The story of the New Orleans Pelicans’ Naji Marshall: He’s ‘for the underdog,’ because he was one

A year after Rayna Whitted moved from New Jersey to Maryland, she took on a second job at a local recreation center.

During the day, she worked at a transportation company as an accounting clerk. In the evenings, she manned the front desk at the Greenbelt Recreation Center, which was a way for her to earn extra cash and give her 9-year-old son a nurturing after-school environment.

Whitted’s days, which started at 8 a.m. and didn’t end until 9 or 10 p.m., were long, but the payoff was worth it. The rec center was where her son made friends in his new hometown. It was where he jumped into any pickup basketball game he could, even the 60-and-up run on Sunday mornings. And it was where he spent thousands of hours developing skills that have taken him all the way to the NBA.

“If it wasn’t for the rec center,” Pelicans forward Naji Marshall said, “I wouldn’t be here.”

Whitted is a single mother and a self-described “hover mom.” Her need to be near her son was how she started working at the Greenbelt Recreation Center in the first place. She was in the gym so often watching him play basketball, an employee approached her with a job offer.

One of Marshall’s first toys was a Little Tykes basketball hoop. He loved basketball above all else, but Whitted made sure he dabbled in everything. He played football and lacrosse. He…

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