One of Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshalls theories is that practicing point guard makes everybody a better player, regardless of position.
Redshirt freshman Ron Baker is the latest to put that theory to the test. Normally a shooting guard, injuries pressed Baker into emergency duty at the point in recent practices. He showed enough aptitude that Marshall can envision using him in that role on rare occasions, as he did Toure Murry, in the future. More immediately, the experience helped Baker expand his game and his understanding of how Marshall wants his team to operate.
WSU plays its lone exhibition game on Monday against Pittsburg State and Baker will see plenty of playing time on the wing. With Demetric Williams and Fred VanVleet, both sidelined by ankle injuries recently and both expected to play point guard, Baker will take his new perspective to his old position.
When you run the (point), you see the floor differently, Baker said. As the point guard you have the responsibility to get your team going and run the right set. Youve got to be a vocal leader.
Marshall will wait until Monday to set his starting lineup. Senior forward Carl Hall and senior guard Malcolm Armstead will start. The other three spots are open, with Baker among the possibilities. Marshall expects Williams and VanVleet to play. Newcomer Chadrack Lufile, a junior post player, is out with a knee injury that comes on top of a dislocated shoulder that sidelined him until recently.
(Baker) can do a lot of things, Marshall said. He can defend. He can knock down open shots. He can pass it a little bit. Hes athletic, big.
Baker, 6-foot-3, 218 pounds, came to WSU as a walk-on last year with the plan to redshirt and then receive a scholarship for his final four seasons. Sitting out tested his patience after a high school career at Scott City in which he rarely rested. In addtion to basketball, he played quarterback, shortstop and pitched.
For my parents to see me on the bench all game, Im sure it was tough on them, he said. Im definitely planning on it to pay off this year and the years to come.
Marshall made redshirting a bit easier when he told people Bakers talents made it a tough decision. Baker wanted to redshirt to take time to develop, and because playing time didnt exist behind Murry, Williams, David Kyles and others. Practicing against those experienced Shockers helped.
Last year there were times I was kind of Bambi out there, he said. The game has slowed down. Im seeing the floor better, making better passes. I wasnt going to play, but I knew I could get better.
Baker also experienced the travel and the road arenas.
Im prepared for all their chants, he said. I shouldnt have as many jitters (as a true freshman).
Marshall will pick his other three starters from a group that includes Baker, Williams, center Ehimen Orukpe, forward Cleanthony Early, forward Jake White and forward Evan Wessel.
A lot of these guys will be playing in front of the biggest crowd theyve ever played in front of, Marshall said. Id like to see us really defend and rebound and execute our offense.
Worth noting Marshall considers Williams and VanVleet slowed by their ankle injuries. Freshman Zach Bush, who will redshirt, looks 100 percent after also dealing with a sprained ankle. Bush, and all new Shockers except transfer Kadeem Coleby, can play without burning a redshirt season. Pittsburg State is picked fourth in the MIAA coaches poll after going 17-14 last season. The Gorillas return four players with starting experience, including leading scorer JaVon McGee (13 points, 6.7 rebounds). South product Marky Nolen averaged 8.2 points and started 14 games. Gorillas coach Kevin Muff, starting his third season, played at Kansas State from 1984-86. He coached Cloud County Community College for 12 seasons before coming to Pitt State.