Nick Wiggins is a shooter, which is good enough for some coaches. At Wichita State, one dimension isn’t nearly enough. Shooters earn the right to shoot with defense and rebounding.
“He is trying to be something more than a scorer,” teammate Chadrack Lufile said. “He’s a smooth player and he didn’t have to dive for a ball.”
WSU (9-1) needs more from Wiggins, and Lufile, with three starters out with injuries. Both are junior-college transfers and semester break is often the time those newcomers begin to contribute more.
The Shockers, down to nine healthy players, need more from everybody against Charleston Southern (4-5) on Thursday at Koch Arena.
WSU center Carl Hall, the leading scorer and rebounder, is out four weeks with a broken right thumb. Guard Ron Baker, second on the team in minutes, is out six weeks with a stress fracture in his left foot. Guard Evan Wessel, WSU’s do-everything tough guy, will not play tonight, and could face surgery, due to a broken pinky on his right hand.
WSU coach Gregg Marshall doesn’t expect miracles from Wiggins, a 6-foot-6 wing, or Lufile, a 6-9 center. He wants them to keep things simple and limit mistakes.
“They need to let their game grow as they get more comfortable,” he said. “They need to make sure they’re guarding their man. They need to take care of the ball. They need to make sure they’re trying to execute whatever we’ve called. Then, scoring opportunities will come.”
Talent isn’t the problem. Experience and maturity are hard-earned assets. Wiggins and Lufile, both from Canada, are long-time friends and live together in Wichita. They talk often about working to earn Marshall’s trust and more playing time.
Both players are being asked to do things they haven’t before, and against top competition. Both showed flashes of what they can do in their limited play this season.
Wiggins sparked the Shockers with two second-half baskets in a win over Iowa, using his speed to beat defenders down court, and scored 14 points against Northern Colorado. Lufile grabbed 10 rebounds and scored six points in a season-high 20 minutes against Northern Colorado.
“I know each of them are not nearly fulfilling all the things they, God-given ability-wise, can bring to the table,” Marshall said. “That’s a positive in that they’ve got so much more room to grow and improve. This is going to be their opportunity to do that. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be in a practice setting. If they’re not quite where we need them to be, everyone is going to see that.”
Wiggins knows where his game is lacking. He needs to move his feet on defense. He needs to rebound. He needs to beat opponents to loose balls.
“That’s stuff you’ve got to get in the habit of doing,” he said. “I’ve never done it before, and I’ve never had a coach demand it. Coach Marshall is very demanding.”
Wiggins can help WSU’s offense. He owns an accurate jumper and is quick enough to slash to the basket for scores. He is shooting 55 percent (11 of 20) from the floor and 38.5 percent (5 of 13) in his limited role.
Lufile wants to try to replace Hall’s energy and toughness. He is working on moves in the paint, trying to get reading the defender and scoring over his unguarded shoulder.
“You don’t have to score points,” Lufile said. “Carl comes into work when he’s playing and he just wants to work hard every time. If you have that mind-set, no matter what you’re playing, it’s going to show and you’re going to help the team.”
Even WSU’s healthy players aren’t totally healthy. Center Ehimen Orukpe is practicing while slowed by a sprained ankle. Guard Tekele Cotton is dealing with a bone bruise in his ankle. For at least the next four weeks, however, the Shockers will make do with those who are healthy and try not to let a promising season veer off course.
Drive on — Wichita mayor Carl Brewer will rename Waterman Street as Shocker Way at 4 p.m. Friday near Intrust Bank Arena. The street will bear the Shocker name for 48 hours as a way of promoting Saturday’s game against Southern Mississippi. The ceremony will take place at the intersection of Waterman and St. Francis. As of Wednesday morning, WSU had sold 7,800 tickets for the game.