KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The great ones will say a lot of things, but they never say never. Although the more you look at Gregg Marshall and Wichita State, the more you feel it’s going to take something special, something more than a Brink’s truck and private plane, to pry him away from the behemoth he’s built along the Chisholm Trail.
Besides, he’s got access to the truck and the plane already.
“I like to have red wines, occasionally,” the Shockers’ acclaimed men’s basketball coach tells FOXSportsKansasCity.com. “And when you have certain wines, you like to pair them with certain foods. And this has been a very nice pairing, if you will.”
As practice begins for last spring’s Final Four darlings, the school got an early start on the celebration last week by announcing a new extension for Marshall, who’s averaged 29 victories with the Shox over the past three seasons, including a 30-win campaign in 2012-13 that culminated with the program’s first berth in the national semifinals since 1965. His salary is set to increase to a reported $1.6 million on November 9 — the day of the Shockers’ regular-season opener — and will jump to $1.75 million in April 2014. Marshall reportedly took home $1.03 million in 2013.
It’s a seven-year contract with an annual rollover, which means, at present, the deal now runs through 2020. He’ll also have a pool of $501,000 to divvy up among his assistant coaches and director of basketball operations, which is an awfully nice kitty to play with, especially by Missouri Valley Conference standards.
“It’s not chump change at all,” Marshall says.
But Cinderella one year means great expectations the next. With longtime rival Creighton moving to the Big East over the summer, the Shox stand alone as the bar, the hoops standard by which the rest of the MVC is judged, the way Gonzaga is in the West Coast Conference, or Butler was in the Horizon League. A mid-major brand earmarked to punch above its weight, year after year.
“Outside folks may reference it from time to time,” Marshall says. “But it doesn’t change what I do. I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself. The internal pressure we have as a staff, as a program, is as high as you can be. I expect us to be really good every year, and to be competing for NCAA Tournament berths, and to be competing once we get there. That’s my mantra, to be competing in March.
“I’m certainly not one to rest on your laurels.”
Laurels, he’s got plenty of. The Shox won the Valley’s regular-season crown in 2011-12, then, for an encore, reached back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time since 1987 and ’88.
But the coup de grace played out last March, when Wichita rolled all the way to the Final Four, knocking off the top-seeded Zags and No. 2 seed Ohio State en route to Atlanta, the first MVC program to reach the promised land since Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores in 1979.
“I think our program is the reflection of Wichita State University that our administration wants. Because the way we are tough, hard-nosed and very competitive and we put it out there: We want to win and do it the right way. You’re hard-pressed to find with any of our players (that they) have any kind of issues off the court. It happens, but very rarely. They go to school. They get their degrees, with very few exceptions. And I think that’s also what gets our administration to the point where they’re willing to make that kind of commitment.”
Being a big fish in a small pond is not without its perks. The past five months have been dotted with little moments that Marshall did expect, such as being more easily recognized along the recruiting trail. And little moments that he didn’t, such as when a recent letter came over from the National Association of Basketball Coaches asking for his sport-coat measurements.
“I didn’t realize there’s this ‘secret society’ if you will,” Marshall chuckles. “The coaches that have been in the Final Four have lunch on the day of the semifinals, and the new coaches (in the club), which would be (Michigan’s) John Beilien and I, will get our first blue blazer.
“So I’m playing golf this summer on vacation in Malibu, and I called (ex-UCLA and Georgia) coach Jim Harrick, and we got in a round of golf. And we were joking, and Coach Harrick is such a funny guy. He says, ‘The only difference is yours are going to have silver buttons, and mine has gold buttons.’ So (Louisville coach Rick) Pitino will get his second set of gold buttons, I guess. So that’s really cool.”
He’s seen less cool moments, too. The program got a major scare in September, when freshman guard D.J. Bowles, who was slotted to back up Fred Van Vleet at the point, collapsed during a workout and rushed to a hospital. The Tennessee native had a defibrillator implanted in his heart and was treated at the Mayo Clinic. Wichita State medical officials refused to medically clear him, fearing another collapse, but have promised to honor all four years of his scholarship.
For Marshall, it was a horrific feeling of déjà vu: During one of his first recruiting trips upon taking the Shockers job, back in April 2007, he was on hand personally as Wichita recruit Guy Alang-Ntang collapsed on the court during pickup game at New Hampshire. The native of Cameroon was declared dead a short while later.
“I’m sitting there, I’m going, ‘You should never see this with a young person,'” Marshall says, ” ‘And now I’m looking at it for the second time in six-and-half years.’
“I hope that (Bowles) will become an assistant coach with me. That looks like the way he’s leaning, and we’ll take care of him, academically.”
The magic carriage of Easter is back to pumpkin mode again. Power forward Carl Hall and point guard Malcolm Armstead are gone; the conjectures remain. On October 18, the Shox have scheduled a ceremony to celebrate the opening of the season in which they’ll hand out rings and unfurl a giant banner at Koch Arena.
“When the bell strikes midnight on the 18th, the 2012-13 season will be put to bed,” Marshall says. “But our players know that. They’re already grinding.”
Capturing a nation’s attention is one thing. Keeping it — well, keeping it is something else entirely. Either way, $1.6 million buys an awful lot of Merlot.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com