Shockers begin rebuilding job with team full of newcomers
Gregg Marshall was asked not long ago if he could recall the last time he spent so much time in practice teaching, and Wichita State’s coach allowed his mind to drift back more than two decades.
He still came back with nothing.
Not as an assistant tiny Randolph-Macon or Belmont Abbey. Not during those years at College of Charleston or Marshall. Not during his decade-long run at Winthrop before Wichita State.
The Shockers lost just about everybody from a team that won 25 games and once again reached the NCAA Tournament last season, including NBA pick Landry Shamet, graduated sharpshooter Conner Frankamp and senior big man Darral Willis Jr., Rauno Nurger, Shaq Morris and Rashard Kelly.
In their place? Nine newcomers, seven of whom are freshmen.
“I would say this is probably my youngest team in 21 years,” Marshall said. “I do like coming to the gym and coaching this group because they are eager. They all have talent and abilities. It’s just a matter of when they are going to be able to showcase them in a real game.
“I mentioned to them the very first day, if I had a magic wand and could swing that wand to the group to give them one skill, it would be that they understand how hard you must play to be successful at this level,” he continued. “The great majority of players have no idea.”
The Shockers have certainly played at the highest level. They’ve been to seven consecutive NCAA Tournaments, winning at least 30 games four times. That includes a run to the Final Four in 2013 and a perfect regular season and No. 1 seed the following year, along with five Missouri Valley titles and a second-place finish a year ago in their American Athletic Conference debut.
But all those teams had a bevy of veterans who could help the youngsters adjust to the demanding Marshall experience. The only guys who really know what that’s like now are Markis McDuffie and Samaje Haynes-Jones, and the latter dealt with injuries for much of last season.
“None of us have played in a college game,” freshman guard Dexter Dennis said. “We don’t know how hard to play. It’s just a learning experience every day at practice.”
What has he learned from McDuffie and Haynes-Jones?
“Slow down and most importantly, listen to what Coach has to say,” Dennis said, “because he is right. … Just listen to what he has to say and play as hard as you can.”
WAITING FOR DECISION
West Virginia transfer Teddy Allen is still waiting for the NCAA to rule on his appeal to play immediately. Allen is hoping to skip the mandatory redshirt year because he had transferred closer to his support system in Boys Town, Nebraska.
“I’m prepared either way,” Allen said. “Either way I’m going to be working. I’ll be ready to play this season or keep working.”
The Shockers’ motto the last few years has been “Play Angry,” and Marshall wants big men Jaime Echenique and Asbjorn Midtgaard to embrace it.
“That’s something that I am definitely trying to do,” said Midtgaard, a native of Denmark. “That’s my role here. That’s what we have to understand. We each have a role, and when we fulfill that role we’re going to be good.”
The Shockers might have had an easier rebuild in the Missouri Valley, but Marshall is embracing the challenge of doing it in the American.
“There are going to be some deep breaths this year,” he said. “Don’t lose faith, but there are going to be some times where people go, ‘Wow, this is a work in progress.'”
Marshall isn’t the only one tempering expectations. Coaches in the American picked the Shockers to finish eighth in their preseason poll. “”I like that stuff right,” freshman forward Chance Moore said. “I like being the underdog.”
The Shockers open against Louisiana Tech on Nov. 6 before a tough stretch against Providence, Davidson, Rice and Baylor. Then comes a trip to Oklahoma to highlight a tough nonconference schedule sure to test Marshall’s young team.