressing room.
"It can't be about yourself anymore when you're on a team like this," Marsh said. "You got to be playing for each person in here."
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