Recently, Wichita State Head Men’s Basketball Coach Gregg Marshall gave ShockerHoops.net an exclusive preseason interview.
In the half-hour or so we spent with Coach Marshall, he took us through the Shockers’ 2016-17 rebuilding program, some insights into his nine Missouri Valley Conference years, and what it’s like to be him in the WSU locker room before a game.
SH: Talk about your team’s development over the summer.
HCGM: We were injured most of the summer, so it wasn’t as good as we would have liked for it to have been. In particular, Austin Reaves and C.J. Keyser, our two freshmen, were banged up and missed the entire summer. Darral Willis and Daishon Smith, the new players from junior college, were able to practice, and it certainly helped them get some idea of how to run our system during the tour. Those two developed as you’d expect, but the freshmen have only been able to start practicing since we started school in the fall, so they’re catching up as they go.
SH: What developments did you see in your team during the Canadian tour?
HCGM: We saw Conner Frankamp run some point guard, and Landry Shamet started to ease into his role as a wing player. Markis McDuffie, the guy who was the rookie of the year in our league last year, and a guy we have great expectations for, tried to go, but he suffered a knee injury. So it was kind of hit-and-miss as to whether he could play or not. Zach Brown, Rashard Kelly, and Shaq Morris, who are guys who’ve been in the program for several years now, all showed their experience and know-how in the system, so they looked pretty good.
SH: In terms of overall expectations, you’ve had arguably the two best players in Shocker basketball history matriculate from the team at once. That clearly means you’ll have a largely different look and feel to your squad. What will fans see about this squad?
HCGM: Well, it’ll be different. All of a sudden, we will be out there without Fred, and Ron, and Evan, guys who are iconic players in our program, so, as you mentioned, we will have lots of new guys. I think, as a team, we will be a little more athletic and maybe a little bigger than we’ve been in the past, because we were starting Evan last year at 6-foot-4 as a four-man. But we’ve got to develop that Cool Hand Luke guard play that we got from Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. And it’s not going to happen overnight.
SH: In terms of key role players on your team, who are you hoping they will be, and what roles will they need to fill?
HCGM: The first thing I think we need to do is establish who is going to have the pulse of the team, and who is going to be the leader. You’ve got the three guys who have been here the longest, Shaq Morris, Zach Brown, and Rashard Kelly. Those guys are going to hopefully fill the role of leader. C.J. Keyser is going to have to be healthy as a freshman and hopefully be a lockdown defender. Austin Reaves, once he’s healthy, hopefully can be a guy who can put the ball in the basket for us. Conner Frankamp and Daishon Smith will have to man the point guard position. Markis McDuffie is going to have to be healthy, and he and Landry Shamet are going to have to play an all-around game at a high level. Darral Willis Jr. can score inside and rebound. Rauno Nurger started playing pretty well at the end of last year, and he’s got to continue to develop. Eric Hamilton has got to keep things simple, because he can score, but he’s got to do the other things. So we’ve got a lot of guys who are going to be assuming new, expanded roles going forward.
SH: In general terms of competition this year in the Valley, what’s your expectation for the overall level of play?
HCGM: There’s always a surprise team that plays a little better than you thought they would. There’s always someone who doesn’t have the kind of year that you thought they would. But overall, with this being my tenth season in The Valley, I’m very familiar with what to expect in this league, and there will be some very well coached teams, and guys who can really shoot it in the basket. Night in and night out, we’re going to have to play very well to achieve the record and the championship like we’ve been striving for over the last several season.
SH: How is the Shocker program different than when you took over?
HCGM: When we took over, there just wasn’t a lot of guys on the roster. We had seven scholarships to give that April when I was hired. Now, we’ve got a full complement of scholarships, and they’re filled with athletic guys, even though some of them are inexperienced and young at this point, we think all of them can help us eventually. That first year was tough, boy! We started to recruit as soon as we got the job and landed that group that graduated in 2012 with Toure’ Murry, David Kyles, Garrett Stutz, and Clevin Hannah came in that first recruiting class. So it’s [usually] just all about getting the talent level up, but at that point, we were just trying to get our numbers up with bodies!
SH: How is the Valley different than when you took over?
HCGM: Well other than the obvious, with Creighton leaving, and Loyola coming in, it’s not a whole lot different. It’s interesting to think back. My first year was a magical year for Drake. They won the league going away, then won the tournament. There’s been lots of good teams over the years that we have to compete against, and obviously, we anticipate that happening again.
SH: You’ve coached for several recognizable names. Which college basketball coaches have most influenced you, and why?
HCGM: I would say John Kresse at the College of Charleston, who I worked for over eight years. He’s a hall of fame coach, and a lot of what we do in our program, I learned from him. My college coach and the guy who got me in the business, Hal Nunnally, is a guy who helped shaped the basketball that we play, from the motion offense to the gritty, man-to-man defense.I would say those two guys, mostly.
SH: In the locker room before a game, when you’re basically alone, and the team is warming up, can you take us through your typical thought processes and any rituals you may have?
HCGM: I’m usually in there alone. The last time the guys go out on the court with 30 minutes left on the clock, I jot down the way we’re going to start the game: the defense we’re going to be in, ball screens, what we’re going to do with our offense if we see man or if we see zone, and any transitions and breakdowns. So as I’m writing that up on the board in the locker room for the guys, it gives me clarity when the ball is tipped. So all that preparation that we’ve done prior to that point has been instilled into the guys, and now it’s just a matter of them going out and executing a game plan. But that’s when I gather my thoughts, and then they come in. I get a couple of minutes to zip over that information, and we pray, and then we hit the court.
SH: What are some things that you wish more people knew about your program?
HCGM: I think that most people around here know, because they’ve dealt with these players and young men enough, but the quality of the individual young persons that we’re dealing with here is outstanding. We are proud of how they’re quality people and represent us in a first-class way. They’ve worked extremely hard to be great basketball players, but they’re also fine young men. Just being able to coach them is a blessing for me.
Once again, I’d like to thank Coach Marshall for graciously taking the time to sit down and talk with us about his program. On Saturday, Head Coach Gregg Marshall embarks on his tenth season at the helm of Wichita State men’s basketball.
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