Lebanon Reporter

March 26, 2014

Ignore the critics, the Wichita State Shockers were real


Lebanon Reporter

---- — The blueprint for life is simple. Eight glasses of water a day, four glasses of milk, six helpings of fruit, a teaspoon of red meat here and there, stay on the right side of the road, avoid falling space junk, squeeze in 25 hours of exercise a week and maybe you live to see 60.

The blueprint for building a college basketball program is a bit more complex.

Recruiting used to be simple.A high-profile coach takes a Friday night trip to a small town gym.

Red-faced locals stop riding that new coach, the one who thinks you can win games playing zone and walking the ball up the floor, long enough to fawn over the big dog in the crowd.

The high-profile coach smiles, shakes hands with the parents, walks around and kicks the tires while saying all the right things. The deal gets done with a handshake, sealing the kid’s lifelong dream of playing for State U.

Today coaches are up against ESPN, internet rankings, Twitter and the seedy underbelly of AAU circuits.

Maybe that’s what made Gregg Marshall and Wichita State so appealing. They provided an alternative. On the surface they were everything big time college basketball wasn’t.

Enter Kentucky and their high flying Blue Bloods. Hot off the AAU circuit, the best recruiting class in college basketball history.

Enter John Calipari. One part college coach, one part politician, one part Dark Lord of the one-and-done world. Work the phones, kiss some babies, get the top five guys on the board and ride them like the British are coming. And when the dust settles and they’ve all declared for the draft, pick up your phone and start over.

Surely Calipari would take one look at Gregg Marshall and tell you that boy’s climbing on the horse from the wrong end. For if John Calipari’s a chef, Gregg Marshall’s an architect. Building something from the ground up. Taking kids so far from Kentucky’s radar they might as well be playing in some remote Pacific island near Kiribati, shooting coconuts into empty oil drums nailed to palm trees. Molding them, shaping them, teaching them to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Maybe it was the fact Marshall’s speeches seemed so authentic, his words bordering on prophetic that made me want to see Wichita State drum Kentucky Sunday. “Play angry, play for each other.”Maybe it was the little dog in the big fight that had me clambering onto the Shocker bandwagon, or maybe it was simply the fact that, as a Hoosier, I’m blessed with a bottomless reservoir of hatred for the Wildcats.

Either way it was short lived. In the end Kentucky’s thoroughbreds thundered past the Shockers. Thirty five wins and a cloud of dust. Still the power of the team isn’t lost. What five players, five recruits the big schools barely knew existed, connected on both ends of the floor can do, even when pitted against the best recruiting class in NCAA history.

They took Kentucky to the edge. They mussed Calipari’s perfect hair. And though they came up short on the scoreboard, Gregg Marshall did more than put Wichita State back on the map, he reminded us all what college basketball is supposed to be. Players committed to each other, committed to the name on the front of the jersey.

Players thinking, acting, responding and moving as one. In today’s land of one and dones, Wichita State was ice cold lemonade on the Fourth of July, proving Marshall’s blueprint, while not the most popular, remains time tested.